Inspection of Old Buildings.

Inspection of Old Buildings.


These old buildings that speckle our cities, like veritable freckles on the municipal complexion, are as full of menaces as a cellar fly is of maggots. The particular menace that will be referred to here is the jeopardy to life, limb and property, by reason of their great susceptibility to the effect of fire and water.

The official inspection, suggested for ascertaining the status of the ravages of eremacausis and concomitant corrupting agents, of the wooden structural of these old buildings, might, as a primary rule, only comprehend such vital points of these timbers as the bearing ends resting on walls or girders, the head and base ends of columns, posts, braces or struts, or as these parts can always be easily reached with comparatively no expense to occupant or inspector. Initial tests can be made by puncture of awl or drilling by small auger and scrutiny of the boring dust by smell, taste, weight, microscopic or chemical action, or by any method, the result of direct practical research, to obtain this end. Such a primary survey would produce relevant evidence, trustworthy for intelligent procedure. The official finding of such an inspection should become permanent record of the building department, and in case the finding developed a state of decay threatening the safety strength of these structural timbers, official notice should lie served on owner and occupant and a copy of the record filed with the fire department, as a measure of public safety, as the duty of firemen does not comprise entering death traps. It must be borne in mind that no inspection can arrive at a true finding or verdict unless it embraces the conditions that these diseased timbers would present under a degree of heat dose to the igniting point.


The effect of heat and cold on wood is the reverse of the same on metal, since cold lengthens wocxl and heat shortens it. The building of the ends of joists and girders into newly laid up brick or stone walls, where they are subject to absorb the freshly burned lime in liquid state from the mortar, greatly hastens their decay at these vital points.

Both law and practice, obtained among the ancients and our forefathers, governing the cutting of trees in the leafless season, yet progressive, we (?) supply the market demand irrespective of sap status, and we must dearly pay the piper therefor. The underwriter’s practiced eye is perchance keen and observing, but it must be superficial withal. To demonstrate, some few years ago the head of a famous female academy called into service our office for an inspection of the condition of the floors of their huge building. Her fears had been raised by the accidental lifting of a floor board next to the wall while in search of a lost coin. Some one remarked that the joists scarcely rested on the walls. Upon a thorough examination, a most startling condition was uncovered. The joists supporting the floors of almost the entile school rooms did not average quite one-half an inch bearing on the girders, and less than one and one-half an inch on the brick walls. Evidence of severe shrinkage, of eremacausis and other putrescent constituents, was plain and plentiful. Now, beyond the peradventure of a doubt, had n fire taken hold strong enough to generate sufficient heat to raise the temperature of these joists to a degree just short of ignition, they were in no condition to withstand the pyrogenous strain, and disaster would have resulted.

A peculiarity worthy of mention in this connection, is that after these floors had been made safe, insurance policies held previous to the discovery and remedy, and which expired immediately thereafter, were renewed at the same risk, and new policies taken out in companies not before holding, were written at the same risk as those taken before this uncanny state of affairs was exposed, yet these underwriters were made fully aware of the true conditions of things, and to remonstrance they simply replied that had they known of the existence of such a condition they would have refused to write a policy. But why didn’t they inspect intelligently and know.

Another case w*as that of a large mercantile building five stories high in the very centre of the city, specially designed for heavy floor work, but, being run up with a rush, its structural timbers were hewn from the leafed stem and set up in place in cold weather, and inside of ten years shrinkage, dry and wet rot, oxidation, microscopic organisms and other putrescent agents had rendered these timbers diseased and prematurely old. A fire broke out in the basement ; there was but a moderate bulk of goods stored there. The firemen responded promptly, when, without fair warning, the first floor gave way immediately over the fire area below.

And soon after the other floors above this space came, one after the other, until the roof followed suit. Of course, the smoke, compressed air. fire, sparks, etc., of these falling floors baffled the firemen and accelerated the fire.

Afterwards, while having the debris removed from this basement, these first-floor joists were found to be only partially charred, and evidences remained where in a number of cases they had broken abruptly near the wall line. Upon inspecting the unburnt apartments of this building a very similar state of affairs was found as existed at the academy.

There can exist no doubt but that had this first floor been what it should have been, and was thought to have been, it would have confined the fire to the basement sufficiently for it to have been controlled by the firemen.

Now, again, after remedying all these evils and putting this building in strong condition, the insurance policies were issued as the same risk as when this structure was pregnant with dis aster from fire and water.

And it was explained that this was considered as the same risk simply because the underwriters had assumed that the building was in good strong condition when they had written the previous policies.

Again I pause to ask, why assume anything? Why not know by proper inspection ?

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