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posted by hubie on Tuesday June 13 2023, @03:53PM   Printer-friendly
from the don't-try-this-at-home dept.

https://www.popularmechanics.com/science/a44128093/what-caused-iowa-apartment-collapse/

The exterior center section of a 100-year-old, six-story building in Davenport, Iowa collapsed on May 29, leaving its apartment interiors exposed to the elements and three people dead. In its previous life, the Renaissance Revival-style brick-and-steel structure was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

[...] Some residents said they had been experiencing water damage, and several tenants were afraid of the building collapsing. One resident said her bathroom caved in last December.

[...] Inspectors and a private-sector structural engineer discovered on May 23 that the brick façade, painted scarlet red in recent years, was separated from the interior wall and appeared "ready to fall imminently," according to a CNN article about the report. The interior wall was losing stability and causing deformation. A beam possibly bearing down on the affected wall needed a steel column for extra support, the structural engineer recommended. City inspectors took photos on May 25 showing a void between the façade and interior wall; the gap contained crumbled bricks.

Bricks were falling off the building's facade as early as August 2020, so the sidewalk around this area was closed, according to an analysis by The Architect's Newspaper.

"The collapsed wall is the only wall that was painted, and while the brick was clearly damaged prior to this painting, many types of paint that are not breathable can trap moisture in brick," the newspaper reported.

Moisture normally passes through a building's walls. Bricks are like sponges; their porous structure is great at both absorbing water and drying out completely. However, if moisture beneath the brick surface is unable to evaporate—say, because it hits a layer of paint—then the water builds up. Eventually, water erodes brick over a period of years. "Painting over brick is essentially a death sentence for brick," according to McGill Restoration, a repair and restoration company based in Nebraska.


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  • (Score: 1, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 13 2023, @04:44PM (9 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 13 2023, @04:44PM (#1311286)

    One of the basics taught in a heat and vent (HVAC) course for architects is moisture control.

    For buildings that will be heated, the vapor barrier goes near the inside of the wall, to keep human-generated moisture out of the outer wall cavity (or insulation) where it can freeze in winter.

    For brick walls, the ancients knew about flashing and other details to keep the inside of the brick dry... but clearly this didn't get passed down to whoever painted the outside of the wall in tfa.

    • (Score: 4, Informative) by epitaxial on Tuesday June 13 2023, @04:59PM

      by epitaxial (3165) on Tuesday June 13 2023, @04:59PM (#1311288)

      The building was owned by a slum lord and was fined $300. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/demolition-partially-collapsed-iowa-building-begins-owner-pleads-guilt-rcna88854 [nbcnews.com]

      There was a construction company who refused to even let his guys near the building and yet nobody did anything to evacuate residents.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 13 2023, @05:33PM (4 children)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 13 2023, @05:33PM (#1311295)
      Don't some places put plaster and stuff over brick walls? What would that do to the moisture?
      • (Score: 2) by istartedi on Tuesday June 13 2023, @05:53PM (1 child)

        by istartedi (123) on Tuesday June 13 2023, @05:53PM (#1311299) Journal

        I'm thinking that there's more to it than "painting brick bad". I've seen row-houses in DC with painted brick that look like they've been that way for decades and they aren't suffering. I've also seen unpainted brick row-houses falling apart. It probably comes down to the quality and/or porosity of the brick. The upscale Capitol Hill buildings are also relatively small, and were probably made with the best bricks. The other buildings were probably build cheaply and thrown together in a hurry by less experienced masons using inferior mortar.

        A quick googling got me this explanation of brick porosity. [rsnewrefractory.com]

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        • (Score: 4, Informative) by istartedi on Tuesday June 13 2023, @06:19PM

          by istartedi (123) on Tuesday June 13 2023, @06:19PM (#1311301) Journal

          This looks like a more relevant explanation. [houselogic.com], and helps explain why the stately old rows were painted--there's a good chance they were built earlier in the 19th century! And yes, it was probably a different kind of paint, or plaster that still "breathes".

