This article explains how to notice defective, damaged, improperly supported, or missing structural columns, and other structural column & pier mistakes. Our page top photo shows a telepost used as a "permanent" supporting column. Most models of teleposts or "jackposts" are thin-walled steel and are not designed for permanent use. And all columns require proper bearing support at both the column top and bottom. This leaning, cockeyed jackpost is a structural collapse waiting to happen.
Detecting omissions, such as leaving out a column or it's pier or footing is an important step in learning how to recognize and diagnose various types of foundation failure or damage, such as foundation cracks, masonry foundation crack patterns, and moving, leaning, bulging, or bowing building foundation walls.
Green links show where you are. © Copyright 2015 InspectApedia.com, All Rights Reserved.
Some of these are dangerous and risk collapse. But do not fail to pay careful attention to the structural connections themselves: connections between posts and beams, posts and piers, beams and the floors or ceilings they support.
Connection failure is often the weak link in residential structural movement and collapse.
See DECK COLLAPSE Case Study for an example. FYI we call a 6-inch concrete filled steel column a Lally column after its inventor.
Some folks call these just steel columns, or lolly columns or steel posts.
Our photos below show a proper use of a temporary column, telepost, or jackpost - that gray screw-jack to the right of the white-painted steel column I am touching. The second photo at right shows why the temporary column was put in place: the hollow steel column supporting this beam had rusted through at its base, risking collapse. The collapse of a structural steel column is increased if the column is hollow, rather than concrete-filled.
Thin-walled Steel Teleposts - Maybe Not the Best Choice for Permanent Repairs
However what you see is a temporary repair. The rusted steel column should be replaced with a structural column such as a concrete filled steel Lally column that is rated for permanent use.
Our photo (left) shows a thin-walled adjustable column in use in a wet crawl area. The repair contractor installed gravel and then plastic to keep moisture levels down in the crawl space. (The post is probably not out of plumb, that was a tilt in the camera when I shot this photo.)
But notice that the column extends down through the gravel into the presumably wet surface beneath.
Consider that the end of the column is now hidden from view in gravel, that we think this is a recurrent wet area, we can't see if it's wet or not, and more, because this is a tight crawl space, people won't enter it very often to inspect conditions there.
A more durable repair would have been a Lally column. Some builders even prefer to use a pressure treated wood 4x4 post in this sort of location, arguing that it is "rustproof".
Some Teleposts May be Permitted for Permanent Installation
Shown below, some adjustable screw jacks or teleposts such as some Read-I-Post columns are constructed of a heavier-gauge steel and in some jurisdictions they may be approved for permanent use in structures. Often where an adjustable column is permitted for permanent structural use, once it has been properly adjusted in height, its adjusting rod is removed and the screw is tack-welded in place.
Notice that the installer took care to bolt the Red-I-Post top plate to the beam underside. Let's hope that the beam itself is secured to the floor joists overhead and is protected against lateral movement.
See our page top photo for an example of a horrible installation of a jackpost that is likely to collapse. Below are more examples of improper telepost installations. At below left we have inadequate bearing surface and no connection between the steel bearing plate and the joist underside. It looks as if the post may also be out of plumb. Boing!
Which End Goes Up When Installing Screw Jacks & Teleposts?
Our second dangerous telepost photo at above right you can see that the post top screw has bent the steel plate as it pushed into the beam, and the whole assembly is slipping off of the beam and moving to the right. Some installers place screw jacks or teleposts with the screw down against the concrete floor or pier top.
That allows the larger-diameter post "bottom" to be placed up against a steel plate and against the underside of the beam. This "upside down" installation reduces the chances of bending the steel supporting plate and it also places the thick steel screw down on the (often wet) basement or crawl space floor. The thicker steel screw is slower to rust through to the point of collapse than is the thin-walled hollow steel pipe that forms the body of most teleposts.
It seems obvious that in addition to spacing requirements for supporting steel columns below beams (typicallyi a steel column is placed every eight feet on center in a wood frame two story residential structure), you would also place the column below any splices in the beam.
But a splice in a structural beam also needs resistance to bending upwards. Look closely (click any of our images to see a larger view) and you'll see some nice wood putty in that opening splice joint.
The splice shown in our photo of a home in Portland ME would probably not have bent if it had been located below that floor joist to the right, and had the supporting column placed below the splice as well as below the josits.
