Lab microscope and camera (C) Daniel FriedmanForensic Investigation of Buildings

  • FORENSIC INVESTIGATION of BUILDINGS - CONTENTS: Forensic engineering, forensic microscopy & photography aid in building & environmental investigation & diagnosis - tools, methods, classes & references for the forensic investigation of building or building-related contaminants, defects, failures & hazards
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Forensic investigation:

This article series aids building inspectors & building failure investigators & indoor environmental investigators with access to tools & methods useful across a range of disciplines ranging from forensic engineering & building inspections types of laboratory test methods and forensic microscopy.

While some of the forensic methods and microchemistry used in these techniques have their origins in criminal forensic investigative methods, our focus is not on crime but on buildings and the indoor environment. Page top: TNT crystallizing during a forensic test procedure in the classroom.

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Building Failures & Indoor Environment Investigation Tools, Methods, & References

Collapsing building © Daniel Friedman

Here we list key articles discussing methods & procedures for scientific and rigorous investigation of building conditions, defects, hazards.

To find what you need quickly, if you don't want to scroll through this index you are welcome to use the page top or bottom SEARCH BOX to search InspectApedia for specific articles and information.

Article Series Contents

Definition of Forensic Investigation of Buildings & the Building-Environment

The detection diagnosis, and identification of the cause, effects, and thus possible remedy of building defects or failures and of building-related environmental complaints or hazards using physical evidence and scientifically and mathematically sound methods, guided by a sufficiently-broad investigation scope as to reasonably-assure that key factors are not excluded.

The terms forensic and science imply the forming of opinions through a disciplined approach rather than just speculation. This approach to building investigation includes the disciplined professions such as architecture, engineering, chemistry, professional home inspection, as well as science, mathematics, and forensic microscopy but also the wealth of diagnostic information arising from the various building trades.

Experienced building failure and indoor environmental complaint investigators, and even home inspectors and contractors of more humble scope are likely to agree that in any such investigation (why did the foundation crack, why did one section of my roof blow off, why does my house smell, why is my basement wet, why does my heat keep going off) the most effective forensic investigation approach will combine at least the following:

Client & site information: the building forensic investigator conducts a careful interview of the building owners, occupants, or clients to understand the concern or complaint, and to consider, without pre-determined prejudice or conclusion, the observations of the client or others. Checklists, data logs, and similar documents can assist in this step.

Collapsing building © Daniel FriedmanBuilding construction materials, site conditions, and event history: by visual inspection and where available consultation of appropriate documentation, the building investigator considers the individual and the interrelated effects of the building's materials, site, exposure, architecture, and maintenance history.

For cases in which the known problem is not patently obvious, or where the investigator is open to discovery of less evident but important contributors to a building failure or environmental complaint, this process, especially when informed by information about the site & from client above, can identify targets for more in-depth or perhaps invasive inspection and testing.

Building & environmental physical measurements & tests where appropriate, such as tests of materials, contents, or samples that are conducted to identify contaminants, to study material failures, etc. However reliance on blind tests alone, without the other steps above, is likely to give unreliable results.

Diagnosis & recommendations: based on all of the information gathered, the forensic investigator constructs, tests, documents, and then provides a reasoned explanation of the cause, effect, and possibly the recommended remedy for the building or building environment concern under investigation.

Other Definitions of Forensic Investigation

As will be readily evident from formal definitions of fields of non-criminal-related or police forensic investigation work given below, the definition of forensic science and building investigation are somewhat confusing, sometimes contradictory, and often narrowly drawn to legal concerns or to confine its scope to performance within a specific profession. This narrowing is necessary for certain fields of investigation, particularly legal work. The more narrow definitions below also appear to reflect the protection of the turf of some practitioners.

Forensic Science

The application of scientific knowledge and methodology to legal problems and criminal investigations. - 11/15/2013

Forensic Architecture

The presentation of spatial analysis within the contemporary legal and political forums. Their practice combines the principles of property surveying, structural engineering, the physics of blast forces and the chemistry of composite materials.

The project undertakes research that maps, images, and models sites of violence within the framework of humanitarian law and human rights. - composite adapted from Wikipedia 11/14/13 & the Centre for Research Architecture, Department of Visual Cultures, U.K., 11/14/2013

Forensic Engineering

The investigation of materials, products, structures or components that fail or do not operate or function as intended, causing personal injury or damage to property. - Wikipedia 11/14/2013

The application of the art and science of engineering in matters which are in, or may possibly relate to, the jurisprudence system, inclusive of alternative dispute resolution. - National Academy of Forensic Engineers - NAFE: 1991

Forensic Building Science & Investigation

The investigation, resolution and prevention of construction related defects and ensuing damage. - example drawn from a private engineering firm, 11/14/2013

Forensic Building & Environment Investigation Topics at InspectApedia

Lab microscope and camera (C) Daniel FriedmanNote: try using the InspectApedia search box in the light blue area near page top to find any building or indoor environmental topic inspection, detection, diganosis or repair topic at InspectApedia. CONTACT US if after a search you cannot find information you need.

Building Forensic Inspection & Testing Texts

Articles & Products

Texts on Microscopy, Microchemistry, Particle Identification

Building Forensic Inspection & Testing Tools & Equipment

Thermography images courtesy Paul Probett (C) InspectApediaPhoto at left, demonstrating thermal imaging by Paul Probett, is discussed at THERMAL IMAGING, THERMOGRAPHY

Building & Environmental Investigation Forensic-level Education

Forensic Science & Forensic Engineering

Forensic Microscopy

Watch out: there can be public confusion between these two McCrone organizations, both stemming from the same original root.

Home Inspection Education

Building & Environmental Forensic Investigation Supplies

InspectAPedia is an independent publisher of building, environmental, and forensic inspection, diagnosis, and repair information provided free to the public - we have no business nor financial connection with any manufacturer or service provider discussed at our website. 

 We are dedicated to making our information as accurate, complete, useful, and unbiased as possible: we very much welcome critique, questions, or content suggestions for our web articles. Working together and exchanging information makes us better informed than any individual can be working alone.

Opinions here are the responsibility of the author. Most of this material has been subject to ongoing peer review but is without any professional engineering analysis. Building inspections may include the discovery of defects involving life, safety, and significant costs.

Building inspectors who are not both qualified and certain of the authoritative basis of their conclusions should obtain their own expert advice from qualified experts.

This work is also based on the author's construction & inspection experience, training, research, and survey of material from ASHI, and from N. Becker, R. Burgess, J. Bower, D. Breyer, A. Carson, J. Cox, A. Daniel, M. Lennon, R. Peterson, J. Prendergast, W. Ransom, D. Rathburn, E. Rawlins, E. Seaquist, and D. Wickersheimer. Some useful citations are in the article above and at REFERENCES.


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