Material Conditions Series Part 12: Hollow Areas

February 24, 2015

Each week we’re bringing you an in-depth look at one of the standard conditions we encounter and document during inspections of buildings and civil structures. 

Part 12: Hollow Areas

Hollow areas appear to have a void behind an intact surface based upon sounding with a mallet. Hollow areas are most commonly documented in masonry, plaster and stucco, but may also occur in architectural metal or wood.

Hammer-sounding a Guastavino tile ceiling

Hammer-sounding a Guastavino tile ceiling

Although the surface is intact, hammer-sounding as part of a hands-on investigation can reveal material failures that are otherwise hidden. This can include failed fasteners in masonry and terra cotta, deterioration of back-up masonry, subflorescence in masonry, detachment from the substrate in plaster and stucco, and fastener failure or rot in wood.

Next in this series: Failed Coatings

Click here to see previous posts in this series.

Material Conditions Series Part 11: Displacement

February 17, 2015

Each week we’re bringing you an in-depth look at one of the standard conditions we encounter and document during inspections of buildings and civil structures. 

Part 11: Displacement

Displacement refers to the shifting of masonry units out of their as-built position. Displacement can occur in the vertical plane, horizontal plane, or both.

Horizontal and vertical displacement in brick

Horizontal and vertical displacement in brick

Displacement occurs in brick, stone, terra cotta, concrete units or pre-cast concrete panels when the fasteners or mortar holding a masonry unit in place can no longer resist movement from thermal expansion, frost heave, seismic events, gravity, or other forces. Displacement is therefore a symptom of several different modes of failure and deterioration, such as water infiltration, pack rust formation, or mortar failure.

Horizontal and vertical displacement in limestone.

Horizontal and vertical displacement in limestone

Next in this series: Hollow Areas

Click here to see previous posts in this series.

Update – Scaffold Law Reform Day at the NYS Capitol

February 13, 2015

scaffold-law-graphicVertical Access was a proud sponsor and participant in Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York Day at the Capitol in Albany, NY on February 10.  Teams composed of general and trade contractors, insurance brokers and underwriters, lawyers, material suppliers and consultants met with State Senators and Assembly Members to discuss the inequities of Labor Law 240.

This law, first enacted in the 19th century and sometimes referred to as the Scaffold Law, is the only law of its kind in the country that imposes absolute liability on owners and contractors, without regard to cause and with virtually no opportunity for defense as part of a due process procedure. This has had a huge economic impact on construction costs, ultimately costing New York taxpayers an estimated $785 million annually.

Overall, the feeling at the end of the Day at the Capitol is that there was a much more positive reception from the New York legislatures we met with this year than there has been in the past and this may finally be the year of Reform.

Learn more at Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York and

Talking preservation with students at UB

February 13, 2015

By Kristen Olson

Towards the end of the fall 2014 semester, I had the pleasure of talking about Vertical Access over Skype with a group of students at the University at Buffalo. The class was a masters-level preservation documentation and methods course taught by Dr. Ashima Krishna, Assistant Professor in UB’s department of Urban and Regional Planning.

The course focused on developing historical and architectural descriptions and documenting historic resources through measured drawings and photography – foundational elements to the practice of preservation and skills that come into play for nearly every Vertical Access project.

My presentation gave an overview of our work and services, demonstrating how different disciplines and methods of investigation and documentation come together in preservation projects. I was happy to be able to show the UB students some of the exciting places that a preservation education can take them.

Can you identify this building? – Series No. 3

February 13, 2015

Test your knowledge of historic and iconic buildings in the U.S. (and beyond!) in this series of “guess the building” blog posts.

Series No. 3: A Richardsonian Clock Tower

The materials, round arches, and façade treatment of this building are unmistakably Richardsonian Romanesque, and the prominent clock tower marks this as a civic building. The majority of Henry Hobson Richardson’s work can be found in New England, with quite a few buildings in New York and Pennsylvania as well. This building’s host city is home to another, even more well-known Richardson building. Where is it?


Answer: Albany City Hall. Vertical Access has worked at both of Albany’s H.H. Richardson public buildings – City Hall and the New York State Capitol.


Don’t miss another architectural challenge: subscribe to our blog by signing up with your email address in the sidebar. Click here to see all of the posts in this series.

Photos by Vertical Access.

Update from the 2015 Annual SPRAT Conference

February 13, 2015

During the first week of February, Keith Luscinski and Mike Gilbert traveled to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico for the 2015 Annual SPRAT Conference. Located at the southern tip of the Baja Peninsula, Cabo’s warm coastal climate was a great location for a winter conference in the eyes of its winter-blues affected attendees.


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Mike is the Chair of the Standards Committee, the group responsible for all of SPRAT’s published standards. These include Safe Practices for Rope Access Work and Certification Requirements for Rope Access Work. The Standards Committee also has three additional active sub-committees. The Equipment Specification sub-committee is working to create a set of standard requirements for rope access equipment, such as harnesses, helmets, descenders, ascenders and life-safety rope. The Industry Specific sub-committee is developing guidelines on the access methods of various structures. These industry specific documents will not be official standards, but rather “rope access tips and tricks” for structures such as buildings, bridges, dams and wind turbines. Finally, the Company Audit sub-committee is creating a process, by which rope access companies may get certified to SPRAT standards. Currently, SPRAT certifications apply only to the individual technicians.

Keith is also the Chair of the Research Grant Committee. Appointed as the chair last summer, Keith has worked with the committee to develop and implement a system for SPRAT to disburse two $1,500 research grants per year. Looking forward to the coming year, the Research Grant Committee will refine the grant application and selection process, in an attempt to draw a higher quantity of higher quality applications. Along those lines, the committee will also seek outside funding from industry manufacturers to increase the monetary value of the grants.

The second day of the conference was filled with presentations from leaders in the rope access industry. Topics included: the current state of rope access regulations in British Columbia, an engineering analysis of rope access systems, and a presentation by Mike on non-conventional rope access. Mike’s presentation provided an objective view of “outside the box” rope access techniques. Of particular interest was a discussion on “Who will rescue the rescuer?”—a thought provoking dialog about the need for simple rescue systems.

After a few too many days in the sun, many of the conference attendees were sunburned and ready to head home to winter reality. However, the SPRAT organization seems more active than ever, and the coming year should bring interesting progress. Next year, the conference will be held in Salt Lake City, Utah, in conjunction with the International Rope Access Rendezvous.

Material Conditions Series Part 10: Pack Rust

February 10, 2015

Each week we’re bringing you an in-depth look at one of the standard conditions we encounter and document during inspections of buildings and civil structures. 

Part 10: Pack Rust

Pack rust refers to the expansive corrosion of ferrous metals. This powerful mechanical force can break apart adjacent concrete and masonry. Pack-rusted fasteners and structural elements can cause the deterioration of adjacent brick, stone, terra cotta, and concrete. In structural iron and steel, pack rust leads to overall structural weakening.

pack rust in a reliving angle causing adjacent brick to spall

Pack rust in a reliving angle causing adjacent brick to spall

Iron oxidizes in the presence of oxygen and water, often accelerating with exposure to salt, and expands rapidly as it corrodes. When exposed surfaces rust, the brittle corrosion product weathers away, but when rust occurs within a confined space – for example, within reinforced concrete or between two plates of a bridge truss – the rapidly expanding corrosion product forces apart surrounding materials. Where iron and steel fasteners were designed to be protected from the elements, this action causes more water to enter, creating a positive-feedback cycle of deterioration.

pack rust between steel plates of a bridge truss

Pack rust between steel plates of a bridge truss

Next in this series: Displacement

Click here to see previous posts in this series.


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