Train vi­bra­tions likely not harm­ful

Winnipeg Free Press - Section F - - HOMES - ARI MARANTZ

QI own a 10-year old, two-storey home on a piled foun­da­tion that is ap­prox­i­mately 200 me­tres from rail­road tracks. When a heavy train passes, I can feel tremors/vi­bra­tions on my up­per floor/ If I have a glass of wa­ter on my bed­room dresser I can see rip­ples on the sur­face caused by these tremors/vi­bra­tions. Over the life of this home, is this cause for con­cern from a struc­tural per­spec­tive? What are the long-term ef­fects of these tremors/vi­bra­tions? Would the dam­age be lim­ited to tiny dry­wall frac­tures, cracks or nail pops from the small move­ment?

I am in­ter­ested on your thoughts on this mat­ter.

Thanks, Jeff Toye

An­swer: The ef­fects of long-term vi­bra­tions from the trains near your home may be hard to pin­point or pre­dict, but are much less likely to be se­ri­ous is­sues due to the piles un­der your foun­da­tion. Hav­ing the fore­sight to spend the ex­tra money up­front may save you from sig­nif­i­cant move­ment, and higher costs, in the fu­ture.

Con­stant vi­bra­tions from busy streets with large trucks, buses or trains may have a no­tice­able ef­fect on some homes. Depend­ing on the prox­im­ity to the ir­ri­tant, these may range from mi­nor to ma­jor wall and foun­da­tion cracks. The rea­son these is­sues may be nearly im­pos­si­ble to pre­dict is that there are a num­ber of other vari­ables that may af­fect the out­come. Soil con­di­tions, drainage, un­der­ground sew­ers, type of road com­po­si­tion and nu­mer­ous other fac­tors may de­ter­mine whether rum­bling from nearby ve­hi­cles will cre­ate se­ri­ous is­sues. But the largest fac­tor that may de­ter­mine whether prob­lems may arise is the struc­ture of the home, it­self.

Most newer homes in our area have re­in­forced con­crete foun­da­tions, built on a con­crete foot­ing buried two to three me­tres be­low grade. Be­cause of our won­der­ful ex­pan­sive clay soil, set­tle­ment of these typ­i­cal homes is al­most guar­an­teed. Over time, most of these homes will move down­ward, of­ten in one di­rec­tion or to­ward one cor­ner of the foun­da­tion. As long as this move­ment is fairly uni­form, and tele­posts un­der the main beams in the floor struc­ture are ap­pro­pri­ately ad­justed, this set­tle­ment may not cause any se­ri­ous struc­tural is­sues.

If the set­tle­ment is in­creased or ex­ac­er­bated by reg­u­lar, heavy vi­bra­tions from a nearby train or busy road­way, it may cause larger prob­lems or lead to foun­da­tion dam­age. If the set­tle­ment is min­i­mized by bet­ter build­ing prac­tices, the vi­bra­tions may have much less ef­fect on the home.

The main way to pre­vent typ­i­cal set­tle­ment in our homes is to in­stall the foun­da­tion on deep con­crete piers, or driven piles, rather than foot­ings. Your home likely has con­crete piers, of­ten re­ferred to as piles, which may go into the soil for five to eight me­tres be­low the foun­da­tion. These sup­ports will pre­vent set­tle­ment of the heavy home and foun­da­tion by re­duc­ing the ef­fects of grav­ity and also pre­vent move­ment re­lated to frost.

The bot­tom of these piers or piles will be in­stalled way be­low the “frost line,” or the nor­mal depth that frost will pen­e­trate the soil in the win­ter. Hav­ing struc­tural sup­ports that deep will min­i­mize most ver­ti­cal move­ment in a home, but may not fully pre­vent move­ment caused by vi­bra­tions.

Even with your high qual­ity foun­da­tion built on piles, some move­ment other than up and down may still oc­cur in the house. This can be from en­vi­ron­men­tal fac­tors such as wind and tem­per­a­ture changes, but may also be due to ground move­ment from traf­fic vi­bra­tions. These forces may be strong enough to cause small hair­line cracks or pop­ping screws in your dry­wall, or some of the other items you have ex­pe­ri­enced. How­ever, the piers that are pre­vent­ing ver­ti­cal move­ment should elim­i­nate the most se­ri­ous type of mo­tion. You may still be sus­cep­ti­ble to rat­tling china cab­i­nets, win­dows, or floor­ing, but most of the com­po­nents of a mod­ern home have enough flex­i­bil­ity to pre­vent se­ri­ous dam­age.

The key to de­ter­min­ing whether any long-term se­ri­ous ef­fects will oc­cur is to watch your house closely and nip any of these in the bud, if they start to hap­pen. If hair­line cracks, which can de­velop at dry­wall seams and cor­ners be­come larger over time, re­pairs will be war­ranted. Re-se­cur­ing loose fas­ten­ers and re-tap­ing and paint­ing walls and ceil­ings reg­u­larly will pre­vent more se­ri­ous cos­metic de­fects. Patch­ing or caulk­ing any ex­te­rior com­po­nents that show wear may also help pre­vent worse dam­age from oc­cur­ring. As with most is­sues, good main­te­nance and dili­gent re­pairs will stop a mole­hill from be­com­ing a moun­tain, re­gard­less of the vi­bra­tions.

I would love to be able to tell you that there should be no se­ri­ous ef­fects on your home from the reg­u­lar vi­bra­tions and soil move­ment caused by the nearby train tracks, but that is im­pos­si­ble. Pre­dict­ing that type of fail­ure in a home de­pends on too many vari­ables, which no­body may be able to fully an­tic­i­pate.

Re­gard­less, hav­ing the good sense to build your home on deep con­crete piers, nearby train or not, should make the chances of se­ri­ous is­sues much less likely. Ari Marantz is the owner of Trained Eye Home In­spec­tion Ltd. and the past pres­i­dent of the Cana­dian As­so­ci­a­tion of Home & Prop­erty In­spec­tors — Man­i­toba (cahpi.mb.ca). Ques­tions can be emailed to the ad­dress be­low. Ari can be reached at 204-291-5358 or check out his web­site at trained­eye.ca.

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