Construction Defect Investigations: A Glossary for Attorneys

Helping attorneys address construction defects cases

In construction defect cases, structural engineering reports and findings are pivotal for attorneys. Understanding the terminology used within these reports is crucial for effective collaboration with structural engineers in uncovering and resolving construction disputes. To empower attorneys with the knowledge they need, here’s a glossary of key terms in the field of construction defect investigations: 

Construction Defect: Any deficiency in the design or construction of a building, structure, or development that leads to a failure, a reduction in service life, or substandard performance. 

Forensic Structural Engineer: An engineer specializing in investigating and analyzing structural failures, construction defects, and other related issues to determine their root causes, provide repair plans, and expert testimony in legal proceedings. 

Root Cause Analysis: A systematic process of identifying the underlying factors that contribute to a construction defect or structural failure. 

Structural Integrity: The ability of a building or structure to withstand its intended loads and environmental conditions without experiencing failure or excessive deformation. 

Building Envelope: The exterior components of a building, including the walls/wall claddings, roof, windows, doors, and foundation, which collectively protect the interior from weather and environmental elements. 

Material Defect: A flaw or inadequacy in the materials used for construction, such as inferior quality concrete, steel, or wood, which can compromise the structural integrity and performance of a building. 

Design Error: Mistakes or omissions in the architectural or engineering plans of a building, resulting in structural deficiencies, code violations, or inadequate performance. 

Structural Failure: The inability of a building or structural component to perform its intended function, often resulting in collapse, excessive deformation, or compromised building utility. 

Non-Destructive Testing (NDT): Techniques used to evaluate the condition of materials and structures without causing damage, including ultrasonic testing, infrared thermography, and ground-penetrating radar. 

Destructive Testing: Physical tests or examinations that require the removal or destruction of building components to assess their properties, such as core sampling, load testing, and material analysis. 

Foundation Settlement: The gradual sinking or movement of a building’s foundation, typically caused by soil consolidation, soil subsidence, poor compaction, or inadequate foundation design. 

Water Intrusion: The penetration of water into a building or structure through gaps, cracks, or defects in the building envelope, leading to moisture-related issues such as mold, rot, and corrosion. 

Cracking: The formation of fissures, fractures, or breaks in building materials such as concrete, masonry, or drywall, which can indicate structural instability or movement or allow moisture intrusion. 

Adverse Weathering: The deterioration or degradation of building materials and components due to exposure to harsh environmental conditions such as sunlight, moisture, wind, and temperature fluctuations. 

Subsurface Drainage: The management of groundwater to prevent moisture infiltration, soil erosion, and hydrostatic pressure buildup around foundations and below-grade structures. 

Slope Stability: The ability of natural or engineered slopes to resist mass movement or collapse, often assessed in geotechnical investigations to mitigate risks of landslides or slope failures. 

Moisture Barrier: Protective membranes or coatings applied to building envelopes to prevent the ingress of moisture and water vapor, reducing the risk of water damage and mold growth. 

Flashing: Thin metal or waterproof membrane installed around openings, joints, and transitions in the building envelope to redirect water away from vulnerable areas and prevent water intrusion. 

Expansion Joint: Flexible or movable connections installed in building assemblies to accommodate thermal expansion, contraction, and seismic movements without causing damage or structural distress. 

Structural Steel Corrosion: The chemical degradation of steel components due to exposure to moisture, oxygen, and environmental contaminants, which can weaken structural members and compromise their load-bearing capacity (think rust). 

Fire Resistance: The capacity of building materials (typically gypsum board) and assemblies (typically wood 2x framing or cold-form steel studs) to withstand exposure to fire without losing structural integrity or contributing to the spread of flames, smoke, or toxic gases.  

These terms encompass various aspects of construction defect investigations. Understanding these terms can enhance the effectiveness of attorneys and forensic engineers in identifying, evaluating, and addressing construction defects to achieve equitable resolutions for all stakeholders involved.