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How Would You Stabilize this Drystone Retaining Wall?

09/08/2014 10:14 AM

How would you stabilize this bulging bank wall of drystone in mid-central Maine? Pictures: http://imgur.com/a/uBsAm

I want to push the stones back into vertical alignment. Is there a simple and affordable method for supporting the outside corner of the wall while the big bulge is rammed back? I would also like to straighten the outside corner. I have someone with a digging machine who will excavate the soil from behind the wall. Temporary buttresses? If there is a method, other than ramming the stones back into position, as with a tree trunk battering ram, I would like to hear it.
Presumably, the condition of the bulge occurred as a consequence of hydro-static pressure, rain water from off the barn and house emptying into the soil behind the stones, freezing and thawing for years. I plan to lay a sloped perforated pipe in a trench of gravel with filter fabric and day-light the pipe away from the foundation. I'll grade the soil away from the porch.

Other than cribbing the entire barn, excavating all the soil, dismantling and re-building the wall - is there an affordable, collapse-prevention fix?

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#1

Re: How would you stabilize this drystone retaining wall?

09/08/2014 12:00 PM

I would not touch this at all unless I had a structural engineering license. Hire a local structural engineer familiar with historic building techniques.

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#8
In reply to #1

Re: How would you stabilize this drystone retaining wall?

09/08/2014 11:20 PM

GA. It may be expensive but without fixing the structural issue, the value of the house for resale is poor to say the least. OP needs to protect his/her equity and may even find a way to add real value to the repair that will actually increase equity. Without repairing, I suspect there will be a real loss in dollar value. Your recommendation makes sense.

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#2

Re: How would you stabilize this drystone retaining wall?

09/08/2014 2:44 PM

I wouldn't ram this wall, any such trauma might further destabilize the wall....I would add a few more jack supports and smash the bulging part a few times with a sledge hammer to see if it was ready to collapse or was sturdy and set....I would consider building a concrete enclosure to surround the stone structure, rebar reinforced, and use that to stabilize the buttress and entire stone support structure....I would also fill the center, with the stones in place, with concrete up to the floor joists... ..I would make sure to rustproof the rebar before installation....but this is just a hip shot

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#3

Re: How would you stabilize this drystone retaining wall?

09/08/2014 3:39 PM
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#4

Re: How Would You Stabilize this Drystone Retaining Wall?

09/08/2014 7:35 PM

I have a hard time getting off this thread. but a forum is no substitute for what you really need. Red is correct, pay for a pro, installing weeping tile at this point falls far short of what you require. yes you could continue to Mickey Mouse it with jack screws but I highly recommend against that being left as a permanent solution. use them now but that wall is holding up more than can be seen in your photos. on another pic the porch and the columns that rest on it are on rot so the overhang or upper floor are precarious. just digging up the back-fill wont get you there. I'd like to see all the proper drainage and grading done with a new foundation laid directly below your existing porch. you wont do it but that's my suggestion.

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#5
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Re: How Would You Stabilize this Drystone Retaining Wall?

09/08/2014 8:39 PM

Fredski, a pro told me, based on his quick look at the pictures, it would cost me about $10,000 for him to "do it". Not possible. The wall in the photographs has an outside corner and an inside corner. The inside corner is not bulging, it is vertical and stays so across the width of the barn. The section of wall to the the right of the outside corner that is to say the section featured in the pictures, the section under the porch, is bulging but it's not directly bearing any load from above. The one little wooden post perched on top of it is not really doing any work. Prior to my placing the tele-posts, there was nothing supporting the twelve feet of house sill but its tenon mortised into the barn sill. Even at that, the house sill is not over the wall and the wall is not supporting it. My point is, the situation looks worse than it is. My only concern is that if the wall collapsed, it could take the outside corner with it and that in itself isn't a problem except it is only a few feet from the inside corner which is supporting the front left column of the barn. I want to buttress the outside corner that functions as a column (note the little wooden post) with a corner buttress made of 2 x 8 timber if I can get it or 2 x 6 if I can't. And fasten the buttress with stakes into the ground and bolts into the sills above it. Once the outside corner is stabliized, I can begin to dismantle the bulging wall under the porch by removing as many of the stones, working from the top down, as I can without disturbing the corner. The corner is older and better built and is not interlaced too much with the bulging section of wall where the stones are larger and which was not built as well. The stones comprising the corner are smaller and flatter. I believe the barn was connected to the house about 1905 at which time the earth between the two buildings was excavated and the wall that is now bulging was built. The reason I think it was 1905 is because newspaper used as insulation over the cellar door between the house and the barn and is dated that year.

