By now we have all heard about the horrific collapse of the Champlain Towers South, a 12-story
beachfront condominium in the Miami, Florida suburb of Surfside. Our hearts go out to the victims
and their families, as well as the many families who have lost everything due to that tragedy.
The tragedy leaves many of us asking, what could have caused such a collapse? What would have
prevented it? What lessons can we learn about future construction practices and the ongoing
maintenance of all buildings?
There are, of course, a variety of possible causes to such a collapse, beginning with structural
defects in planning and construction, to environmental effects, for example, the negative effect of
water intrusion into the buildings foundation. What do we know for sure? We know that the
building collapsed in stages, with the southern (central) section collapsing first. Experts now
believe that this initial collapse occurred at the base of the building, around the pool area.
Did improper drainage of water play a part in the collapse?
It has been widely reported that a previous structural inspection discussed a “major error” in the
original design of the collapsed pool deck area, in that it was not properly sloped to drain water,
and that this caused “major structural damage” to its concrete structures. It has also been
suggested that the concrete in that area was damaged due to the rusting of the reinforcing steel
rebar inside the concrete. Such rebar, when it rusts, expands up to seven times its volume and
becomes brittle, and as a result, the concrete that surrounds such rebar can crack into pieces.
Experts agree that all it takes is a single concrete beam or column failing, to trigger a “domino
effect” and bring a building down!
Did ground movement play a part in the collapse?
It has also been suggested that this Florida condo building was in fact sinking at a rate of two
millimeters per year, beginning in the 1990s. Now, two millimeters per year does not seem like a lot
of movement, but over a period of years, this type of movement can also cause a concrete slab to
crack and buckle, making the structure above it unstable!
So what are the lessons learned?
While we have no definitive answers as to why the Miami condo building collapsed, there are
lessons here for all homeowners and commercial property owners! Most building basement
waterproofing consists of a sealing coat on basement walls and a drain around the bottom of the
foundation – called a “footing drain”.
A footing drain failure is the most common cause of wet basements! When a footing drain fails, the
soil around the outside of the foundation can’t drain and water saturates the basement and
foundation, coming in through joints between the footing and the wall, wall cracks and pipes,
porous block walls, and from under the footing. When the concrete footing and foundation are
waterlogged, the rebar inside the concrete will rust, expand, and eventually crack the concrete!
Add to this scenario a typical Los Angeles home with its thin concrete slab poured on top of
unstable top soil, and you may have a recipe for disaster! In such situations, even the mild seismic
forces of a small earthquake can crack a foundation and cause the building on top of it to slide right
So, what’s to be done?
Los Angeles homeowners and commercial property owners should be concerned about the state of
their properties and make sure that groundwater and rainwater is not intruding and saturating their
foundation and footing. If water intrusion is an issue, a variety of cost-effective drainage solutions
can be employed, for example a French drain installation, to provide drainage control and erosion
prevention. And if a foundation is already damaged, modern methods for foundation cracks repair
are available to help mitigate the harm.
This is one area where early warning and maintenance is important, so don’t delay, have your
foundation inspected! Call Angela today at (800) 862-6582 for a free inspection and review of
your home’s foundation needs! We are also expert drain contractors and can help with
basement waterproofing, leaky basement repair, basement wall sealing, and French drain
Adapted from “Miami building collapse: What could have caused it?” BBC News, July 1,