What walls can I remove in my home?

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The most common remodel questions we get at Complete Building Solutions are regarding the removal of a wall for expansions and making open floor plans. Commonly these inquiries would include walls between the kitchen and the living room to create a great room concept. Homes built in the 1930’s-1970’s typically had 11’x19’ kitchens leaving the cook of the house feeling boxed in and isolated from the rest of the family. In this modern era, we find homeowners looking for a more open floor plan that allows the whole family to interact. Because of this, our phones ring off the hook with questions from realtors, homeowners, and home flippers regarding how to proceed with a wall removal.  Typically, this is our recommendation.

Before you hire a contractor or decide to remove a wall yourself, you must determine if the wall is load bearing. Load bearing walls support or transfer the load of a structure from one area to another. Removing a wall such as this without replacing it with a new form of support can be detrimental to integrity of the home. Often times a new beam & column system will be required to replace the wall. If this is the case, you will need to hire an engineer to design the system and be sure that the new column transfers the load properly. Depending on where the column sits on the floor, blocking may be necessary. See the diagram below.

 

Load Bearing Wall Engineer Sketch Sample

With this said, it is smart to move forward cautiously while removing a non-load bearing wall as well. There are several factors to consider before the wall demolition begins. What heating, air conditioning, ventilation, plumbing, electrical, thermostat or other unknown challenges may be present? These are all questions you can ask Complete Building Solutions.

It is also very important that you check with your city before moving forward with the wall removal and installation of a new support system. Frequently, a permit will be required to proceed with this work. Our engineers can provide you the specifications in obtaining a proper permit. We can help you determine if the wall is in fact load bearing and design a replacement beam and column sealed with an engineer’s stamp for city approval.

If you are still having questions about your specific remodel, please feel free to give us a call.

 

 

Is my Wall Load Bearing

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Most homes built before the 1980’s were hand framed which means any wall removal or addition project typically needed to be structurally engineered by a professional. The replacement of hand framing with trusses during the 1970-1980’s simplified the whole process making it easier to pull out a wall.

However, wall removal/additions can still be very complicated and frequently require an engineer’s stamp of approval to acquire a permit. Because of this, customers call us weekly to help them determine if a wall is load bearing.

The picture below is a great example of one of those calls. The owner of this two-story home wanted to remove an entire wall and create a new beam and column system in order to open up the existing great room.

Load Bearing Wall

Complete Building Solutions performed an onsite inspection and determined that the wall was load bearing with an existing header. Our engineers then designed a column and beam to replace the entire wall.

If you are looking to remove/add a wall or start a new remodeling project, feel free to give Complete Building Solutions a call today for questions 612 868 2922

 

Sump Pump Running Nonstop

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Sump Pump

Have you noticed that your sump pump is running constantly or more than it should be? A sump pump system really exists as a backup in case your water management systems fail or are not capable of handling periodic weather-related moisture such as heavy rains. Because of this, a sump pump should not be running every 5 minutes or nonstop. If it is, the best thing to do is to have an engineer take a look at the problem. Sometimes natural springs or high-water tables cold be the culprit, but it may be as simple as poor water management. We will examine a few principles that can make a whole lot of difference in protecting your foundation from water.

Working gutters with downspouts & extensions:

Gutters are extremely important for running water away from the home. However, gutters alone will not prevent water from pooling at your foundation. You need working downspouts and extensions to carry the roof water away from the foundation.

When was the last time you cleaned out your gutters? If you cannot remember it is definitely time to do some investigating. Plugged gutters may be contributing to the sump pump issue.

Positive grade:

Another important factor regarding water management is the grade around your building. A negative grade around a building will invite water back to the foundation and could make the sump pump run more frequently. To remedy this, there needs to be a positive grade  around the foundation. International building code states that the ground must fall away from the foundation at least 6 inches within the first 10 feet. This is extremely important if you are interested in preserving both the health of your buildings foundation and your sump pump.

Proper landscape:

Sometimes certain landscaping features hold water near your foundation. One example is a planting bed near the base of your home that has a metal or plastic edging to keep the ground saturated for the plants. The plants may be happy, but your home is not. That sitting water can do damage to the foundation and seep into the basement.