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#6
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Re: How Would You Stabilize this Drystone Retaining Wall?

09/08/2014 10:26 PM

You disturb me. $10,000 for the repair of a visibly failing antique foundation sounds like a bargain to me. At the same time a price quote from anyone just looking at your pictures would be circumspect at best. You might be right that this can be mitigated for a cheaper price but I would only believe that from somebody that has visited your foundation and performed at least a soil compaction analysis. I know that you have evidence that this foundation has lasted for more than a century but it is visibly failing now. For all I can see this might catastrophically fail after 112 years of use. I also worry about pest infestation (termites, carpenter ants, slime mold) with ancient wood now in contact with soil.

I hope that the only person risking their life with this building is yourself.

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#32
In reply to #5

Re: How Would You Stabilize this Drystone Retaining Wall?

09/11/2014 3:27 PM

If you have never listened to war story, listen to this one:

I was asked to help a family friend who is a structural engineer for large buildings to help his family raise their summer house down the Jersey shore. We would raise it, me being the grunt, and a contractor would put piling in for the house to rest 10ft higher than before. This was all due to "Sandy" damage. Fortunately the house was pretty much intact. The Structural guy was ready to raise the house and before I got there he had put it up 2ft. When I got there I enlightened him that the house had to be moved to the side so the pilings could be driven in. Next I had to develop a safe plan to move it, prevent damage while it was aside, raise the house, move it sideways while it was up there and finally rest it on the pilings. Who was the structural engineer, me by default.

Everything went fairly well with the project. Unfortunately though of the five houses on that side of the street that had to be raised these were the results: 2 done by structural engineers and experienced contractors, both intact with no big problems; the house I worked on intact with only one major problem, the piling guy never showed up; one house done by an inexperienced contractor with no engineer, carted away in dumpsters; and the last one was never done because the guy couldn't afford it, still going round and round with the insurance co and the state.

In short, do not attempt what you are talking about. You don't know as much about the house as we did. It had a crawl space, clear access, sandy soil (good and bad), plenty of inexperienced labor, too much brew in the crew and several other negative things. Attempting your project could end up in a very long stay in a motel and likely injuries. I would never ever attempt such a project again without plenty of expert design and job site knowledge by someone who had excellent references and I had visited previous sites.

Also, one teenager broke both arms on a day I wasn't there. His parents have taken that to court (labor under 18 years).

Good Luck, Old Salt

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#7

Re: How Would You Stabilize this Drystone Retaining Wall?

09/08/2014 10:55 PM

I have looked at your pictures

I have done a lot of this work I would suggest inserting a steel beam or wood beam .

Remove some siding or excavate a slot and push it in the cellar ,using it to span the area that needs support .This is commonly done when moving houses . Once the building is stabilized you can remove all that extra rubble.

If that is too involved just build a 2x6 wall in place, to do the same , to carry the weight.As you said it is not suporting much and will hold things up while you deal with the stone,possibly pull it all out and either pour a new wall ,build with blocks or just

Parge or fill the voids with concrete to stabilize and leave your beam in place

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#9

Re: How Would You Stabilize this Drystone Retaining Wall?

09/09/2014 12:41 AM

I once owned an old house - approx 125 years in 1990.

It had been built in various stages, once a two room single floor with wood siding, probably sitting on wood timbers, then a second floor added, then a back section with second floor, then a summer kitchen added on. I don't know when the brick veneer was added, but they used a rubble foundation with some nice hewn limestone facing stone for the first couple courses, followed by a rather soft red brick.

I suspect the original basement was just acrawl space that was subsequently excavated to allow a "central" coal fired furnace to be installed. The majority of the excavation was sloped from about ground level down to the area around the furnace, , and parged with about 1 inch of cement. Wood walls acted as partitions to contain the coal on the sloping banks. Even in 1990 there where still piles of coal and clinkers in the cellar.

The skill of the various craftsmen varied considerably with each addition.

