FLOODING

As many of us have recently experienced, storms and flood issues definitely have to be taken seriously. It is a fact that global warming is affecting water levels, hence increasing the chances of low or coastal areas to become prone to flooding.

Could flooding be prevented? Well, I don't think so, but certainly there are several ways in which we can minimize its effects on our properties.

 

To begin, everyone who lives or wishes to live close to a body of water, suc
h as the ocean, river, lake, pond, etc., should investigate, by checking into the FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), FIRM (Flood Insurance Rate Maps) or NFIP (National Flood Insurance Program) to determine whether the property is located within a flood zone. If indeed it is, there are different flood hazards zones that the property may fall under, such us A, V, X, etc. (SEE PICTURE).

 

These flood hazard maps are based on present studies of riverine areas and shore locations, although "Future Condition Hydrology" studies can also be obtained.

Each of these zones indicates the chances that your area has of becoming flooded, taking into consideration the risk of the wind activity & wave action, or the records for 50, 100, or 500 year old floods.

 

A 100-yr old flood, for example, does not mean that the flood will occur once every 100 years. It means that there's a 1% chance for it to occur in any given year.
Once the flood hazard zone is determined, some guidelines need to be followed in order to achieve a flood resistant construction.

 

Flood can impact a structure by any of the following:
1- source of flooding
2- depth of flood
3- effect of waves
4- debris brought in by the flood
5- speed and duration of the flood
6- receding water
7- erosion caused by the flood.

 

Keep in mind that the idea is to have buildings with as little damage as possible after the flood, where the main structure will remain stable, mechanical equipment & utilities remain usable or easily repaired, and that the building could be safely accessible & usable.

 

Here are some of the items to be considered:

A- Design the lowest floor of the building above the "designed floor elevation". Check your local building codes, but that's usually 1' over the flood plane elevation.
B- Avoid locating mechanical systems (boilers, water heaters, etc.) at lowest level, or if that's not possible, make sure they're watertight or enclosed in a waterproofed walls to prevent them from floating away, or incurring into costly repairs.
C- Design for building foundations capable of resisting the force of the water, should a flood occur.


Always, health & safety for all building occupants are most important.

Entities like FEMA, National Flood Insurance Program, & Local Codes will give all the information necessary to build, or to rebuild, and to have as little impact as possible after the effects of a flood.

Check with your architect/engineer of additional ways in which building in flood-prone areas can be erected or retrofitted.

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Older Posts

10 STEPS FOR CONSTRUCTION

After dealing with many clients who seemed to be completely unaware of what's involved when doing new construction in the house, I came up with the following list to clarify their standing. Hopefully it will help all of you out there as well.

 

10 STEPS TO NEW CONSTRUCTION / RENOVATION

 

 

1- BUILDING OBJECTIVE:
Decide what you want to do. Determine what's more feasible, if adding, renovating, or demolishing and building anew.

 

2- ESTABLISH A PROGRAM:
Clearly establish the parameters for your project: what your needs are, what is it that you would like to have, or how can you improve the existing conditions of your building.

 

3- COME UP WITH A BUDGET:
Determine how much money you have to allocate for your upcoming project, or how much financing you can obtain. Always allow a 10% to 15% for extras or unforeseen construction expenses (contingencies).

 

4- GET A SURVEY:
A survey is a legal document establishing the "metes & bounds" of the property. The property lines are clearly defined, as well as location of the house in relationship to the property. Chances are that you may have an old title survey along with your house papers, that can help you at the beginning, but a new architectural survey will be needed later on to file at the building department.

 

5- HIRE AN ARCHITECT:
Once you've obtained a survey, a licensed architect is the person you need. He/she will review that survey and will establish legally what are the minimum requirements and the maximum floor area that you can add / build as per the building and zoning codes that apply to your project. In the contract, clearly specify what the architect's involvement will be, to avoid future conflicts. Usually structural, interior, or landscape design, are items performed by others requiring a separate contract. After a contract is signed by both parties, the architect will then come up with a solution to your problem based upon the program that you've created. An architect will guide you, will determine what is the best approach to take, and will produce drawings indicating the design intent. After that point, the interaction between you, the owner, and the architect will finally determine the final design.

