It is normal to worry about our bridges and other infrastructure whenever we hear about a bridge or building collapse, such as the recent incident regarding the Forbes Bridge in Pittsburgh. And I think that often part of the shock or surprise is because we see these structures as indestructible, or at least we assume they are. However, as is often reported, our national infrastructure needs to be upgraded, retrofitted, replaced, or, at the very least, inspected regularly. And this need for inspection is not limited to superstructures; our own homes require it as well, which we do when we replace a roof, renovate a kitchen or bathroom, or even paint the outside to protect the skin of the building. Again, however, we never think of the structure itself. Instead, we only consider the problems we see, such as leeks, crumbling stucco, or a weather-beaten wood deck.
The need to check and maintain the structure, or” bones,” of the house is especially important in California because of it being in a seismic zone; and not because a recent earthquake or tremor might have “loosened” something, but because the building codes are updated to mitigate the impacts of a seismic event. Also, whenever an earthquake causes damage, it serves as lessons learned for future events. For example, after the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989, it was determined that gas water heaters had to be placed on a metal frame 18” above ground level and strapped to a solid structure. This regulation was introduced because many water heaters tipped over and created a fire hazard during the Loma Prieta quake. It was also determined that houses needed to be bolted to their foundations, which many people have done since, but not everyone.
When I bought my home in San Francisco in 2000, built-in 1944, I decided to remove the old drywall, install insulation, and use all new drywall. Then, in one corner of the house, as I was swinging away at the old drywall, my crowbar hit a stud, and it exploded into dust, literally. The entire framing around the dining room had dry rot. The original drywall was helping to keep the walls from collapsing. So, we replaced it and checked the rest of the house.
Not to alarm people into thinking there is something wrong with their homes, offices, or other facilities they might use, but rather to bring to light the importance of regular inspection and maintenance, which is the same as checking and fixing the roof, roof gutters, old fixtures and so on. It is just a bit more challenging to do so when you have to look in areas not easily accessible. However, a qualified building inspector or a civil or structural engineer can help. It does not take much effort, it is usually not an expensive task unless damage is found, but the sooner you locate a problem, the easier and cheaper it will be to address it.