Properly installed hardscape:

Varying types of “hardscape” such as decks & patios can trap water around the foundation. To protect the foundation, these hard surfaces must be built with a pitch capable of draining water away from the home. Proper and correctly installed deck flashing is also an element that is crucial to deflecting water.

Without a professional to take a closer look, it could be difficult to pinpoint exactly why your sump pump is running frequently. However, even just one of the above factors could be causing the issue. Keep an eye out for an upcoming blog that will discuss in detail other important factors that go into having a DRY basement.

DIY’s & House Flippers! How to Know When You Need to Consult with a Licensed Engineer

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This blog is for all the handy husbands and professional home flippers out there. We frequently hear you asking when you need to pull the trigger and book an engineering inspection on a working project. Too frequently inspections are put off in the hopes of saving money on an expensive engineering bill.  As engineers, it is not only an ethical obligation, but the law to uphold individual and societal safety. Truthfully, monumental damage can occur if certain structural elements are altered during a project. So, how you do know when an inspection is essential?

The the answer is not so simple . However, it is safe to say when the homes skeletal structure is being altered, a  licensed engineer’s opinion should be sought out. Skeletal structures can include foundation framework, floors, walls, and ceilings. These elements are responsible for keeping the structure together & standing.

So, if you are modifying your home or building’s skeletal structure you should call an engineer. Great. But, you might also be wondering what specifically is considered a structural modification. A modification is when a load bearing element is repaired, changed, removed or when a new load bearing element is added. One example is the removal of a wall in your home. Certain walls are responsible for bearing weight and would be detrimental to your home if removed. However, there are also non load bearing walls that would present zero damage to your home if knocked out. Telling the difference between them is why you need an engineer.

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Another example is the removal of a metal post responsible for supporting beams in your basement. These posts are present to help disperse forces throughout different areas of the home. If one of those posts were to be moved, it could severely alter the structure of the home. An engineer knows how to diagnose this.

If you are a seasoned home flipper you probably have worked with an engineer on some of the examples discussed above. On top of this, it is likely you have hired a structural engineer to inspect a home before deciding if it was a worthy investment. Professional home flippers highly value engineer inspections. Our firm works regularly with clients who base their purchasing decisions on our findings. They want to know what they are getting themselves into before they make a significant investment in a project. Engineers are able to spot hidden problems, such as a faulty foundation, that could end up costing a home flipper or homeowner large amounts of money that was not budgeted for during the purchasing decision.

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To conclude, preventative inspections are always advised to attain a return on investment or save money long term. If you are working on a project that incorporates an alternation to a skeletal structure such as removing a wall, altering joists, or removing a beam, get a professionals advice. If you have a contractor aiding in your project, heed their guidance. A reputable contractor will let you know if they are uncomfortable working on your project without an engineer’s inspection. Sometimes the city might even require an engineers inspection before a contractor is allowed to pull a permit. We will be talking about this further in an upcoming blog post.

Remember, it the engineer’s job to make sure your dwelling is safe. It is best to consult and engineer and discuss a plan that will allow you to achieve your goals in an affordable manner. If you have any questions about your project, be sure to contact Complete Building Solutions today to speak with an expert (612) 868-2922.

Is the Summer Heat Damaging your Roof?

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Watch the video below to learn how the Minnesota summer heat can damage your roof and cut down on life expectancy.

Check us out on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/completebuildingsolutionsmn/ for a chance to win a free consultation.

For questions about your roof or to schedule a roof inspection call:

612 868 2922

Water in my Basement! What Should I Do?

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water in basement

During the summer months, when heavy downpours from thunderstorms occur, you may experience water in your basement.  You ask yourself, “what can I do to prevent this from happening?”  The following are items you can review at your home to help determine the causes for this basement water.

  • Does the grade around your home’s foundation have a slope of 6 inches within the first ten feet of soil/landscape?
  • Do you have gutters on your house? Maybe you need gutters to collect the rain runoff from your roof?
  • If you have gutters are they:
    • Clean and not plugged? (They need to be checked several times during the year.)
    • Extensions on your downspouts of a minimum of five feet away from your foundation?
    • Gutters that are sized appropriately for the amount of water runoff created from the area of your roof?
    • Are there enough downspouts to empty the gutter fast enough?
  • Is the sump pump operational? Do you have a battery backup system if you lose power? Do you need a second pump in case of failure?
  • Do you have a wet basement often? You might need a collection system installed in the basement.

guttersmeasuring slope around foundation

These are some of the basic questions that may point you in the right direction when solving your wet basement problem. Feel free to email, comment, message, or call Complete Building Solutions with your questions. We offer moisture intrusion solutions and help prevent flooded basements throughout Minnesota.