 

6- CHOOSE A CONTRACTOR:
It's always desirable to interview at least 3 licensed contractors who are capable of efficiently completing the job. Obtain references from previous homeowners who have used them. Have at least 3 separate bids. As a rule of thumb, choose the bid that's not the lowest, nor the highest.

 

7- FILING AT THE BUILDING DEPARTMENT:
Once the architect's design is agreed upon and a contractor is selected, the project is filed at the local building department, along with contractor's information and proof of insurances. Filing fees (paid for by the owner) apply. The drawings are reviewed by a plan examiner. They can be approved or rejected. If rejected, the architect will have to prove or correct his standing until the filing is finally approved. When that occurs, a building permit issued, and construction may start. 

 

8- START OF CONSTRUCTION:
The contractor is responsible for securing all building permits, as well as securing a construction fence before construction starts. The contractor and sub-contractors shall be knowledgeable about all construction codes that apply, like OSHA, electrical, plumbing, etc. Don't forget that the contractor is hired to execute the design intent as indicated by the architect, and to stay on budget. You, the owner, should not be influenced by him regarding the design or materials to use. Always consult with the architect first if there are any questions.

 

9- OBTAIN BUILDING INSPECTIONS:
Upon completing different stages of construction, building inspectors are called to certify that the construction is done according to the drawings and codes. After the final inspection is passed, a new Certificate of Occupancy (C of O) is obtained, if necessary.

 

10- BROOM-CLEAN THE NEW PLACE:

Once the place is completely clean and free of dust, you can move in to the new place.

 

Now that construction is complete, sit back and rejoice. Hopefully you'll be so happy with your architect and contractor, that you'll refer them to anyone you know.

 

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FIRE EXTINGUISHERS

Which fire extinguisher is right for you?

The first thing to understand is that there are different types of fires, and not all extinguishers are good for all uses.
If your concern is dealing with a fire where the items to be contained are
ordinary combustible materials such as paper, wood, cardboard, and most plastics, you should look for a Class 'A' extinguisher. They can contain water or foam.

For fires that involve combustible liquids such as gasoline, kerosene, etc., a Class 'B' extinguisher should be used. These extinguishers contain chemicals or powder.

Class 'C' extinguishers are used to fight fires found in electrical equipment, such as appliances, wiring, circuit breakers and outlets. The media used in these devices is a non-conductive agent (chemicals).

If you need to contain a fire in a chemical laboratory, where combustible metals, such as magnesium, titanium, potassium and sodium are found, you need to look for a class 'D' extinguisher. They employ powder chemicals.

Lastly, for commercial kitchens, where grease, animal fats, or cooking oil, the one to choose is a Class 'K' extinguisher. These employ a wet chemical as a fire fighting element.

However, the most commonly found type of fire extinguishers used in residences, are the ones labeled 'ABC' which are multipurpose, and use a dry chemical extinguishing media.

Don't forget to check your local codes for additional information.

Hopefully you'll never have to use one of these extinguishers, but it's always a good idea to be prepared. By the way, change your smoke alarm's battery periodically, and make certain it is in good working condition.

MOLD

Recently I was asked to observe the existing conditions of an almost completed apartment building. To my surprise I noticed the existence of mold in one apartment, condition that needs to be taken care of immediately.

Molds are fungi that
can be found anywhere, indoors or outdoors. It's often found in damp, dark, hidden spaces, all areas that lack of adequate air circulation or lighting.
Mold spores can grow on virtually any substance, as long as moisture or water, oxygen, and an organic source are present. Indoors, mold growth should be avoided. Problems may arise when mold starts eating away at materials, producing a foul smell, affecting the look of building surfaces, and sometimes having a negative effect in wood frame buildings.

