Here you will find answers to many problems that expats may come across when embarking themselves in building or buying a place in the sun. These solutions and explanations shown here are the result of more than 25 years of experience working as an architect in Spain. These articles have been published previously in one of the best newspapers for expats in Spain, "Costa Blanca News".
If you have a particular problem which is not covered here, do not hesitate to send me an email and I will try to respond as soon as possible... and free of charge, of course.
When you are doctor, friends normally point to their back alleging throbbing pains and requesting an immediate diagnosis. However when you are an Architect, your friends normally show you their cracks.
Please don't get me wrong!! I am talking about those cracks that they have on partition walls, facades etc and pitifully beg for a compassionate verdict.
Following my last articles on Lorca’s earthquake, perhaps it could be a good idea to examine some typical building failures, with the purpose of differentiating idiosyncrasies between Spanish and British construction techniques.
Let us take for instance exterior walls. Normally exterior walls in the UK are load bearing walls while here in Spain with the exception of old buildings, recent construction particularly around the Costas, have a reinforced concrete structure and their external walls as a rule.
There are two major daunting thoughts that preoccupy most architects. First, that a building you have designed collapsed and kill or injure one or more people. Second, a building worker die o is seriously injured on one of your building sites.
According to the Spanish Workers' Union, construction left 177 dead by accident throughout Spain in 2009.
I am afraid that under the current circumstances it may not be ethically correct to ask that question right now, but I am sure that more than one reader had wondered about the stability of their homes before an earthquake.
Although it is a highly technical matter, I believe that we can converse about the subject circumscribing to general information, so that at the end of the following expositions some of us (including me, I had to carry out some research on the subject and dust up the old text books) would understand a little better how our buildings literally stand up, should an earthquake occur around East Spain.
The “Norma de Construcción Sismorresistente: Parte General y Edificación (Ncsr-02)” Spanish Earthquake-Resistant Norm classifies buildings in accordance with their intended use and with the damage their destruction can cause, they are classified as:
Buildings moderately important.
Buildings with a negligible probability that their destruction during an earthquake may cause any casualties, disrupt a primary service, or cause significant economic damage. For example warehouses or agricultural buildings with access restricted to a small number of people.
One of the many questions we architects ask ourselves when designing a building, concerns the reactions that will take place on a structure if an earthquake should take place.
The objective is that the structure should withstand an earthquake with a low or moderate intensity, limiting the damage to non-structural elements and, although it may present significant damage during earthquakes of a severe intensity the building will not collapse.
I finished my last article for CBN on earthquakes on the second week of April and less than one month later on May the 11th it happened. Two earth quakes occurred on the monumental city of Lorca. The first with a magnitude of 4.4 on the Richter scale, it took place at about 17:05, and the second at 18.47 hour with a magnitude of 5.1 of the same scale. Nine people lost their lives.
Now we must ask ourselves: What went wrong?
Last week we were looking at the different foundation problems due to bad design and we explained how important it was to determine the causes swiftly and proposing rapidly a solution which could range from acting on the structure itself, making changes on the geotechnical properties of the soil by treating, improving and/or reinforcing the soil, via the common solution of underpinning the existing foundation, etc.
Of all possible pathologies that can occur in a building, statistics from ASEMAS (architects main insurance company) show that those linked to foundations carry higher overall costs. It is not only a question of money, as any problem associated to foundations also have great social impact because of psychological apprehension that an unsafe foundation may have on the users. Not to mention the inherent complexity of repairing it, altering and even forbidding the use of the property and often it involve the neighbours and of course, the local authorities.
Similar to illnesses and other problems in life; it is better to prevent than to cure. I meant by "better" that it will be more economic and it will produce fewer aggravations.
Early detection of stains of moisture is crucial to reduce the costs of treatment and to resolve the problem of dampness.
Last week we were looking into the old damp problems. We saw that even if painted often, are maintain well and take good of our property; old houses sooner or later will have humidity showing somewhere.
That is the eternal enemy of households. It is like a frightening monster that appears behind beds, on the ceiling or the bathroom. Walls look raggedy, lose colour and soon the entire house acquires a sense of darkness and abandonment. These problems will not only affect our home but also our health.
Many of my British clients are surprised when I mention that Alicante, Murcia, Almeria and Granada are regions with a high probability to have an earthquake.
It is really the whole southeast of the Spanish peninsula, the zone with an average seismic risk as the recent case in Lorca (Murcia).