(612) 868-2922

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To READ UP on WATER MANAGEMENT check out Complete Building Solution’s latest guest column with the Golden Valley Sunpost  HERE

 

Read the Fine Print

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Many of the large insurance companies can make it very difficult for home and building owners to receive the maximum insurance funds in a catastrophe. Additionally, they will constantly move the goal post, re-writing their policy language. After you file a claim, insurance companies send out their inspection adjusters and you are notified of your final claim dollars. Often times building owners are in a situation where they need to negotiate with insurance companies and show evidence to get their full coverage on severely damaged exterior building products. I know this first hand.

Over the decades, after overseeing the completion of more than 50,000 roofs, I have seen insurance companies continually change claim coverage on crucial exterior building components. About 15 years ago my own home was hit by a horrific hail storm leaving nearly two inches of shingle granules in my gutters. Shingle granules are vital in preserving the lifetime of the roof by protecting the underlying asphalt from the sun’s harmful UV rays. This impact to my new 40 year shingles cut their life in half. I assumed my insurance company would cover such loss but they had discontinued granular loss coverage for some reason from hail damage. The news was quite a blow knowing that without granules the shingles will not last…period.

Through 40 years of field and personal experience dealing with hail and insurance companies, I have compiled a team to bridge the gap between building owners and the insurance companies. As a local engineering consulting firm it is our goal to help you in these situations and be your consumer advocate!

Storm damage is covered on your policy. It is my fear that all damaged pertinent materials should be replaced in order to protect your home long term and many times it’s not. Contact us, we want to make sure your home performs and is sheltered from the storm AND fine print.

Heaving Concrete and Asphalt – Subgrade

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In Minnesota, there are some excellent references that can be used as a guide for the design and construction of residential driveways. However, what is needed is a code that addresses the key elements of a driveway structure. I find it fascinating that there is nothing in the code that addresses the design or the construction of a residential driveway.

In my professional opinion, the key elements to a properly designed residential driveway are as follows: the proper subgrade with the required compaction, a solid base upon which the driveway material will rest (this blog is based on an asphalt driveway), the right asphalt thickness, and once the driveway is constructed, preventing water from entering the subgrade (water management system).

Proper Subgrade

What is a proper subgrade? The answer – one that is NOT prone to frost heaving.  Damage from frost heaving can result in the buckling of garage door trim which can cause the misalignment of your garage door. This misalignment can make it difficult to open and close the door.

Buckling of garage door tripm. Clay soils push concrete soils upward in winter.

Buckling of garage door apron. Clay soils pushes concrete soils upward in winter.

The subgrade should either be granular or con-bit.  Most subgrades today consist of clays and silts, soils that are considered expansive – these materials are not the proper subgrade.  If you have subgrade consisting of clays and silts, it should be removed and replaced with granular material or con–bit (this is normally referred to as a soil correction). Here at CBS we recommend using con-bit rather than granular material. Whether it is con-bit or granular it must be compacted and it should be compacted in lifts. Each lift should be about 8-10 inches. Once the subgrade is prepared then the base is constructed.

Concrete and asphalt can move as much as 8 inches when the soil beneath it freezes.

Concrete and asphalt can move as much as 8 inches when the soil beneath it freezes.

Many driveway problems occur right in front of the garage door. This is an area where the native soils are used for backfilling and they are seldom compacted properly and are often placed wet. This area is prone to becoming “wetter” over time because other elements feed moisture into it (poor water management systems). Disregarding this compaction and allowing the subgrade to become saturated are the key reasons why driveways settle and are subjected to frost heaving.

 

Moisture Intrusion Solutions: Solid Base & Asphalt Thickness

The next element of importance in a pavement structure is the base. The base is the layer directly below the driveway surface (either asphalt or concrete). AS previously stated, this article is based on a hot mixed asphalt driveway. The base material, in my opinion should be a class V material or con-bit (recycled concrete and asphalt). The thickness of the base will depend upon the thickness of the asphalt.

