Thoughts on the Engineering Industry

A blog covering engineering, technology and business topics

Three Common Causes of Differential Foundation Movement

Hello everyone, I hope you guys have been doing well. I’ve been a bit busy lately, but now that I’m caught with my work and various other stuff, I have decided to continue with the theme of foundation movement.  Last time, we talked about cracks in the finishes of the house – I would like to now move onto some of the root causes of the foundation movement.

At its most basic level, most foundation movement is caused by change in the moisture content and resulting expansion/contraction of the soil supporting your house foundation.  Depending on the amount of clay or fill soil on your property, the resulting differential movement can vary by location and magnitude.  In some other cases, it is a failure of the foundation structure; it is far less common and in most cases associated a pier and beam foundation.  Even then, most of those failures I’ve seen were affected in some way by moisture content of the air/soil within the crawlspace.  Having said all that, today I will discuss the effect of soil moisture content as it is the prevalent cause of foundation movement.

Tree Roots within the Vicinity of the Foundation

The most common cause of foundation movement I see is the result trees affecting the moisture content of the surrounding soil.  In times of relative drought, the tree roots will absorb more water in the soil and decrease the relative moisture similar to surrounding areas.  In times of more rainfall, the dry soil will then expand and change the relative soil level again.  In general, tree roots extend an additional 50% further from the trunk than the outer canopy.  If the tree roots extend under your foundation, the soil under your foundation will expand differentially to surrounding areas depending seasonal rains.  The cracks resulting from this foundation movement will typically expand and contract, or reopen when patched.  Differential movement associated with tree roots can be reduced by placing a root barrier around your foundation and maintaining a regular watering program around your house.

Site Drainage

As with the trees, various site drainage conditions can cause water ponding and result in different soil moisture contents around your foundation.  As a result, the soil in areas with increased amounts of water will expand more than the soil in other areas.  Similar to the tree rot conditions, the level of the foundation and resulting cracks will fluctuate depending on the amount of seasonal rains.  Differential foundation movement associated with site drainage can be reduced by maintaining an adequate slope around the perimeter of the foundation so that the site drainage will allow water to flow around and away from your house.

Plumbing Leaks

Water from plumbing leaks can also cause the expansion of soil, typically within an isolated area.  Depending on the size and frequency of the leaks, the leaking water can cause differential foundation movement and result in interior distress associated with that movement.  In most cases, the soil expansion and differential movement does not extend far from the leak location and will not result in wide spread foundation movement.  In addition, the soil will typically contract back to it’s original volume once the leak is repaired.

Given this short outline, I hope that you can get a basic idea of what is causing the differential foundation movement you are having and how to address the issue.

What has been your experience been like in dealing with differential foundation movement?  For the people inspecting foundations, I’d be interested in hearing about your stories as well, since I still definitely have a lot more I could learn on the topic.  If you enjoyed my post, hit the like button, follow my blog for updates and share this post with your friends.  Thanks for reading and have a good week!

Using Cracks in Gypsum Board to Assess Foundation Movement

Hello everyone – I hope you have been doing well. I know I’ve been away awhile but I plan on doing more these blog post again.  The truth is that I got away from it because I wanted to rethink my blog goals, topics, and general post structure and scope. I’ve decided that I would like to refocus my blog on topics I deal with as a forensic engineer, and keep the blog posts simple and focused on a specific topic.  We’ll see how this new blog structure works out in the next month – feel free to leave some comments on how you like it.

With that update out of the way, I would like to jump into our topic for today – gypsum board cracks in a house and how it relates to foundation movement.  A fair number of the house inspections I do involve assessing these conditions and determining if there is a correlation to any possible foundation movement.

In my experience, cracks in the gypsum board finishes of a house fall under two categories – tapered cracks, and expansion/contraction cracks at gypsum board joints.

Expansion/contraction cracks are visible in most houses – most commonly in the garage due to increased outside exposure along with the relatively less insulated and/or finished conditions.  However, these cracks can occur in other areas of the house as well.  These cracks will typically be horizontal or perpendicular in orientation, have an even gap across the length, and be patterned at typical lengths/spaces of gypsum board joints or at wall-to-ceiling and wall-corner joints.  These cracks are not directly correlated to foundation movement in most cases and are instead the result of the expansion and/or contraction of the gypsum board.

