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Re: COMMENTS REQUESTED: MIN. Requirements to "Certify" An Existing Building Structure

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If you do this job, avoid such sentence as "the structure is safe" in the
"certification letter", because engineers' "safe" is different. We engineers
try to provide a safe structure. Actually nothing is 100% safe in the world.
We only concern about the safety factor, and whether the safety factor is
acceptable, rather than 100% safety (because it is impossible). Even the
buyer pay you enough fee for complete verification, including re-run the
structural design program, testing the concrete and steel strength, testing
the code specified live load, etc., you can only states "the structure
conforms to the code" in the "certification letter". "Conform to the code"
is not equal to "safe". Maybe the structure will collapse under a 0.5g

I think lots of clients hope the engineer to state "the structure is safe"
in the "certification letter", because that will increase the price of the
building when they want to sell it someday. If so, you can ask him first,
"Can you buy a car which is 100% safe?"


----- Original Message -----
From: "Bill Polhemus" <bpolhem(--nospam--at)>
To: <seaint(--nospam--at)>
Sent: Wednesday, February 07, 2001 2:40 AM
Subject: COMMENTS REQUESTED: MIN. Requirements to "Certify" An Existing
Building Structure

I have been asked by a client to give a "certification letter" for three
buildings that they are in the process of finalizing to purchase.

Two of them are 50,000 s.f., three storey buildings, steel frame with steel
on steel joists. One has an EFIS cladding and the other, brick, built in the
late 70s or early eighties.

The third is a 150,000 s.f., six story building, built ca. 1973 as a
It is a concrete frame building with cast-in-place concrete joist floors,
clad in brick. This building has been unoccupied (but maintained) for the
eighteen months.

The hospital building does have "as-built" drawings that I can examine, and
cursory, three-hour tour of that building supports a conclusion that the
structure seems to be as represented on the drawings. There are no drawings
available for the two smaller buildings.

At this point, the client simply wants a letter from me stating that there
no overt reasons not to proceed with finalizing the purchase. Since the deal
essentially a "steal" for the purchaser, that has some bearing on such a

What I'm thinking to do is give them a letter, with my seal, but containing
multiple disclaimers and caveats, stating that the "verification" of
soundness is based on a cursory review, and recommending strongly that a
structural inspection be done before proceeding to convert the buildings to
other use.

Now, on the one hand, I have little problem stating, off the record, that
buildings are "okay". They were built not so very long ago, during a time
when a
building official was in residence in that particular locality, and I have
sealed as-built drawings for the major structure.

On the other hand, what am I really "selling" here? What are the rules in a
where such a transfer of property is concerned? There is no bank financing
involved (yes, the deal is THAT good for the purchaser), simply cash
hands. So any such requirements that would normally be stipulated by a
are not applicable.

These buildings "look" to be in great shape, but no real inspection has ever
been done.

I am looking to pick up the job of doing the inspection at a later date, and
would have no hesitation in making the recommendation contingent upon a
subsequent detailed inspection.

I'd like some comments from some of you, particularly those who have done
sort of thing before. As for myself, I've never done anything like this
without full inspection beforehand, but the scope of the work was quite

Thanks in advance for any light you can shed.