Let me explain – the design of the pavement structure should be based upon a term called “Granular Equivalent” (GE). The granular equivalent concept defines a pavement section by equating the thickness of the base and asphalt layer to an equivalent thickness of granular base material. Note: this is not my term, but a term used by the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MN/DOT) for designing pavement sections.

As an example, a class 5 aggregate base has a granular equivalent of 1 per inch of thickness and an asphalt course has a granular equivalent of 2.25 per inch of material.  So, if I have an asphalt thickness of 3 inches, and a class 5 course of five inches, my granular equivalent would be 11.75 inches. If I had an asphalt thickness of 2 inches and a class 5 base of seven inches, my granular equivalent would be 11.50 inches.

So, you see the granular equivalent can be any combination of asphalt and base. It goes without saying that the higher the GE number, the better the pavement structure (I have personally seen this to be true).  Low GE’s might not show pavement distress in the first few years but within 3-7 years, signs of distress will begin showing up.

The next element in the pavement structure and the ones everyone sees, is the surface course. To be frank, I am not sure what specification most residential paving contractors use for their design mix. I have seen HMA thicknesses from 2” up to 3” used for driveways. I think most paving contractors will use 2”-2 ½”. Especially in large residential developments. If you are an individual homeowner the contractor will probably use 2 ½” – 3”. In my professional opinion, I would recommend 3” – 4”.

Now getting back to the GE. I would recommend a GE between 10.5”-12” for residential driveways. Similarly, for reference – the Minnesota Asphalt Pavement Association (MAPA) recommends a GE of 11.5” for driveways also.

Conclusion:

The building codes govern the applications of these materials and practices. Neither the IBC, nor the IRC include information for residential driveway designs. Nor is there a recognized national standard. Maybe it is far “fetched” of me to think that one could be established, but at the very least, I believe the Minnesota State Building Code should address the issue.

Incidentally, I have over 30 years of experience with the Hennepin County Department of Transportation dealing with bridge and roadway designs.

 

 

 

Reserve Studies

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condominium

Developments that have defined shared property/common areas and improvements have agreements including restrictions on the deed for the use of the property.  This includes its repair, maintenance and replacement of these common areas. The association is responsible for these decisions and for the funds required to accomplish those responsibilities.

A reserve study provides an estimate of the costs of repairing and replacing major common area components (roofs, asphalt, siding, concrete, decks, etc.) over the long term. Ideally, all major repair and replacement costs will be covered by funds identified by the association as reserves.  This then results in the funds being available when the replacement is necessary. A good reserve study examines the obligations of the association including the following items:

  1. Examination of the associations repair and replacement obligations;
  2. Determination of costs and the anticipated timing of replacement; and
  3. Determination of the necessary reserves (cash) for the related expense.

Usually the Association Board has a fiduciary responsibility to manage the funds and property. The reserve study is a vital management tool for the association as it balances and optimizes the long-term values and costs for the membership. Astute potential buyers will examine an association’s reserves and whether a reserve study has been performed. For association members, reserve planning assures property values by protecting against declining property values due to deferred maintenance and the lack of reserves to pay for the aging components.

Your association needs a reserve study and as a member of the association, you want the most value for your dollar to protect your asset.  Many associations think they can perform this task on their own but this puts the Board Members at an undue risk to make these decisions.  This is where Complete Building Solutions, LLC (“CBS”) can make a difference for your association.

CBS is an engineering and consulting firm located in the Twin Cities and has years of experience working with associations like yours. Our staff of experts includes experienced engineering, construction, financial and real estate experts to assist your association in closely examining the components listed above.   We have a proven track record including uncovering every detail of your specific associations components and their related life expectancy.  This determination can then be evaluated for expected replacement costs and necessary reserves needed.  We have performed considerable construction defect work, solutions and cost analysis which gives us a real understanding of the issues at hand.

If your association needs a thorough and in-depth reserve study, please give CBS an opportunity to work for you.  We recognize that your ownership within the association may be one of the largest assets you possess. Let CBS work with you to protect it.  You can feel assured that we understand the dynamics of cost effective measures to keep your association fees in line with your budget.