Tapered cracks, usually at doors, windows, and ceiling and wall joints, are visible in most houses as well.  These cracks typically extend diagonally at susceptible areas when not at wall or ceiling joints and are indicative of some form of foundation movement.  It is more common to see these tapered cracks in houses with a concrete slab foundation due to the foundation resting directly on ground which makes them susceptible to seasonal fluctuations of supporting soil.  However, these cracks can be present in any house depending on their construction and conditions of the surrounding lot.

When discerning the cause of the gypsum board cracks, these inspections also require the correlation of the location and relative age of the cracks to measured low spots or high spots.  When my company performs these foundation inspections, we use a compulevel to determine relative differential movement of the foundation.  If a crack is located away from a high spot or low spot, it typically indicates that it is either expanson/contraction related or the result of foundation movement that has occurred previously and has since leveled again.  In addition, if paint or significant amounts of dust/debris are present in the cracks, it usually indicates that the crack has been present for a relatively longer period of time (depending on when the interior finishes were last painted).   Using the above information, we can determine which cracks are the result of relative foundation movement and how long the possible foundation movement has been occurring.

While most of you probably don’t have access to the equipment to find a relative floor elevations and measure differential movement, this information should help when initially assessing the cause of gypsum board cracks, and also help in understanding the foundation inspection process.  I will probably write a few more blog posts covering the basics of foundation inspection, so feel free to ask me any questions you have and I will answer them if I can.  I would also like to hear from people in the inspection business as well.  For those with inspection experience, how do you assess gypsum board cracks in relation to foundation movement?  If you enjoyed my post, hit the like button, follow my blog for updates and share this post with your friends.  Thanks for reading and have a good week!

The state of infrastructure funding and the crisis in Flint, Michigan

Hello everyone, I know I’ve been away for awhile.  The truth is that I have trouble staying motivated with my blogpost, but hopefully this will be the start of a more productive year though.  As many of you know, there has been an infrastructure crisis going on in Flint, Michigan that is very serious and was very preventable.  There has been plenty of coverage on the crisis and the root causes of the whole situation there, but I wanted discuss a couple themes that are indicative of our problematic infrastructure policy in the U.S.

The initial fact that jumped out at me in the coverage is that engineers knew that this crisis would occur when the city of Flint, Michigan went through with its proposed plan.  It is one thing to go with a more budget appropriate option to resolve an engineering issue within a city.  Most engineers believe that it is better to have a higher quality engineering system in most cases.  We also realize that it isn’t always within the budget to do so. However, that does not mean that we reduce the quality of the engineering systems such that public lives are at risk.  To do so is to not only break our engineering code of ethics, but to also commit a criminal act and should at least warrant a loss of your professional engineering license.  In my opinion, the professionals involved with this project should have taken any and all actions to prevent the city from going through with these plans.

Furthermore, the fact that the city pushed for this unsafe plan, let alone considered it, is irresponsible of the city government.  In the least, the safety of all it’s residents should be the local, state, and federal government’s main concern.  That’s why we have police officers, fire fighters, social workers, etc.; because the government is an organization that is run for and by the people.  By placing the budgetary concerns before the safety of the residents of Flint, Michigan, the local government broke that implicit agreement and has failed as a government agency.

Additionally, the fact that they felt this pressure at all is indicative of a problematic policy in regards infrastructure spending as a whole.  In my opinion, there a some areas of responsibility that the government should not have strict budgetary constraint.  Most of them have to do with public/citizen health and safety.  Some of those organizations are obvious to identify such as police officers and fire fighters.  There are also some areas that indirectly affect public safety.  In my opinion, one of those areas is infrastructure, and we are failing on multiple counts.  There are bridges that are structurally deficient – a few that have collapsed endangering the public.  There was Hurricane Katrina where the failure of critical flood prevention infrastructure due lack of maintenance contributed to a massive loss of life in the days following the natural disaster.  The crisis in Flint, Michigan is another bullet point on a list failures that have recently occurred in regards to infrastructure maintenance and funding.