In buildings, mold can grow on sheetrock, insulation, carpet, wood floors, etc. It is practically impossible to eliminate all molds and mold spores, but controlling moisture content in an environment, can prevent indoor mold from growing. Leaky roofs, faulty gutters, or even grass watering can contribute to mold growth. A combustion appliance without the proper ventilation can also produce mold.

The way that mold growth can affect a human being is by causing allergic reactions, which include runny nose and red eyes.
In order to prevent moisture buildup, the following measures should be considered to prevent human exposure and further damage to building materials and furnishings:

• Rapidly repair any plumbing leaks detected in a building.
• Locate and remediate any condensation present in a space.
• Reduce the moisture level in the air, and increase surface temperature by providing proper insulation. Use a dehumidifier if outdoor air is warm and humid.
• Keeping HVAC drip pans clean, flowing properly, and unobstructed.
• Performing regularly scheduled building/ HVAC inspections and maintenance, including filter changes.
• Maintaining indoor relative humidity below 70% (25 - 60%, if possible).
• Venting moisture-generating appliances, such as dryers, to the outside where possible.
• Venting kitchens (cooking areas) and bathrooms according to local code requirements.
• Providing adequate drainage around buildings and sloping the ground away from building foundations. Follow all local building codes.

Mold can generally be removed from nonporous surfaces by wiping or scrubbing with water and detergent. If the affected surface is of a substantial size, it should be removed completely. Any porous material that has been contaminated with mold, should be discarded in a sealed container.
The use of fungicides developed for outdoor use in any indoor application is not an option, since they can be extremely toxic to humans and animals in an enclosed environment.

When mold repair is needed, you should make certain to hire a contractor that has a vast experience with dealing with mold treatment and discarding procedures.

Good luck!

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AT THE CONTRACTOR'S MERCY

I experienced it twice this month. A hardworking homeowner wants to do work in his house, and, as the first step, hires a contractor, rather than an architect –please refer to my "10 STEPS TO CONSTRUCTION" article
from March 10. That's where the problems started.

After being influenced by his charm, the homeowner goes along almost blindly to whatever the contractor suggests. The contractor brings his own architect, and based upon some input from the owner, they come up with a plan, originally approved by the owner. As unexpected issues came up (which is almost always the case) the contractor and the architect decided to take some matters on their own, like re-configuring interior spaces, modifying the placement of windows and the exterior look of the house, lots of improvisation, etc., all work done without consulting with the owner first.
Unfortunately, the homeowner has a full time job, and comes home late to see what was done during the day. When he sees it, starts arguing with the contractor, and the response is "oh, don't worry, I'll take care of it". The result: disaster. The house ended up not looking at all as what the homeowner has envisioned, the renovation went way over budget, and both, the contractor and the architect are being sued.

To avoid having something like this happen to you, homeowners, here are my tips:

A- Hire an architect separate from the contractor. Usually when they come together in a package, they end up covering themselves for each other's mistakes, without you knowing about them.
B- It's imperative that you clearly state the scope of work, in that way there will be no surprises later on.
C- Never let your contractor decide for you. Always consult the architect first. Since it is you who's paying for the job, you have every right to question absolutely everything that you're not familiar with, and should receive a clear explanation of what's being done.
D- It's also extremely important that you familiarize yourself with the architectural plans, and read all the notes in the "Notes Sheet" of the Architectural Set of drawings. One of them clearly states that "should there be any discrepancies in dimensions between those indicated on the plans and the actual conditions, the contractor should let the architect (or the owner) know immediately before performing any work".
E- You should always be informed before any deviation from the original plans takes place. If any work agreed upon gets changed without your consent, the contractor should, at his expense, revise the situation to what was originally planned.
I hope this helps some homeowners out there. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or comments.

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