As we also discuss at Earthquake Damage to Foundations, defective supporting columns failed at Northridge Meadows during that 1994 earthquake. It appears that hollow 6" pipes were substituted for concrete filled steel Lally columns under part of the building. Once the fireproofing wrap was installed it was not possible to spot this shortcut by visual inspection.
The hollow columns failed, permitting the upper floors of the structure to collapse. There were fatalities.
Here are examples of types of omission that contributed to a structural collapse. During our work at the Northridge Earthquake site in California in 1994 we noticed that some of the supporting Lally columns were hollow rather than concrete filled.
Perhaps due to material shortages or rush during construction, these hollow, and weaker supporting columns were wrapped with a fire-barrier just as were the "real" supporting columns used elsewhere.
Our photos show a section of Northridge Meadows which collapsed during the earthquake. At left you can see that this column was hollow.
Our opinion was that these were defective columns and that they were a factor in the structural collapse during the Northridge earthquake. Other areas of the same complex moved, columns even leaned, but they did not collapse where the columns were of the proper type and were properly connected to the structure.
Other factors in the collapse appeared to include how exterior sheathing had been nailed across or not across certain sections of the building supporting walls. Our list of examples of defects of omission during foundation construction continues below.
"Missing" column footings may or may not be a defect depending on design and soil conditions. In some jurisdictions, a poured concrete floor slab may be considered of sufficient thickness and strength to support the column.
Completely missing structural columns such as a basement Lally column, where an owner has removed the column to open up a basement space being remodeled for use as living area.
Our photo (left), illustrates one way you can spot a missing column: a Lally column top plate remains tacked in place on the under-side of a built-up beam in a basement.
How can we take a photo of a missing structural post or column?
Sometimes you can spot the imprint of this Lally column top plate as a rectangular impression on the underside of a beam even though the steel plate itself was removed. See our photo (left) where you can spot the rectangular imprint of a typical steel Lally column top plate and even two nail holes where the plate had been tacked to the beam underside.
A second clue that a supporting column could be missing is contextual: in a conventionally-framed contemporary one family wood structure with a finished basement, especially if the main center girder is a built-up wooden beam, notice that the basement has been converted to a large, open rec-room.
And notice that there is a long span, perhaps sixteen feet, with no supporting post. Perhaps the center girder has been boxed in or covered with paneling and corner molding.
Ask yourself: when this house was built, given that typically I see a Lally column every 8-feet, I wonder if there was one in the center of this room. Was it removed? Was the center girder reinforced with steel? Is there sagging in the floor above?
Our photo (abpve left) shows a basement girder supported by cute little 2-inch pipes.
We think the installer knew these were not structural-components, because s/he installed these toy "faux-structural" pipes on 5-foot centers.
Failure to compact the soil under a column pier or footing or under a poured concrete slab which has been placed on backfill can result in column settlement.
Our client is pointing to a supporting column in a location where we suspect that crack pattern around the column, combined with a slight but observable depression at the column base area suggests its pier may be settling.
When we see a column whose base penetrates the concrete floor slab we know the floor was poured around the column - the column was put in place first. We can't see if a proper pier was installed to support the column base - as is usually the case. Perhaps in the installation we show here, the builder set a 4-inch solid concrete block on (poorly-compacted) fill inside the building foundation, set his post on that, and jacked away. When the fill settles the block settles too, and the column may move downwards, cracking the concrete floor around its base in the pattern we show here.
As we also discussed at BASEMENT LEAKS, INSPECT FOR, even a concrete filled steel Lally column can deteriorate enough to lead to building movement or instability. But hollow steel columns such as teleposts and even steel pipes people sometimes think will support a building, heavy exfoliating rust on the columns can lead to crushing or splitting and a structural collapse.
When evaluating the history of water entry in a building we like to look at structural components that have been in place since the building was completed - those are parts that will have been exposed to flooding or recurrent wet floors if water entry has been a problem.
Light superficial rust on a Lally column base is not structurally significant, though it might indicate a history of wet floors in the area. The rust shown at the Lally column base at below left is just a chip, it is insignificant, and we concluded that there was no evidence of a history of wet floors in this basement area. The steel column at below right penetrates the floor slab - we think it may sit on a hidden pier (there was no sign of settling).