I had part of the rubble foundation start to crumble and migrate into the "basement" (about 5.5 feet high to the floor joist bottom). The mortar was crumbling (obviously not Portland based) and after a hard rain I had small piles of earth on the floor. In the dry summer I used jack posts and beams to support (and actually level some sections of floor), removed the rubble foundation and saved the Limestone blocks for the upper courses, then framed and poured (hand mixed) concrete, replacing the cut blocks, and doing some minor re-pointing of the brick above. Fortunately I had a small pile of the old brick that I could clean and use. I repaired about 6 feet of the rubble foundation, and from the outside all you noticed was the mortar was lighter and the stone set more level. Twenty years later the house is still standing and being lived in.

(The big maple at the corner of the driveway, and the black walnut in the back yard appear to have been removed)

https://www.google.ca/maps/@43.3606492,-80.9859125,3a,89.9y,279.76h,69.98t/data=!3m4!1e1!3m2!1suKCedtTATw2FyqN6jqJmVg!2e0

The repaired foundation is where the AC unit now stands.

https://www.google.ca/maps/@43.360451,-80.9860844,3a,15.2y,343.68h,84.95t/data=!3m4!1e1!3m2!1se6Q4RwgkjfzgZupBFJhOVg!2e0

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#10

Re: How Would You Stabilize this Drystone Retaining Wall?

09/09/2014 1:26 AM

I was in the building trade since age 14 to 28 (then went on to Uni). I'd do this myself too. Get an "I" beam in there to support whole above wall (obviously with appropriate end supporting new foundation/footing).

From what I see, the problem is water getting in there. Once you get the beam in place I'd do all I could to seal any water getting in there. Once it has been supported, either get rid of the failing wall or build out of brick with appropriate footing/foundation - about 300mm away. When dry, fill the gap with cement. Note that if it's water issue, it will fail again and again. Deal with the water coming in first.

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#11

Re: How Would You Stabilize this Drystone Retaining Wall?

09/09/2014 7:29 AM

Both traditional and Daffy mention an I-beam to provide the 'carry'.

You could support the sill with it - or replace the sill with it (if there is rot).

I have done it that way a few times and once I did try (as you seem to want to do)to preserve the stone wall 'in-situ' for cosmetic reasons. After doing it that way the one time was convinced that it would have been less work and a better result had I simply removed the wall completely (after placing temporary supports).

The heritage review people will usually go for effect - so if you have to deal with them, you may have to put the stones in place over the new structure afterwards.

A structural engineer with experience in remediating old wooden structures will save you money, only coming second to a good 'country' carpenter. Together they can do just about anything.

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#13
In reply to #11

Re: How Would You Stabilize this Drystone Retaining Wall?

09/09/2014 9:31 AM

The sills are supported with Lally columns, tele-posts and/or wooden posts. If the wall under the porch collapsed the worst that would happen is it would take the outside corner of the wall with it which is in close proximity to the inside corner under the corner post of the barn. The wall in my pictures is not supporting the sills of the barn or the house.

These before and after pictures are not mine: I don't know how this restoration was accomplished: I'd like to know:

Picture of collapsed barn bank wall before restoration: http://www.hermanrestoration.com/images/Frank%20Updated/3b.jpg

After restoration: http://www.hermanrestoration.com/images/Frank%20Updated/3a.jpg

It would appear they disassembled the entire wall and rebuilt it with mortar and weep holes. I am not interested in cementing the stones together as was done here it is only the re-stacking, plumb and level that I'm after, which I will do when I am certain the outside corner of the wall cannot collapse, i.e. that it is stabilized. My question is how to build the buttress and secure it in place.

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#17
In reply to #13

Re: How Would You Stabilize this Drystone Retaining Wall?

09/09/2014 10:28 AM

now you're redefining your question!. so you intend to keep the existing wall but repair it. the lally columns are a typical choice when placed on an appropriate footing.your local building code office can assist you on depth, percolation and compaction. once complete requirements.once complete you can pour concrete to place your columns on, dismantle the wall, do all your drain work and backfill with proper grading and you'll get another 100 years without water rotting the place out beneath your feet.

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#12

Re: How Would You Stabilize this Drystone Retaining Wall?

09/09/2014 9:28 AM

I agree with previous comments that it appears that your present structure has been undermined by water. I think the key to rehabilitation is to either get rid of the water or to construct a water resistant support structure. You will need some help re-routing your water as we have no information on it.

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#14

Re: How Would You Stabilize this Drystone Retaining Wall?

09/09/2014 9:58 AM

Hard to tell from photos, but a little "roof runoff management" might be called for. Gutters and downspouts with an outlet far away from the site would help.

