The Year In Review: 2022

For the office of Richard J. Driscoll, Consulting Engineer (RJDCE), 2022 represented continuity, maintaining the steady pace and diversity of projects of 2021, but also saw modest progress on strategic objectives.

The Year in Review

As RJDCE was completing projects from late 2021, the 2022 construction season started quickly. The schedule coordination difficulties that have come to characterize the COVID-19 era in the architecture, engineering and construction industry continued to plague multiple projects. After a few months of an abnormally high proportion of proposals becoming projects and additional services being required for ongoing projects, the practice was severely overloaded. Despite contract labor recruitment efforts to assist with field work and drafting, the mounting backlog and difficulty scheduling outside service providers sharply limited the practice’s ability to meet the demand for services. As a result, a new approach to project selection was taken in which greater emphasis was placed on relationships with project stakeholders and the value RJDCE’s services could bring to a given project. In addition, greater focus was given to balancing types of projects in terms of practice area, phase of construction and deliverables required. Ultimately, RJDCE offered proposals for fewer new projects in 2022 than in 2021, but the projects accepted were typically larger and were better suited to RJDCE’s expertise.

While condition assessments and forensic investigations remained a substantial proportion of the year’s workload, more projects involved design and consulting compared to past years. 2022 project highlights include:

  • Recommendations for rehabilitating and strengthening a retail building in Manchester, New Hampshire for a more demanding occupancy.
  • Remedial design of an impaired timber frame and damaged foundation in a mixed-use building in Hartford, Vermont.
  • Condition assessment and investigation of foundation movement at a hotel in Woodstock, Vermont.
  • Consulting on excavation support challenges for an urban apartment building in Portland, Maine.
  • Underpinning and protection wall design for installing an elevator in a Dartmouth College dormitory.
  • Design of temporary support to stabilize a concrete parking deck in a historic mill building.
  • Stabilization and underpinning an existing foundation wall to support the construction of an annex to the Fairbanks Museum and Planetarium, in St. Johnsbury, Vermont.

In Other News

In the spring, RJDCE expanded its service area to include the State of Maine. RJDCE now offers services in seven states from Maine to Virginia plus the District of Columbia. Further service area expansions are may come in the new year.

With an increased number of design projects, RJDCE has invested in more sophisticated two-dimensional computer-aided design (CAD) software and began an initiative to organize detail libraries and improve CAD standards. In time, this will streamline to production of drawings.

While still not quite to pre-pandemic levels, in-person meetings and events have largely returned. RJDCE participated in in-person events organized by the New Hampshire and Vermont sections of the American Society for Civil Engineering (ASCE) and the Upper Valley Business Alliance as well as ASCE committee work sessions. In October, RJDCE was represented at the Deep Foundation Institute’s 47th Annual Conference on Deep Foundations in National Harbor, Maryland, reestablishing the practice’s presence in the Washington, DC area if only for a few days.  In addition to presentations about novel foundation construction methods and projects from Washington, DC to Iraq and …the moon, the conference provided an opportunity for networking with other engineers, contractors and vendors in the foundation industry from New England to the mid-Atlantic, and beyond.

Season’s Greetings

RJDCE wishes you and yours a happy and peaceful holiday season, and a healthy, safe and prosperous new year! As in the past, RJDCE has made year-end contributions to various organizations doing good work including the Alice Peck Day Memorial Hospital, the American Red Cross, the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, the Granite State News CollaborativeGranite (NH) United Way, the National Association of Free & Charitable Clinics  and New Hampshire Relief for Ukraine. You can find nonprofit organizations to support at Charity Navigator.

Soil and Rock Anchors for Resisting Lateral Loads in Buildings

Soil and rock anchors, sometimes collectively referred to as ground anchors, are tension elements consisting of a tendon composed of prestressing strands or a reinforcing steel bar that is grouted in a borehole. Ground anchors derive resistance to load through the bond strength between the grout, the tendon and the soil or rock in which it is installed.

Ground anchors can be used in temporary or permanent applications, can be installed at angles ranging from vertical to almost horizontal, and are often prestressed to control the deflection of the structure that they support. They were first used in the United States for temporary excavation support applications over 50 years ago. Subsequently, the use of permanent ground anchors has become commonplace in transportation projects. They are often used in non-building structures but are perhaps underutilized in the building sector despite being an economical and adaptable means of resisting lateral load effects on foundations. Continue reading “Soil and Rock Anchors for Resisting Lateral Loads in Buildings”

Construction Beyond Boundaries

With high property values and space at a premium, construction in cities and urban suburbs usually involves redeveloping or expanding the built-up area of a previously occupied lot or collection of lots in an established neighborhood. To maximize the utilization of land, projects are often designed such that the built-up area, including buildings, accessory structures, parking and landscaping are built-up to the property line.