But the column surface rust at be;pw right suggests the floor has been wet in this area. We did not think this column had suffered damage that risks it's structural integrity. Click this link to see another photo of rust on the base of a steel column in a basement that we verified over a 12 year life had been subjected to recurrent wet floors but never flooding.
Comparing Surface Rust to Significant Exfoliating Rust on a Structural Column
But when we see exfoliating rust, some careful poking around to see just how much damage has occurred can help us decide the urgency of replacing the column - and of course fixing the water entry problem . WATER ENTRY in BUILDINGS will help with the latter.
Example of Structural Steel Column Collapse Due to Rust
At below left we show serious exfoliating rust at the base of a steel column. It's reasonable to infer that this home has been subject to recurrent flooding to a depth of several inches.
Our second structural rust photo (above right) was very exciting. We were inspecting a house on Long Island when the owner mentioned that she had pumps running 24/7 in the basement to keep Long Island Sound at bay. There was a forest of steel supporting columns (some were just hollow pipes not real Lallys) in this home's basement - all were badly rusted.
As the owner, who was a big person, walked across the floor, the kitchen floor suddenly collapsed and fell down about a foot. We wondered if an earthquake had suddenly struck Long Island.
Trembling we both took another look in the basement. The Lally column shown above and supporting part of the kitchen floor had picked that moment to crush. It was rusted through from repeated flooding.
Also see FLOOD DAMAGE TO FOUNDATIONS.
Continue reading at PIER FOUNDATION PROBLEMS or select a topic from the More Reading links shown below.
Suggested citation for this web page
Green link shows where you are in this article series.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
(Oct 24, 2012) joseph jeff said:
how can i build concrete column around steel post
(June 18, 2014) Londeka said:
How do I report on structural issues related to a collapsed building column
Londeka, to offer suggestions I'd need to understand the situation and your role: occupant, home inspector, contractor.
Certainly if in your opinion there are unsafe conditions you need to inform building occupantsm owners, and in some cases local authorities orally as well as in writing. Non-engineers can raise alarms or questions based on visual observations, experience, edication, but should tale care not to practice engineering without a license.
Reader Observation of Lally Column Defects Discloses Contractor Nightmare
Kindly allow me to introduce myself. My name is Cheryl Madden. My multi- handicapped adult son and I live in a ranch-style home in Pittsfield, MA. I found your website in a search re structural columns. The specific URL is:
I write to you, because we are trapped in the midst of a renovation done for handicapped accessibility that turned out to be a *disaster.*
Unfortunately, the MA licensed contractor did not have the skills he presented himself as having, nor the correct licenses in his own right, although he did get a building permit.
He abandoned the job without notice in January, leaving without finishing, or having followed lead safe procedures (about which I learned only a couple of days ago, so I cleaned up after he left as a housewife would, but unaware of how to do so correctly re lead). He did notor remove demolition materials, or install doors to the bathroom or bedroom, the bathroom flooring is not level, the shower drain doesn't work, venting was not done, etc.
My question about Lally columns is this:
He inadequately sized a beam he created in the home's support wall that sagged so much I could fit my hand up to the knuckles on each side of the sag. He then only hoisted the roof structure above back up with a pry bar, and shimmed the space with scraps of wood. The dip was so severe it caused the door across the hallway not to close, and a diagonal crack developed from the top corner of that door, and another crack in opposing angle formed in my son's room above the closet door there. Does this shifting about of the roof and the resulting cracks in the plaster suggest compromising of the structure?
In specific reference to the Lally columns, not only did he install two columns (of what type, I don't know) under this area upside down, but used what looks like inexpensive aluminium screws crookedly installed and washered to hold the base plate up to the floor joists. Indeed, one column has only 3:4 screws in place.
The screw ends of these columns rest atop scrap pine or spruce boards he found in the basement. These are not even pressure treated or specifically processed for subgrade use. He wrote an arrow marked "Up" indicating which way to turn the screw, so I assume he might not have welded the screw in posOrion, as your site describes.
I had the basement dry-locked when we moved here a couple of years ago, and it was a dry basement until this past week. Now, two areas are leaking. Not much at this point yet, but my fear is a little water will lead to more eventually, and, either way, those boards won't last indefinitely, especially if they get wet, and since they were not made by Nature or processed by Man to fill the role of supporting a structural column atop the concrete floor. Your article mentions that basements can bow or lean due to inadequate structural columns. I dread to wonder if this might be the cause of the water leaks, since that inadequately sized beam is still in place?