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      • (Score: 1) by Runaway1956 on Tuesday June 13 2023, @06:36PM (1 child)

        by Runaway1956 (2926) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday June 13 2023, @06:36PM (#1311303) Journal

        Plaster and plaster board are porous, and they will breathe - unless of course, the surfaces are treated with something to stop the breathing. Besides which, plaster is generally on the inside, rather than on the outside. So even if the plaster board is painted, making it non-porous, the moisture won't be trapped in the brick. Stopping moisture inside from wicking into the brick would be considered a 'good thing', up to the point where moisture trapped inside the structure develops mold and mildew.

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    • (Score: 2) by driverless on Wednesday June 14 2023, @09:29AM (2 children)

      by driverless (4770) on Wednesday June 14 2023, @09:29AM (#1311375)

      For brick walls, the ancients knew about flashing and other details to keep the inside of the brick dry

      Watch who you call ancient, you snotty-nosed kid. We knew about putting DPCs below bricks and similar when you were still a glint in the milkman's eye.

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 14 2023, @12:29PM (1 child)

        by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 14 2023, @12:29PM (#1311388)

        No disrespect intended. By ancients, I meant something like this, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_brick [wikipedia.org] and similar by other cultures.

        I'm old enough to remember milk delivery...

        • (Score: 2) by driverless on Wednesday June 14 2023, @01:34PM

          by driverless (4770) on Wednesday June 14 2023, @01:34PM (#1311400)

          Yeah, I knew what you meant :-). Although since the Romans used lead for flashing and pipes I'm not sure whether that counts as a good thing or not...

  • (Score: 4, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 13 2023, @07:50PM (1 child)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 13 2023, @07:50PM (#1311312)

    I've been following this out of curiosity, and blaming the collapse on painted bricks is similar to blaming a rusting bridge collapse on a pigeon. The building had moisture intrusion issues, crumbling brickwork, and an upper facade that was falling away all before the brick was painted. The real problem was the crumbling brickwork was a hodge-podge of modifications and repairs. A structural engineer wrote up a repair procedure to fix it, and the owner shopped that around until they found a lowest-bidder contractor willing to do it. They didn't shore the wall properly or reinforce the structural beams properly, so when they removed the supporting brickwork everything shifted and down it goes.

    The $64,000 question (or however much they ask for in the civil suit) is "Did the contractor see the engineer's report and agree to follow that repair procedure, or did the owner hide it to save money?".

    • (Score: 2) by Username on Wednesday June 14 2023, @08:32PM

      by Username (4557) on Wednesday June 14 2023, @08:32PM (#1311443)

      Yeah, I have a suspicion that this wall was painted to cover the damage, and did not cause the damage.

      I'm not sure that even the most expensive contractor can save something that is past a certain point.

  • (Score: 5, Informative) by pTamok on Wednesday June 14 2023, @08:41AM (1 child)

    by pTamok (3042) on Wednesday June 14 2023, @08:41AM (#1311369)

    It might not be relevant, but people often maintain brick walls by reapplying mortar where it has crumbled away, often raking out the failing mortar and replacing it. In the UK, this is called 're-pointing'

    The trouble is, people have a habit of replacing lime mortar with cement mortar. Lime mortar accommodates small stresses by deforming, but cement mortar is rigid, less permeable than, and stronger than the bricks, causing the bricks to crack and fail. Re-pointing with cement mortar is a well known cause of brick walls being (fatally) damaged.

    https://www.spab.org.uk/advice/repointing [spab.org.uk]
    https://www.bassetlaw.gov.uk/media/3572/nccrepointingguide.pdf [bassetlaw.gov.uk]

    • (Score: 2) by isj on Thursday June 15 2023, @10:45AM

      by isj (5249) on Thursday June 15 2023, @10:45AM (#1311550) Homepage

      I like the youtube channel Mike Haduck Masonry, which goes into mortar types, how to pour, wetting bricks, etc. In one of the videos he mentions that many mortars are a mix of cement and lime, and the ratios depend on the job.

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