The Value of Pre-Construction Condition Surveys
You Damaged My Property, Now Pay for It!
How often does a contractor hear complaints from irate residents living near construction projects? The answer is . . . very often. In many instances, the irate resident may have a valid case. Noise, vibrations, traffic disruption, trash, and other nuisances can typically cause issues during construction. For large earthwork projects such as blasting, mining, deep excavation, groundwater pumping, and earthen embankments, construction effects can reach well beyond the construction area. So there is real potential for damage to nearby structures and property.
Oftentimes, however, the damage existed before the construction unbeknownst to the resident. Whether at fault or not, the contractor must expend resources to prove their innocence or, in the case of real damage, accurately document the extent of the damage directly linked to the construction project.
This problem is not only limited to private residences but includes any property type—whether commercial facilities, utility pipelines, railways, bridges, or roadways. So what can contractors do to protect themselves and manage risk? It requires a team of experienced engineers to properly document the existing conditions for each type of structure. This process and documentation are known as a pre-construction condition survey.
Pre-construction condition surveys should be performed by engineers who specialize in evaluating the specific structure type. For example, an engineer investigating a bridge or a building should know the terminology and structural components of those structure types and the potential construction impacts. This is valuable for identifying structural components correctly, finding hidden or concealed damage, and using the right techniques to measure existing damage.
Engineers may use lifts, boats, drones, and ladders—anything necessary to access the locations they need. They will collect photographs, high definition video, and measurements to document each existing defect, which is then cataloged based on location, defect type, and severity. This information is compiled into a unique report for each structure or building to give contractors the information they need to evaluate any claims from nearby property owners.
For underground facilities such as vaults, tanks, and pipelines, the engineer may use closed-circuit television (CCTV) or other advanced techniques like acoustic sensors. Access to underground structures may require pumps to remove water and special procedures to enter confined spaces. This complex underground work requires detailed planning to ensure that work is completed safely. Specialized software like PipeLogix and Pipeline Assessment Certification Program (PACP) training is required to accurately document defects in underground pipes.
Condition surveys require authorization from the property owner, and a right-of-entry agreement with each owner must be in place before work starts. Pre-construction condition surveys give contractors and owners an important tool to manage risk on their projects. When a claim arises, engineers can quickly conduct an intermediate inspection or post-construction condition survey to compare defects against the baseline conditions established at the project’s start. The information can be used to assist in structural evaluation of damaged structures and minimize the extent of any needed repairs. Or, in the case of perceived structural damage, the information can be used to clear the contractor from blame.
EBA’s qualified engineers conduct construction condition surveys of residential and commercial structures, roads, bridges, railways, and pipelines. We would be happy to talk with you about your construction condition survey needs.
Jason Kolenda is a Project Manager and Geotechnical Engineer for EBA Engineering, Inc. He can be reached at 410.504.6125 or firstname.lastname@example.org.