I am alone in dealing with this matter. My grandfather was a master carpenter, so I learned what a little girl does from watching and listening as he worked in his retirement years. Now, some fifty years later, I learn what I can from watching the applicable shows on HG-TV, but these structural matters are not in my skills set, so I don't know what is proper or not. It's also a big concern due to the snow typical in the Berkshires. I am afraid the contractor severely damaged my home in more serious ways than what I am aware.
May I ask for your opinion on the above described issues? - C.M. 7/14/2014
There are several concerns here, beyond just adding proper and more safe structural support. One can only assume there are other mistakes in the work that need attention. It may help to obtain a more thorough inspection by a licensed home inspector or contractor. But why not start with a call to your local building department to ask for an inspection and guidance?
Keep me posted.
Bless you for Such a prompt reply!
I did have the building inspector revisit, but he didn't make much over the columns, but by the time he saw that aspect he had already been appalled and disgusted by the additional issues, so this was icing on the cake, so to speak.
Contractors who have priced the repairs are "horrified," and each finds more wrong. Even the grout in the shower is of the wrong type, according to one, but others haven't noted that, so who is correct Really?
As to home inspectors, the one who did the pre-purchase inspection, come to find out after the fact, is known locally in the trades as "Drive-by Drew." He missed a few things. And didn't note other things. Another inspector wrote of a different house I bid on before we got this house, "The roof appears to be in the first or second half of its life." A whole lot of help that was not.
The home modification project was supposed to make the kitchen and bathroom accessible, so we can "age in place," but he didn't even install grab bars in the shower before grabbing the money and bolting. He didn't even purchase the materials as is the required use of the first third of the funds. Very much I want to just walk away myself, but am now even more financially obligated to this house.
The building inspector is preparing a complaint against his license, and MA has criminalized their contracting business, but any action by them only punishes him, but doesn't serve to make my home whole. And who would buy it now anyway, so we are stuck here.
The amount is too large for small claims court, and a lawyer I hired because the case was not accepted by the free legal clinics in the area used up my savings to write a letter to the contractor and the CSL holder, whom I don't know, so let's agree he didn't supervise the job adequately. He didn't respond at all. The contractor called the attorney whiningly, but without acting to refund.
At that point, the lawyer dropped the case because he knows my financial condition is abyssmal, so I couldn't pay his fees and a "substantial retainer" up front. The case was not accepted by the free legal clinics: for the first, I am not an immigrant, a minority, a criminal, homeless, evicted, or facing foreclosure; the second legal clinic declined the case because of its legal complexity and projected cost. _Renovate My Renovation_ declined for the reason our physical location is outside the urban areas they cover.
An email the funding agency sent me a copy of is a such a psychological profiler's dream document of the contractor's mentality that I am glad the atty's letter ordered him off the property. Better that he is gone, but he knows where we live, and any jail term penalty isn't apt to make him happy about us, in particular.
The funding agency is making me go through all the hoops possible before venturing to fix anything. My neighbor and I cleaned out the demolition materials before we realized that there was a concern re lead. Animals were using the piles of demolition materials as habitat. Because it was against the wooden ramp to the back yard where my son plays, there was some urgency in getting the junk out of here.
The contractor put in a 6'x2' closet also left unfinished. When I measured to see if my eyes were correct in thinking the closet out of shape, I found that the opening is not equidistant in depth from the ceiling. The closet walls are not plumb or square, although all he had to do was follow the lines in the flooring to get the measurements right.
My son fell in a hole he left across the MBR doorway, and got a concussion and badly cut his head. They filled in the gap he created after the fact with unsecured scrap wood, one of which is of an age of paint probably containing lead.
And more and worse. I just received the Lead Safe Renovate Right booklet from the building inspector, so now my son and I are scheduled for blood tests for lead poisoning. (:-((( - C.M.
One wonders how you were referred to "Drive By Drew" - as it sounds as if he was not working for you.
Sorry I can't offer more - you do need onsite help setting priorites for repairs
Urgent repairs are things that
Keeping those priorities in mind can help sort out what's needed and where to spend your money. - DF
Use the "Click to Show or Hide FAQs" link just above to see recently-posted questions, comments, replies, try the search box just below, or if you prefer, post a question or comment in the Comments box below and we will respond promptly.
Search the InspectApedia website
HTML Comment Box is loading comments...
Technical Reviewers & References