Moving forward from the Flint, Michigan crisis, I believe there needs to be a focus on improving infrastructure management on all government levels.  The situation in regards to the infrastructure management in the U.S. has gotten to the point that the safety of the public is increasingly at risk and it is unacceptable that this should be the case.

What are your opinions on the Flynt, Michigan crisis moving forward?  What steps should be taken to improve the situation overall?   If you enjoyed my post, hit the like button, follow my blog for updates and share this post with your friends.  Thanks for reading and have a good week!

Four Basic Steps to Determine if your Shingle Roof Has Been Damaged by a Hail Storm

Hello everyone, I hope your weekend went well.  I went to see the new Bond movie with my brother Friday and last night I went to a west coast swing dancing class and social event.  Other than that, I’ve been doing my usual stuff like working out and my job inspecting buildings.  Today, I’ve decided to write a blog post explaining four basic steps to determine whether a composition shingle roof has been damaged by a hail storm and quantify the extent of damages.  I’ve avoided this topic for two reasons: one is that there is a lot of information out there about this already, and the second is that it takes some prior experience to make an accurate assessment.  However, it is one major component of my job and I feel like I can provide some practical information that will help you should you need it.

1) Look for spatter marks on surrounding surfaces (

Spatter marks serve as a indicator of the size and direction of the recent hail.  The size of the spatter can be compared to the impact marks elsewhere to determine the extent of recent damage.  The directionality can be determined as well by figuring out which directional faces have or do not have spatter.  In addition, spatter will fade over time – this can differentiate between different ages of spatter marks within a recent time period in most cases.

2) Look for impact marks at susceptible surfaces (

Impact marks can also be observed on some metal and wood surfaces.  Air-conditioning units are a good indicator due to the fact that they have 4 sides and metal/coil fins that are either soft or oxidized.  Spatter can be observed as mentioned before, as well as indentations.  Furthermore, the indentations can be examined to check for soiling, oxidation, or other forms of staining to determine the relative age of the older indentations.

3) Look at the general condition of the roof (

The general condition of the roof will also affect the extent of hail damage.  Examples of other things that damage shingles aside from hail are general weathering, mechanical scrapes, blistered asphalt, and raised nails.  A roof with a worse general condition will be more susceptible to damage and could reduce the compensation should you involve the insurance company, similar in practice to automobile insurance compensation.

4) Look for hail impact marks and examine their condition/quantity (

The last step is to look for hail impact marks on the shingles.  Sometimes a relative age can be determined by checking for weathering of the reinforcement or asphalt within the exposed asphalt/shingle reinforcement.  To quantify the extent of damage, you can count the number of recent and/or old hail impact marks, as well as other general conditions if desired, withing a 10′ x 10′ square.  This is referred to as a test square by engineers and inspectors in the roofing business and is helpful information when estimating the cost of various types of repairs.

These 4 steps are the basic process I use to determine the extent of damage to a shingle roof.  Does anyone else have experience in roof inspections?  If so, what would you add to this list as a basic procedure?  For homeowners, have you had to deal with an issue like this before and how was the experience?  If you enjoyed my post, hit the like button, follow my blog for updates and share this post with your friends.  Thanks for reading and have a good week!

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4 Steps for Selecting a New Goal

Hello everyone, I hope you have been doing well in my absence.  I’ve gotten side-tracked lately with work and other stuff, but I’m going to try and get into blogging again – hopefully it will stick this time.  Today, I would like to talk about the process I like to use for determining whether I should set a new goal in current or new interest. There is a lot of advice about how to make a goal SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. However, advice on determining what your new goals should be is not discussed as often.  Hopefully, by following these 4 steps, you can increase your engagement in achieving new goals.

1. Determine whether or not the goal will remain compelling
If you’re like me, you try a lot of different things because you like the new experiences.  However, not all of them will necessarily be something that engages you over a long time period.  Something that is just a for-fun, random experience might be not be a good candidate for a new goal until you try it more often.

