Apartment Collapse Attributed to “Excessive Loading”

Brent Finnegan -- October 8th, 2010

In an evaluation released by the City of Harrisonburg Friday, engineering consultant Mark Byerly gave city officials his assessment of what caused the collapse of two floors of an apartment building at Hunters Ridge on September 17.

It is my professional opinion the the floor of apartment J at 1348 Hunters Ridge failed due to excessive loading. The floor of apartment F failed from the impact load caused by the failure from above.

According to that letter, the apartments were constructed around 1987.

Based on the 1986 building code, the floor trusses over the living room should have been designed to carry 40 pounds per square foot (psf) of live load. Based on the floor and ceiling construction, the floor dead load should have been at least 10 psf.

Assuming that the party was attended by both males and females, it may be assumed that the average weight of the attendees was 150 pounds. At 40 psf, that would allow 3.75 square feet (sf) per person. The living room is approximately 205 square feet. At 3.75 sf per person, the maximum allowable number of people on the floor would be 54 people.

The Daily News Record previously reported estimates of 75 to 100 people in the third floor apartment — some of them jumping up and down — at the time of the collapse.

You can read the two-page report here (PDF).

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25 Responses to “Apartment Collapse Attributed to “Excessive Loading””

  1. Erik Kimsey says:

    This sort of thing is almost a weekly phenomenon on Devon Ln/Port Republic, now. Number of fatalities, injuries?

    What can one do to prevent this aside from issue citations for breaking capacity codes and posting warnings? Restructuring the buildings would be an option, but do the funkhousers care that much? I didnt read remainder of report, so I dont know if the inspector recommends condemning anything.

    • Scott Rogers says:

      Disclosure: I’m an Associate Broker with Coldwell Banker Funkhouser Realtors, thus I have a connection to “the funkhousers” that Erik references above.

      Erik,

      It seems that you think that the properties at Hunters Ridge are owned by the Funkhousers, and thus that the Funkhousers could make a decision to reinforce the buildings.

      In fact, all of the properties (condos and townhouses) at Hunters Ridge are owned by a variety of property owners — some owners are real estate investors, some are parents of JMU students.

      The Funkhousers (Coldwell Banker Commercial Funkhouser Realtors) do provide property management services to some of those property owners — thus, they could recommend that the owners consider paying to reinforce the structure of their properties — but they can’t do it themselves.

      Likewise, the Funkhousers (Coldwell Banker Commercial Funkhouser Realtors) provide property owners association management services to the Associations for Hunters Ridge Townhomes and Hunters Ridge Condos — so they could advise the Associations (made up of the owners) to reinforce the buildings — but there isn’t anything that the Funkhousers can actually decide to do themselves as far as making structural reinforcements.

      I hope this is clear — it is not uncommon for people to think that the Funkhousers own and can make decisions about all of the Hunters Ridge properties — but that is not the case.

      Thanks,
      Scott

    • seth says:

      erik, the more i think about it, the more i think that if the buildings are up to code, then discussions of the ignorance surrounding the physics of wood building and any sort of grand reinforcement are extrinsic with regards to the matter at hand. (i qualify this because i do think that it’s appropriate to examine the building codes to ensure that even the lowest common denominator is a safe/sturdy dwelling).

      in terms of what could be done other than issuing citations for breaking capacity codes, one suggestion that comes to mind is to make those citations very serious. i don’t know what the penalty for restaurants over maximum capacity is, but i do know that they are very careful not to be cited.

      i would stop short of equating the level of irresponsibility here to drunk driving, but the reality is that the tenants of that apartment put many more lives at risk than any drunk driver. i don’t advocate hanging manslaughter on the kids the next time that this happens and someone gets killed, but if recklessly jeopardizing people’s safety on such a large scale has become completely socially acceptable, it’s long past time that something more serious was done.

  2. Brooke says:

    Thanks for clearing that up, Scott.

    I would go one further and say that it’s kind of ridiculous to expect the owners of the properties (be they “Funkhousers” or individual private owners) to reinforce the floors beyond what is required or reasonable. It is NOT, I repeat, NOT reasonable to have75 – 100 people on a 2nd floor jumping up and down. It’s not even reasonable to have 75-100 people in a small townhome at one time.

