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4 major architectural fails you can learn from

Iris Price | Improvement Center Columnist | September 1, 2015

Architects, engineers, and builders are human, and occasionally they make mistakes. Unfortunately, when they construct a large public edifice or bridge, their failures may be embarrassing and expensive. But architectural fails can prove deadly, too.

Home remodelers, particularly new do-it-yourselfers, have been known to commit some DIY stupid mistakes ranging from the just plain cringe-worthy to the burn-the-house-down variety. And while anyone can have a bad day once in a while, someone with credentials and verifiable experience typically provides peace of mind that the job gets done properly.

Here are four examples of large-scale, architectural failures that on a smaller scale such as your home might not be disastrous but could be very costly to rectify once the mistakes are made. The lesson here is that it pays to do the work right the first time.

1. Leaning Tower of Pisa

Even if you've never been to Italy, you are probably familiar with the iconic bell tower that looks like it's falling over. It is, actually. The Leaning Tower is probably one of the most familiar architectural fails in the world. It's been leaning over since the year 1178 due to a poor choice of building site consisting of mud, clay, and sand. Experts have intervened numerous times to slow its earthward tilt.

Your home's foundation is critical. If the foundation was not done correctly to begin with, you'll see signs that it's settling unevenly such as cracks in the foundation itself or the exterior walls; floors that slope or windows and sliding doors that do not close properly. You may need to have helical piers installed beneath the foundation to hold it up where it's sinking. Each pier can cost between $3,000 and $7,000, and you may need several.

2. Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles and Vdara Hotel & Spa, Las Vegas

Two examples of nice aesthetics, poor functionality: neighbors of the concert hall and passersby complained of intense heat reflecting off the ultra-modern, shiny facade. The rays heated up nearby homes by as much as 15 degrees. Hotel guests at the Vdara in Vegas got burned - and not just at the casino. The building itself was radiating sunlight into the pool area. It was so intense that it melted plastic bags and burned guests' hair right off their scalps!

Your energy-efficient, low-e replacement windows may produce the same effect. Homeowners across the country have reported vinyl siding melting in spots. It turns out that sunlight reflected off their neighbors' new energy-efficient, low-e replacement windows is so concentrated that it can melt vinyl. If you're planning to install siding, find out what kind of windows your neighbors have. If you're installing new windows, find out if your neighbor has vinyl siding. That is, if you want to remain on good terms with them. Some vinyl siding companies may not warranty their products against this particular damage.

3. John Hancock Tower, Boston

And speaking of window woes, Boston's John Hancock Tower, the tallest building in Beantown, won the National Honor Award from the American Institute of Architects in 1977. However, the building shed hundreds of 500-pound, 4-by-11-foot windows any time the wind blew more than 45 mph, raining giant shards of glass on the pavement far below. Air space between the two panes caused the instability.

Though you probably won't have the same problem on a smaller scale, if you live in wind-prone or coastal areas, get windows rated for high wind conditions. The structure of your home can be compromised if your windows break during a severe weather event.

4. Versailles Wedding Hall, Jerusalem, Israel

Sometimes it takes a horrible tragedy on a grand scale to drive the point home about buildings with potentially dangerous remodels. This wedding hall was supposed to be built with both a three-story and a two-story side, but during construction, they changed the plans and built the two-story portion into three. They added extra partitions to bear the additional load on what was designed to be the roof of the two-story section, but the owner removed them. When the floor sagged, that should have alerted him that something was very wrong. It didn't, and when the floor collapsed during a wedding, 23 people were killed and another 380 injured.

If you are removing walls or sections of walls, putting on additions or adding loft or attic bedrooms or offices to your dwelling, have a structural engineer and or/architect go over the plans.

When you embark on a remodeling project that you plan to DIY, be sure to obtain all necessary building permits for your own protection. If you are buying a home that's had renovations, find out whether permits were pulled. If remodeling was done that required permits and they were never obtained, you may not be able to make your own modifications.

Finally, have a thorough home inspection before you buy a home, even one that's new construction. Even if professionals are not infallible 100 percent of the time, an experienced home inspector or structural engineer is your best bet for uncovering issues you might wish were not there but that you need to know about sooner rather than later.

Photo credit to Myryah Shea

About the Author

Iris Price is a single Baby Boomer whose antidote to a lack of retirement funds was to launch a long-delayed career as a writer. While others her age concoct bucket lists and travel the world, she bought a new-construction home and obsessively creates lists of must-have home improvements and personal realization goals. She specializes in writing about home services and self-motivation.

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