2. Determine what some possible end results would be
Try and imagine what the end result would look like. It might sound cool; but if you take some time consider how the end goal fits with your overall life plan, it helps you figure out if this goal is something you truly want to pursue.

3. Determine how much time you want spend achieving this goal and how much time it would take to actually do so
By determining how much time is required on a base level, you can determine if you realistically have the time or want to spend the time achieving this goal.  This goal could be a great idea until now, but the time required might not be practical.

4. Determine if this is something you would like to achieve in comparison to some of your other interests
Compare all of the above to current and new goal requirements. If it makes it past the steps above and any new or current goals don’t similarly conflict with it, you should consider setting up a concrete plan for completion.

The above steps are a basic process I use for determining new goals that I have found really helpful.  Especially since I have this desire to be good at everything and that is not practical on any level.  Hopefully, this helps you in determining good goals in the coming months.

Do y’all have any thoughts on these steps? And do y’all use a process like this for selecting goals? If yes, what is the process?  If you enjoyed my post, hit the like button, follow my blog for updates and share this post with your friends.  Thanks for reading and have a good week!

Beginner Workout Recommendations

Sports, Persons, Running, People, Young, Lifestyle

Hello everyone, I hope your weekend went well.  Today, I would like to discuss some basic working out routines.  Again, it is not something that is a technical engineering topic.  However, it is something that helps me stay in shape and more productive – not to mention I enjoy it a lot since I train in martial arts and generally enjoy playing sports.  So with that in mind, I thought it would be a good idea to give a couple of good beginner workout routines.

The first workout routine I would recommend is for people who are starting from “square one” so to speak.  This is for the person who never did sports or anything too active in high school.  You might play an occasional pick up game here and there, but your strength level is low and your cardio isn’t stellar either.  The best starting point for some one like that in my opinion is the basics you knew from gym class.  Do some pushups, situps, pull ups, squats (my preference is usually 5 set rotations at a medium to high pace) with a 30 minute cardio session after that.  This can be modified with time – switch between different type of pushups, between situps and planks, etc.  The point is to hit each of the main areas of the body (chest, core, back, legs) and to get some cardio in as well.  It should take no more than an hour three times a week and this will build up a foundation of general strength and cardio to build upon if you wish to do so.  Otherwise, just doing this should at least ensure that you generally have good fitness.

The second routine is for those that have been generally in shape before and want to build some strength again and it is called a 5 x 5 weight routine.  The idea is that you have a few core exercises you do per a session.  And each session you do that routine again you increase that weight by 5 every time if possible.  Refer to this link for one example ->  Combine this with some cardio and you should increase your strength and muscle mass depending on how you eat.  The overall workout time should be similar to the previously mentioned routine but I would recommend more sessions if possible if you want the full benefits of both the strength and cardio portion.  Otherwise, just pick a schedule that works best for you.

These both should be good starting points for most people.  If you would like to start working out, look for some stuff like this and I hope it is helpful to you.  And if you going for an improved physique don’t forget that a stricter diet might be required too.  Do any of y’all work out?  What did y’all start out with and what are y’all currently doing now?  If you enjoyed my post, please subscribe and share it with your friends.  Thanks for reading and have a good week!

Achieving Long Term Goals Using the Rule of Three

Hello everyone, I hope everything is going well.  Today I want to go off of the usual engineering topic and share a recent idea I heard about from a guest speaker at a church event.  The idea is to basically limit yourself to a few important tasks for the day to meet your short term and long term goal obligations you have selected for yourself.  I’ve heard several variations of this, but the recent version I heard about is the “rule of three” as used by General Norman Schwarzkopf.

The initial step to this is having an overall plan for your life and creating goals to achieve them.  Maintaining a personal life plan has been something I’ve done for a while now.  I learned this process from Michael Hyatt – if you are curious for more information on this it is described in an e-book at the following link:  The basic premise is to figure out what you want to be known for, describe your life around that narrative, and set goals to accomplish that.  The goal setting part is the crux of this.  Most people can tell you what they want to be known for and the preferred life around that vision with a little bit of thought.  The difficult part is setting some achievable goals and completing them.