    Erik, in my mind, this isn’t a question of whether or not the property owners “care enough” about the safety of their tenants. It doesn’t appear there was a safety issue here for them to address. The safety of the tenants (and their guests) rested, in this case, with the tenants and their guests, and the accident, and injuries involved are the direct result of those students behaving recklessly and irresponsibly.

    So, rather than suggesting that the owners of the properties, whoever they might be, go to great expense and take extraordinary measures to reinforce the structures so this doesn’t happen again, my suggestion would be that the young adults living in these townhomes learn to behave like responsible adults, exercise a little adult responsibility and accountability and stop behaving recklessly and abusing the properties they are renting. It’s as simple as that.

  3. Erik Kimsey says:

    Thanks, Scott.

    Now that I think of it, I was aware that various residences in Hunter’s Ridge were owned outside of the Funkhouser group. So, pardon.

    Also, Scott, are you PR for Funkhouser, or here monitoring for the group?

    Best,
    Erik

    • Scott Rogers says:

      Erik,

      No, I’m not PR for Funkhouser, nor monitoring the group.

      I’m a Realtor here in Harrisonburg who follows hburgnews posts and comments via RSS. I’ll make comments from time to time — but often I just read (listen to) the conversations taking place.

      Thanks,
      Scott

      • Deb SF says:

        Scott’s also one of the people who has the best analytical take on the housing market in the valley – real data and what it means, not just anecdotes. His housing analysis write-ups on his blog would be worth paying for. Happily, we can get them for free.

        • Scott Rogers says:

          You are too kind, Deb. Thanks!

          Glad to provide the info for free!

        • Dany Fleming says:

          I totally agree. I think Scott’s website is a terrific resource and folks interested in local housing should check it out.

          He’s knowledgeable and seems to put real research into what he’s posting. It’s well-done and I’ve found it interesting and useful….and while, while his business is real estate, the site doesn’t strike me as unfairly biased, but as a site by someone who sincerely believes in his industry and his work. So, kudos to you, Scott.

          • Scott Rogers says:

            Dany,

            Thank you for your kind remarks about my web site. I do try to keep the information unbiased and to make it as helpful as possible for those in our community who need to or want to keep tabs on the market.

            In all I do, I try to give people the information they really need, not just what they want to hear. Unfortunately, right now that means that I am often telling people the not-so-exciting news that our local housing market is not yet headed in a positive direction. Some day….

            Thanks again for your compliment.

            Scott

  4. Erik Kimsey says:

    Brooke,

    The term “care” was an awkward choice. The cause of this incident, and the many others of similar circumstances, was absolutely the responsibility of the tenants. I am sure the buildings are of good construction, as they are probably inspected (?). I neither co done nor excuse any such irresponsibility. However, I see these unfortunate instances happening again -they’ve happened for decades. So only noted that the owners (apparently not Funkhouser) do have the decision to make regarding additional support for the floors in anticipation of this happening again. It seems ridiculous to think that a tenant is handed a citation after their floor has caved and people have been injured/killed.

    Honestly, I don’t care all that much about this issue. I find that entire part of town abominable. Only, I am sickly humored by the sad irony of the recurrence of such phenomena and was compelled to mark some problems I find obvious, and note some possible alternative remedies.

    Kids will party, even after a lecture on civil responsibility and the physics of apartment floors.

  5. Brooke says:

    Well, sadly, if it keeps happening over and over, it doesn’t speak highly of the intelligence of the young people who hear these stories and keep up the behavior that causes it. Yes, it’s highly unfortunate, especially when serious injury occurs, but I still maintain it’s beyond ludicrous to expect the homeowners to undertake the great expense. How do they offset that? Running up rent to an unreasonable amount? They shouldn’t *have* to do it at all. Again, it’s up to the students to use what should be common sense, and learn from the past mistakes and misfortunes of the past.

    You’re right – kids will party, and if they don’t party responsibly, they will continue to get sick, get hurt, and be the victims of crime. It’s up to them to learn the lesson and wise up in their partying habit. Welcome to adulthood – you are responsible for your own choices and their consequences. I think the most reasonable solution is for the rental office, and those in contact with the kids, point out the obvious and hope it eventually sinks in before someone else gets hurt.

