Message - Are old houses being blown down where you live?

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Posted by  Bruce Jennings on December 17, 2002 at 11:39:52:

Managed obsolesence? 100 year stick built houses? Have you ever toured the East coast and visited 110 - 200 year old homes? Homes that have withstood constant onshore wind flows and storms that often carry 100 MPH winds? Sure many of them need repair, but mostly due to neglect. And we have learned from these old homes: treated sills, concrete foundations, galvinized flashing etc. etc.

Whether a building is cast, carved, or nailed, metal pipes will last about the same length of time. Roofs that aren't maintained will yield water damage. One of the biggest problems in residential architecture today is the involvement of architects, engineers, and those who labor to influence the writing of building codes. The greatest increase in houseing costs in the past 10 years, outside of impact and permit fees, has been the requirement for lateral load engineering and the resulting specs for anchors, hold downs, strapping, etc.

Up and down the coasts of America there are grand old homes, covered with windows, all built before we knew that they should be engineered and strapped down. Many of these old homes are sitting on nothing more than the biggest rocks the builders could find on site. Many of these homes still stand. While a few have been destroyed by hurricane winds, those that are gone have mostly burned or collapsed on themselves from neglect and decay. The blanket requirements that cover our nation for wind loads that should only be in place for hurricane threatened areas are a terrible burden for regular people who just want a home of thier own.

Most of these big old homes have very little quantifiable lateral shear resistance. Horizontal lap siding nailed directly to studs, the nails rusted nearly clear through, there is nothing to compare to a sheet of wafer board or plywood on the entire structure. Even the old homes that have foundations weren't blessed with anchor bolts, people put a lot of faith in gravity back then. And those houses still stand.

It's like a desease, this drive to tie structures down, I know, I have had it too. 10 years ago we weren't required to put rebar in foundations where I build. Of course I did, it seemed the right thing to do. Then I had the idea to hook the anchor bolts under the top bar... Wow, cool! That will hold even better!....But that bar is so near the top, it could crack off the top of the concrete if there is too much lift...Hey wait, I could bend steel over each anchor and tie it back down to the lower bars...Yeh!that's the ticket! and on and on, until I had added the several thousand dollars worth of labor and hardware that now requires an engineer to specify.

Until I realized that the house I lived in, built before indoor plumbing, basement under half, conc pads 10 feet +/- around the rest and not a spec of steel any where had withstood the winds of the Columbia river gorge for more than 90 years with out incident. Nothing anchored this structure to it's supports. There were 5 foot tall windows all the way around this old single wall house, a total of about 20 lineal feet of wall is all that you could count for shear, unless you included the glazing. Even the wall footage it had was horizontal siding with only thin wire remains of the nails that held it directly to the studs.

So to the powers that be in code writing and enforcement, and the engineers and architects who specify this stuff, I say " Wake up! Snap out of it! You are under the spell of this disease. Remember that it takes a great engineer to make a structure that will barely stand. Stop resisting reality and a non existant wind. Make your designs "strong enough"." Build homes that ordinary people can afford to live in.

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