This is where the rule of three comes into practice.  In accomplishing the goals for this life plan, it is best to focus on doing a few things well throughout the week.  The rule of three is an organized method of doing this.  The method follows as such, set 3 tasks for the day, 3 goals for the week, 3 goals for the month, and 3 goals for the year.  This means that you are focusing on three relatively simple tasks.  However, it also ensures that you are keeping in mind your goals for your week, month, and year accordingly.  Along with benefits in general life goals, it looks better in other areas of your life.  The best example given in the talk is in reports to your boss.  Which sounds better – “I have made progress on 7 tasks” or “I have completed 3 tasks?”  The takeaway from this is that having an ambitious goal for your life is important, but that breaking it up into manageable chunks is critical.  The Rule of Three is a simple system to apply in breaking up your goals into tasks.

What is your preferred method for setting and accomplishing goals?  Do you think the Rule of Three is a practical method or do have something that you think works better? If you enjoyed my post, follow my blog for updates and share this post with your friends.  Thanks for reading and have a good week!

Incorporating Engineering into Government to Improve National Programs

Hello everyone, I hope y’all have been doing well.  Today I would like discuss ways to improve our country by involving engineers and engineering concepts in the management of our national systems.  I have narrowed it down what I believe to be the 5 basic ideas.  As a reference, I have used data and assertions made by Evan Twarog in an article describing the role technocracy in China.

1) Become more technocratic in regards to politics

Data shows that the government is mostly run by engineers in China and in the government in the US is mostly run by lawyers.  In addition, Chinese people believe that knowledgeable elite should run the government which led to a technocracy being a part of the political system.  Based on the way government seems to operate in the US, I could see a shift towards the concept technocracy being beneficial for the U.S. as well.  Especially considering some of the issues that confront us, such the deterioration of the infrastructure, climate change, drought in various areas through out the country, and the production of energy in regards oil, wind, solar, etc.  A technocracy provides the critical knowledge and skill sets to properly deal with these issues.

2) Any problem can be solved with an engineering mindset

Engineers have a unique skill set that allows them to solve problems through a standard process.  On a personal level, I apply this mindset to difficult decisions in my life.  I bet you a lot of engineers say the same thing.  I don’t know about them but it works well for me.  And when considering the successes and failures of both China and the U.S., a correlation between the application of technology and the engineering mindset can be observed.  A good example of that in the U.S. is the space program and national arms race in general.  It is this correlation that leads to believe that the engineering problem solving mindset would be a good framework to apply to struggling government processes and programs.

3) An education in a technological field is more respected by society

For years, the culture in China has valued being technologically informed.  This means that changes in the direction of the country are more easily understood and communicated to the masses.  This is not to say there aren’t people capable of doing that here in the U.S., but there still seems to be a large portion of the political system that caters to the lowest common denominator instead of embracing the intelligence of the U.S. population.

4) Some projects need support from the government to succeed

A lot of the great engineering accomplishments require a large amount resources to back them up.  There are very few people and companies that can fully implement these systems.  This means that if there is some technology or engineering program that would improve our country and it is sufficiently large enough that it would be difficult for private organizations, government should not be afraid to step in and help.  If applied with an engineering problem solving mindset and backed by an informed public, these projects should benefit the country overall.

5) Export your technology for economic profit

This is where the practicality of investing money in solving these problems is realized.  In a perfect world, providing infrastructure and services to improve the lives of people is enough.  But government cannot be expected keeping doing so if it cannot be maintained as far as resources are concerned.  This means that sharing the technology nets the government money which can be used to further improve in other areas.  Business concepts like public-private partnerships were designed to improve profits and gains for the country through the development of these infrastructure and service ideas.  If we can keep this end goal in mind, it can ensure that all government systems improve the country socially and economically.

What is your opinion on these 5 concepts?  Is there anything you would add or take away and why?  If you enjoyed reading the blog post, be sure to like the post and share it with your friends.  Thanks for your time and have a good week!


