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FOR WANT OF A NAIL – Cost of Cutting Corners on Drilled Cage Alignment

Bradford Russell, AIA, P.E., SECB, F.SEI

“For the want of a nail the shoe was lost,
For the want of a shoe the horse was lost,
For the want of a horse the rider was lost,
For the want of a rider the battle was lost,
For the want of a battle the kingdom was lost,
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.”

This proverb is as true today as it was when it was when Ben Franklin published it in Poor Richard’s Almanack in 1758. It’s implication that grave consequences are often incurred by seemingly unimportant errors or omissions even today is tragically demonstrated by the following case study:

In the Dallas-Fort Worth area recently, an inexperienced property owner took bids for the construction of a publicly accessed building in excess of 20,000 sq. ft., designed to accommodate gatherings of various sizes. Most contractor bids came in at reasonable prices but one contractor who did not have a great deal of experience bid quite a bit lower. The property owner accepted the lower bid and construction began.

After construction had been underway for some time, an associate of the owner became concerned by the contractor’s construction practices. This associate was an engineer (although not a structural engineer) and was concerned enough to recommend retaining the services of a professional structural engineer to review the construction, even though city officials had already approved it. He just wanted to ensure everything was “in alignment” with good construction practices.

After making inquiries for recommendations, the building owner engaged BR Architects & Engineers to conduct an independent inspection. The inspection revealed that the contractor had cut corners during construction, apparently starting when he realized he had greatly underbid the project.

Although the soil was unstable, no casings had been installed to protect the integrity of the building’s foundation pier shafts, the piers were not of the proper diameter or height, the reinforcement cages were of the wrong size and the wrong design and had been placed without benefit of alignment spacers. As a result, cages had become pinched and shaft diameters reduced when sections of the shaft wall collapsed. If the contractor had simply used cage alignment spacers, some piers might have been usable but, without spacers, the piers were rendered useless. No remedial action could mitigate the inadequacies of these practices. The entire building foundation “in place” would have to be razed and completely rebuilt.

The contractor subsequently declared bankruptcy. In order for the owner to wind up with a usable building at a much smaller budget, the scope of the project and size of the building were greatly reduced. The owner had to simply write off the money already spent on a deeply flawed process.

Specifications and the inspections thereof matter. The amount saved by the contractor not installing cage alignment spacers was estimated to be inconsequential for the project size, less than $6,000. But the actual cost of these savings was far greater. Due to the lack of spacers and other shortcuts the contractor employed, the building owner lost a substantial amount of money, but the contractor eventually lost his company and reputation – a high price to pay… for the want of a horseshoe nail.

Bradford Russell, AIA, P.E., SECB, F.SEIBradford Russell, AIA, P.E., SECB, F.SEI, is a LEED certified Architect and Structural Engineer serving as Director of Architecture / Engineering for BR Architects, Inc., an architectural and structural engineering firm headquartered in Richardson, TX. He is also President of ForceGenie, LLC, a Partner with PYRM Architects, LLC, and a past SEAoT state board member and Dallas chapter officer.

This article was produced under the auspices of Pieresearch, manufacturer of quality concrete accessories, exclusively for the benefit of the structural and geotechnical engineering, architectural and construction communities and is copyrighted by Pieresearch 2019.

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