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#16
In reply to #14

Re: How Would You Stabilize this Drystone Retaining Wall?

09/09/2014 10:19 AM

I thought the same and installed gutters six years ago, last year I removed them. An old country carpenter told me not to install gutters due to ice dams which damage the roof at the eves. I didn't take his advice and learned the hard way; the leaks started two years ago and this summer I began replacing the roof.

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#15

Re: How Would You Stabilize this Drystone Retaining Wall?

09/09/2014 10:10 AM

Do not even try to push them back. Rather, stabilize with abutting pilasters and walers anchored to the floor (or into soil floor) and with thrust struts across the bottom of the floor beams. Be sure to add a waler for the full circumference of the rock wall - at the top and at the bottom. Pressure-treated for soil contact should work for structural components.

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#18
In reply to #15

Re: How Would You Stabilize this Drystone Retaining Wall?

09/09/2014 6:09 PM

bullardrr: Could you link to some images of what you're describing? I don't know what a waler is.

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#19
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Re: How Would You Stabilize this Drystone Retaining Wall?

09/09/2014 6:35 PM

neither do I

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#20

Re: How Would You Stabilize this Drystone Retaining Wall?

09/10/2014 9:00 AM

As Redfred stated above, obtain the services of a Registered Professional Engineer who specializes in Structural Engineering.

Unless that farm house is historically registered or significant, my advice to you as a long time PE/SE, is to have the superstructure of the house above the stone wall supported by "underpinning" (see the various comments above by others). You are going to have to remove the original stone foundation wall and replace it with a new foundation wall and concrete wall footing. This appears to be a load bearing wall. You could use concrete masonry units (CMU), aka concrete blocks, or a reinforced concrete foundation wall.

Reinstalling the dry laid stone wall is only going to lead to more problems in the future, as continued water infiltration and pest intrusion. You seriously have to seal up the building envelope against the elements and critters. DON'T ramp the stone wall back into place, unless you want to wear that corner of the house around your ears. This is serious stuff, and someone could get seriously hurt, or even die. I just turned down a potential client with a similar problem as yours, but significantly worse. He didn't want to heed my advice and insisted that he could do the work safely, even though he was young and totally inexperienced in construction matters. Typical FLIPPER looking for a fast resale and little capital outlay for repairs. The City Building Inspector backed me up and refused to grant a Building Permit unless a LICENSED Contractor completed the work. His building was a 1875 3-story wood framed apartment building, striped of all cladding and interior plaster ans lathe (causing significant lean problems in both horz. axis) and the entire dry laid stone foundation needing replacement. In the end I recommended to him the tear down the entire building. The lot size was too small, not meeting the city's Zoning Code minimum requirements, nor did it afford any room for new construction access, unless he encroached on the adjoining land owner's parcels.

All too often I have seen this type of problem with old homes and barns. Unfortunately. many home owners don't want to hear the truth about the sorry state their home is really in, and what it will take to remedy the problem from a structural standpoint. Also, this is something to leave to a well experienced Contractor once the SE has delivered you the Construction Plans.....this work is not for the inexperienced nor the faint of heart. IF you have the necessary skills to undertake this significant repair that's fine, but you have been warned if you do not.

If it was up to me, I would have the entire house jacked up and replace the entire foundation supporting it with a new structurally sound one (bother exterior and interior foundation walls and footings), otherwise you'll be repairing sections of the other walls into the future, which is not cost effective. Labor and material costs continue to spiral upwards year after year Do it just once and have a peace of mind.

Frankly, if this house goes up for sale don't expect a sale for a long time, unless you have the structural and architectural problems rectified. Most banks require a thorough inspection prior to a mortgage approval. Your foundations will most definitely be "RED FLAGGED" as significantly structurally deficient. No applicant is going to obtain a mortgage for this home until the problems are fixed.

Also, it appears that your front porch is pretty much shot, as well as the bases of the wooden posts/columns supporting the porch roof above, thereby requiring their removals and replacements. more foundation work is required to support an new porch, unless you want to install a new concrete slab on grade.

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but it is what it is. In my expert opinion, expect a repair bill many times the $10K you were quoted.

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#22
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Re: How Would You Stabilize this Drystone Retaining Wall?

09/10/2014 10:42 AM

Thank you all for your advice. The house is not for sale nor will it be so long as I live. May it stand as is, with adjustments, not alterations, for another hundred and fifty-five years. http://www.fairbankshouse.org/

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#23
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Re: How Would You Stabilize this Drystone Retaining Wall?