  6. Brooke says:

    (and when I say “you” I mean it in the general sense – not meaning you, personally, Erik :-)

  7. Joe says:

    the renters need to pay for the damages they cause, they also should be looking at some negliance law suits.

    this isn’t the fault of the property managers, or the owners…it’s the fault of the renters for being some wreakless.

  8. Renee says:

    If I were the owner of a college apartment rental, I would print out all of the articles about these events and make any new renters read them before moving in.

    A news story (and photos) about fellow students being seriously injured due to irresponsibility is a lot more powerful than a line of text in a lease specifying what’s not allowed.

  9. Fred McDavid says:

    I asked an architect for his thoughts, before Byler’s report was published.
    ================================================
    Wayne’s comments:
    Apartments have taken wood framing to its limits while still relying on carpenter practices to cover a lot the basics. There are no carpenters in apartment construction only minimally trained mechanics.

    Almost none of the architects and a lot of the structural engineers do not have a complete understanding of wood construction.

    Types of nails and spacing for example aren’t understood. Staples with almost no pull-out capacity are substituted for nails and if you have ever pull a panel attached with these wire staples apart, you would know that the capacity is not there and without the diaphragm panels in walls and floors you have tremendous reduction in structural capacity.

    Structural engineers aren’t educated in wood. There are steel and concrete classes but usually wood is considered beneath them. I bet that one out of 3 doesn’t even own a Wood Manual.

    I was aware that a lot of balconies failed but I didn’t know that floor failures were that common. I am not surprised. Current wood structure practices have bothered me for a long time.

    Even 23 years ago when I built my house, I had good carpenters and still had to fight to get the nailing and structural connections done correctly. My house is 3 stories and a lot of it was beyond their understanding. Today, carpenters as good as those guys are almost impossible to find.
    =========================================
    Another architect (John) suggested is was might be due to a lack of bearing where the joists meet the beams… the joist can simply slip the beam.

    Hope this helps.

    Fred McDavid, PE (HVAC, plumb & electrical)

  10. Was anyone under the illusion that the many Harrisonburg townhomes, and apartment complexes were quality construction? Will they last long enough to pay off a 30 year mortgage? Maybe Mr. Rogers could gin up the numbers on how many are owner-occupied.

    • Scott Rogers says:

      Bubby,

      Nearly all apartments in Harrisonburg are non-owner-occupied.

      As for townhouses, I ran an analysis about a year ago of properties in several newer townhome subdivisions (Avalon Woods, Beacon Hill, Harmony Heights, Liberty Square, Park Crest and Wellington Park) to see how many were owner occupied. I found that of the 703 townhomes, 56% were owner occupied.

      As for whether they will last long enough to pay off a 30 year mortgage, yes, I’d say so….sort of.

      1. I think it is reasonable to assume that they will last 30 years, since there are still townhomes in decent shape today that were built 30 years ago. That includes some of the townhomes in Reherd Acres and Northfield Estates.

      2. That said, there probably aren’t too many townhomes where a 30 year mortgage is completely paid off, as most people who buy townhomes don’t end up owning them for 30 years. They sell them sometime amidst their 30 year mortgage, and then someone else comes along and puts a new 30 year mortgage on them.

      Finally, as to whether townhomes and apartments in Harrisonburg are quality construction — perhaps it depends on the definition. They are certainly not built to the standard of a custom-built home in the $500,000+ price range, but I believe that many of them are built quite solidly and will last for decades to come. Ultimately, however, the future of individual townhomes and townhome communities depends largely on the maintenance of the townhomes (by the owners) and of the neighborhoods (by the collective owners).

      Thanks,

      Scott

  11. Sarah says:

    Byerly’s “engineering report” (if you can call it that) was paid for by Coldwell Banker, the company that manages Hunters Ridge. For some reason the city chose not to conduct its own unbiased investigation. Also, this wasn’t a small condo, but rather a 5 bedroom, 3 bath unit, and contrary to reports, there were only 40 or so persons dancing in the living room, which collapsed. Other students were spread throughout the unit as well as the third floor hallway and other apartments. For some reason people like to blame the victims rather than investigate the facts. There has been no effort to ascertain the exact number of persons in the living room. No depositions. No unbiased investigation of the unit structure. Very unusual in a building collapse, and it leads one to wonder what they are trying to cover up.

  12. Carol says:

    There was an article that provided the name of the owner of the apt. Would anyone be willing to share that information for insurance purposes.

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