In some circumstances, the owner of a project or their contractor may request that access to perform work on abutting properties so that the project can make the greatest use possible of the buildable area on the site. This frequently occurs in major cities where buildings extend to the boundaries of the lots on which they are built. When a new building is constructed along a lot line shared with another building, it is often necessary for the constructor to perform work on the adjacent structure to temporarily or permanently protect it from damage. Underpinning of foundations, roof protection, weatherproofing and stabilization of former party walls, removal of encroachments, and installation of flashing between buildings are common examples. Continue reading “Construction Beyond Boundaries”

Spring 2022 News

Halfway through spring – according to the calendar more than the weather – the 2022 construction season is off to another fast start. This is one of the busiest times of year for Richard J. Driscoll, Consulting Engineer (RJDCE) and that trend continues this year. Like a lot of firms, RJDCE has a growing backlog and is experiencing delays and cost increases from outside services and vendors. The lack of available schedule “float” every week and frequent disruptions result in unpredictably long delivery times for certain services. Continue reading “Spring 2022 News”

Contract Project Assistant Wanted

Richard J. Driscoll, Consulting Engineer (RJDCE), a diverse structural and foundation engineering and construction risk management practice in Lebanon, New Hampshire, is seeking an independent contractor to serve as a project assistant or entry-level engineer on a project-by-project basis. The immediate need is for someone to accompany an experienced engineer to observe, measure and document existing structures in connection with structural condition assessments and forensic investigations. Depending on the contractor’s capabilities and interests, opportunities may arise to draft or proofread reports, perform or check structural engineering calculations and assist with the preparation of CAD drawings.

Desired qualifications: Two years minimum experience in the architecture/engineering/construction industry or a combination or a related degree and internship and/or professional experience. Must be proficient in speaking and writing in English, preferably with a working knowledge of building technology and construction terminology. Experience with technical writing, CAD and structural design would be ideal.

Location: New Hampshire or the Upper Valley region of Vermont. Most projects are in New Hampshire and Vermont. Contractors in other locations served by RJDCE would be considered, but travel and lodging reimbursement may not be available for most projects.

Compensation: The basis and amount of payment will vary by project.

For more information contact RJDCE.

Should a Building Blow Down During Construction?

After an unseasonably warm day, a cold front passed through the New York City metropolitan area on the evening of Monday, 06 December 2021. Along with much colder temperatures, the cold front brought high wind gusts. In Jersey City, New Jersey gusts approaching 60 miles per hour were reported.  Around 8:45 pm, the Jersey City Fire Department received a call for a building collapse with possibly trapped occupants. A four-story building under construction had partially collapsed, displacing five to ten feet off of its foundations, striking an adjacent two-story dwelling and damaging a school. At least 10 residents of adjacent buildings were displaced, some likely permanently because the damaged adjacent dwelling will reportedly be demolished. City officials believe that elements of the partially-constructed building were collapsed by high wind.

It is early in the investigation, of course, and as I have said before, it is not useful to attempt to draw conclusions immediately after a failure. Publicly available information is likely incomplete, may include imprecise or inaccurate information (there are slight discrepancies as to the time of the incident and early reporting identified the building as being three stories) and important details can get lost in the reporting process. More will be learned as the destroyed building is disassembled and removed. More yet will be learned in the course of the litigation that will inevitably follow. I do not have any answers, but I have a lot of questions. Continue reading “Should a Building Blow Down During Construction?”

Will Your Contractor Read the Drawings?

To the uninitiated, a lot of everyday building construction with wood framing and concrete foundations looks pretty similar. However, from a structural engineering design perspective, they could be quite different. Light commercial and multifamily buildings, as well as many custom homes, are more complex and subject to greater load demands and code requirements than simple one- and two-family homes. The design of some or most of the structural systems in these structures must be designed based on calculations so that they perform as required under the anticipated loads, rather than conforming to traditional practices prescribed by the residential code. It is normal for the construction documents for these projects to include structural engineering drawings to communicate to the contractor how engineered structural components and systems fit together.

In the residential and light commercial construction sectors, some contractors do not seem to know what to do with structural drawings. The apparent similarity of engineered construction to traditional residential construction results in certain contractors failing to understand how they are different. Not knowing what they are taking on, they may be less expensive than their more sophisticated counterparts and are more likely to secure projects with inexperienced owners. This doesn’t always end well. Continue reading “Will Your Contractor Read the Drawings?”

Happy Infrastructure Week. No, Really.

It is finally infrastructure week in America…and we can now retire the infrastructure week jokes that necessitated the rebranding of United for Infrastructure’s annual event.

Today, President Joe Biden signed the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, a five-year, $1.2 trillion investment in the country’s transportation, electrical, telecommunications, water and wastewater facilities. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), it represents the largest such investment in almost a century. Continue reading “Happy Infrastructure Week. No, Really.”

Unfamiliar Risks Excavating Near Existing Structures

Most excavations for building and bridge foundations, utility installation, site grading and other applications are made on relatively open sites with few constraints. These excavations are usually kept stable by cutting the sides on a stable. The geotechnical design of these temporary slopes is usually nothing more than conforming to prescriptive regulations from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which are applicable for depths of up to 20 feet.

Sloping the sides of an excavation effectively expands its footprint and site conditions may restrict the limits of the excavation on one or more sides. In developed areas, excavation limits are often restricted by property lines, utilities, contaminants, remnants of past structures and existing structures. When the depth of an excavation exceeds a nominal depth, and cutting the sides of the excavation at a safe slope is not practicable, the excavation sides must be supported structurally.

The presence of nearby existing in-service structures greatly increases the risk and technical difficulty of excavation. The most obvious example of this is excavating a basement on an urban lot with adjacent building foundations on the property lines bearing on soil above the bottom of the excavation. Underpinning of the adjacent structures is the norm in this scenario. However, nearby existing structures can present other difficulties that are less obvious and are unfamiliar to many in the construction industry.
Continue reading “Unfamiliar Risks Excavating Near Existing Structures”