09/10/2014 11:04 AM

This bothers me. In reply #16 you stated that you installed and later removed gutters from this building site that is just over 100 years old. Now you imply that this is a significant historic site that is almost 400 years old.

I do not know what your game is but I no longer care. You will never get useful information when you mislead people.

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#24
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Re: How Would You Stabilize this Drystone Retaining Wall?

09/10/2014 11:33 AM

move over Red, we're leaving on the same train

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#25
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Re: How Would You Stabilize this Drystone Retaining Wall?

09/10/2014 11:41 AM

Fred, I think he was trying to make a comparison between his house and the historic one in Massachusetts. I think the only reason the Mass. house is still standing is that a team of Architects and Structural Engineers have poured over that house is a big big way and strengthened it to enable it to keep standing....although you may not visibly see any modifications. I've even worked on several historic Quaker house that are located next to the Albany Int'l Airport that are older than this farm house by quite a few years.

In the past I have done many many structural retrofits for historic and non-historic homes in Albany, Troy, and Schenectady NY + the VP's residence in DC (Blair House). Unless you know what to look for CLOSELY, you'll never notice the structural mods. Many are well hidden or covered up.

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#26
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Re: How Would You Stabilize this Drystone Retaining Wall?

09/10/2014 12:20 PM

This is exactly why I used the uncertain verb "imply" in my previous comment.

I'm certain that many historic buildings have been carefully retrofitted in hidden ways by structural engineers to provide both structural and historic integrity. I knew from your previous comments that you and the firms you worked with have performed several of these retrofits. Wishing that your 100+ year old building will last 150 more years because another building is intact for nearly 400 years seems foolhardy to me. Like all antique restorations, many of these old buildings were "repaired" by well meaning, frugal owners that inadvertently inflicted more damage than healing in doing the repair. [Gutters]

Ironically, in many places around the world a 400 year old building would not be considered an old building at all.

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#21

Re: How Would You Stabilize this Drystone Retaining Wall?

09/10/2014 9:40 AM

around here we see a wide variety of questions, many are simple and basic. many of us joke freely(especially me)but on occasion we see a situation that screams of potential danger. your pics scream to me! I just reread your entire thread. a few replies are not applicable but several should have gotten your attention. sorry, there is no cheap or easy answer and "pushing" stones back into position is not an option. you have received some valuable advice. I hope you objectively sift through your thread and come to a conclusion that strongly considers safety first and cost is a secondary consideration. good luck

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#27

Re: How Would You Stabilize this Drystone Retaining Wall?

09/10/2014 12:22 PM

http://cnews.canoe.ca/CNEWS/Canada/2014/09/09/21928836.html

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/bedford-park-house-collapse-kills-19-year-old-construction-worker-1.2760888

This can be dangerous work!

An entire brick house collapsed this week in Toronto with "foundation" work suspect.

Be careful.

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#28
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Re: How Would You Stabilize this Drystone Retaining Wall?

09/10/2014 12:29 PM

Believe me, I've seen this many times before over the years as a Forensic Structural Engineer. Some have involved blunt trauma deaths. Yeah, as in squashed like a tiny bug. No pretty seeing the mess left behind after the ME and fire dept. remove the corpse.

The worse part of the job is an Expert Witness in a civil court proceeding. I HATE FREAKIN' LAWYERS, BUT THE $$$$ IS WELL WORTH THE HASSLE!

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#29
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Re: How Would You Stabilize this Drystone Retaining Wall?

09/10/2014 1:04 PM

I agree about the lawyers and the law system - what is "legal" and what is "justice" often have a distinct disconnect. And many of the lawyers I have dealt with only see the "legal", and that view only depends on what side they are defending. The real disappointment is in their own personal lives they often blur the line for their own convenience - just look at the senate.

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#31
In reply to #29

Re: How Would You Stabilize this Drystone Retaining Wall?

09/10/2014 6:43 PM

All too often, lawyers equate the law with self-agrandment....

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#30
In reply to #27

Re: How Would You Stabilize this Drystone Retaining Wall?

09/10/2014 1:16 PM

With an old building a collapse can originate from almost any renovation work. If my memory of the failure analysis is correct, this collapse happened because the removed for renovation windows and frames were found after the collapse to be structural supports. Fortunately for the cleaning crew in the building at the time, the timber moans warned people to get out in time.

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