It’s true that a building is as only as strong as its foundation—and while New Yorkers don't have as much active concern about the foundations of their buildings as residents of an earthquake-prone area like California might have, it's still important for boards and managers alike to be aware that their building’s foundation does require a certain amount of attention and maintenance. Since it's literally underground, your foundation is easy to ignore, but its health is crucial. A little bit of education from the professionals can go a long way toward raising building administrators' awareness of the importance of a sound, well-maintained foundation.
What's Down There?
Perhaps even more important than the concrete or stone of a given foundation is the ground providing support beneath the man-made structure itself. In the tri-state area, there are a number of natural elements such as bedrock and sandy soil that determine how a foundation should be constructed, and if—or when—that foundation will falter. As a result of these differences, there are different types of foundations used, even within a relatively small geographic area.
“The most common foundation type in New York City are the spread footings,” according to Jerry Misiewicz, a professional engineer and senior associate with The Eipel Engineering Group in Manhattan. The footings mostly “consist of steel-reinforced or plain concrete ‘thick slabs’ that provide support for the weight of a building above it. The weight of the building is transferred to the footings through bearing walls and columns.” He adds that the term “foundation” may also include walls below the grade level.
The majority of buildings, if not all, may experience some degree of cracking and fracturing during their life span. There are a handful of factors that contribute to this problem, many of which are directly related to Mother Nature.
“Here, in this region, we have freeze-and-thaw cycles, and when this occurs at the ground level you begin to see horizontal cracks,” says Bob Cherry, general manager for Quality 1st Basement Systems in Staten Island. “Often times people will say, ‘Oh, that crack has been there for years,' and they do nothing about it. If you catch these things in the beginning, it's a quick fix; if not, it becomes more involved and more expensive.” If cracks are weather related or due to “thermal cycling,” property owners can expect to see signs of stress between seven and 10 years of construction.