“The Three Gorges Dam, Why China is Run by Engineers”, Twarog, Evan, Atomic Insights, April 13, 2015,

3-D Printed Buildings Elements Created from Building Construction Waste


     Hello everyone, I hope y’all have been doing well.  Today I would like to talk about an improved application of 3D in building construction.  For a while now, 3-D printing has been applied to building construction on a smaller scale.  However, the large portion of the structure has still been constructed using conventional methods.  Experts in various fields of building design and construction have been researching applications that expand the usage of 3-D printing in building construction.  This is an area of building construction expertise in which China has recently lead the global market according to Brittney Stevenson.

In April 2014, WinSun Decoration Design Engineering Co. revealed that 10 homes were constructed entirely out of a 3-D printed, recycled concrete material – an advancement that surprised the engineering and construction community.  In January 2015, it was revealed that WinSun had made further advancements in the applications of this 3-D printed material.  A 6-story apartment building and home has been constructed and the apartment building itself has an approximately 1,100 square meter floor plan.

The 3-D printed elements were created by inputing a CAD file into a 20′ tall, 33′ ft wide, and 132′ foot long machine printed using a concrete mixture.  The concrete mixture includes concrete, fiberglass, sand and a hardening agent.  The usage of this material allows for improved reusage of general construction waste while also being flexible, self-insulating and resistant to earthquakes.  Reinforcement was used where further strength was required and some of the larger pieces were built off site and transported there.  Details of the of building construction process are listed in the article.  According to WinSun, they are able to save 60% of the materials required for home construction, construct the building in 30% less time than traditional construction and reduce the required labor by 80%.

These are impressive results if true.  I still wonder about the expense of owning and maintaining the machine might be a hindrance at first. And I would hope the cost of collecting the construction waste and creating the concrete mixture is included in those statistics.  I think this is a good innovation, especially for low rise buildings since the loads and stresses are lower (although I believe a 6 story building is pushing the limits of standard low rise construction).  I would be interested to see how the material ages in regards to long term durability as well.  Overall, there are several applications that this would be useful for in the building construction industry.

What your thoughts on 3-D printed building elements? What about the concrete mixture used?  Have you heard of any other building materials being used in relation to 3-D printing?  If you enjoyed the article, please like it and share it with your friends.  Thanks for reading and have a good week!


Brittney Stevenson, “Shanghai-Based WinSun 3D Prints 6-Story Apartment Building and an Incredible Home”, 3D Printer & 3D Printing News, January 18, 2015,

What does it truly mean to be an expert?

Hello everyone! I hope y’all had a good week.  Today I just wanted to share a quote I read online that describes what it means to be an expert in a field of study.  The quote is from Pablo Picasso: “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”

Pablo Picasso is well known for his abstract art that was definitely considering breaking the rules at the time.  Yet he was a legitimately good artist, which means he was technically a professional painter.  It initially seems like a a quote anecdotally reference to his views as an artist. However, if you dig a bit deeper into what is really beings said, it can be applied to a lot of different fields of study.  Think about a business man.  He might have some issues in selling a product.  There is probably a standard process that is followed to resolve the standard issues, but in this case it might not apply.  Therefore, by knowing the rules, he knows when is the right time to break them to achieve the results he desires.  It can be applied to engineering or science type stuff as well.  Every new break through in science and engineering occurred because some who would be considered a pro and studied in their field made a connection that hadn’t been made before.  They succeeded because they went against the norm (“broke the rules”) at the right time and discovered a way to improve a product, project or application.  So with this greater concept in mind, it becomes clear that an expert in any field of study knows not only when to follow the standard rules in a given situation, but also when those rules don’t apply and another solution needs to be found.

With that being said, I am going to leave you guys with this thought and hopefully you can implement it well in your career or life general – never get so caught up in the rules that you forget to break them when it comes time to do so.  As I have told many people before about my job, I have a lot of boring days where people wonder why I need my degree and other technical skill sets to do my job.  However, that knowledge informs me when a serious situation could come up that needs to be addressed, and I used that knowledge to prevent any further issues.  How do you guys interpret the quote?  Is there a particular story and event that describes your opinion?  If you enjoyed reading, like the post and share it with your friends.  Thanks for your time and have a good week!

Image Source

“Problem-solving is the Problem”, Florian Totu,, August 10, 2012,

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