Ask the Architect

What’s behind this difference of opinion?

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Q. We have a very frustrating situation, because our house was added to and there was a “difference of opinion” among our contractor, the architect and the building inspector, who said he wasn’t going to sign off without proof that metal straps were there and a rod that is now hidden behind two-by-fours and plywood. The contractor told us, after the two others left, that all the metal straps, angles, etc., are really a bunch of nonsense because he has been building for years, since long before there were all these rules, and none of his homes has ever had a problem. Can you tell us just why this is so important?

A. There seems to be a disconnect between people who assemble and people who design buildings. Since my first job as a teen on construction sites, long before much of the technology we now have was either required or utilized, I’ve listened to workers complain about why the cement had to be worked a certain way on a hot day or why we had to wait so long to frame after the foundation walls were poured. I catalogued all these things and set out on the long educational journey through architecture school, and after, to find out why.

What architects and engineers have to learn to call themselves design professionals would boggle your contractor’s mind, apparently, since he broadly dismisses what he does not elect to know or understand. A few hours after a framer told me that the straps he had just installed were “bull----,” we had tornadoes touch down nearby for the first time in an October. Then, only a few days later, TV news broadcast the latest catastrophic aftermath of a hurricane, and I noticed not just that most homes were destroyed, but that some buildings were fairly intact.

Whether you want your home to survive the next weather burst or not, your insurance company does. The majority of code requirements are intended to save lives, with the added benefit of saving property. Insurance companies exert a lot of pressure to make sure codes are instituted to make property more resilient, because loss of property affects everyone financially. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is, in effect, an insurance company, and has a large role in shaping building codes and compliance enforcement.

The use of metal connectors came about because of the need to make buildings more resistant to extremes. You really don’t need them every day, just at the moments when forces randomly applied require an equal and opposite reaction. So all the science, math, engineering, wind tunnel and earthquake shake-table testing, strobe and slow-motion analysis, and forensics after severe storms might just be summed up in one word (“bull----“), but survivors and educated authorities would disagree. Straps, anchors, angles, saddles and rods are installed to strengthen structures by holding them together while allowing normal daily shifting. Omitting connectors leads to the “disconnect” of personal, financial, safety and emotional catastrophe. Is it worth it?

© 2018 Monte Leeper. Readers are encouraged to send questions to yourhousedr@aol.com, with “Herald question” in the subject line, or to Herald Homes, 2 Endo Blvd., Garden City, NY 11530, Attn: Monte Leeper, architect.