Buildings are designed by engineers and architects to last, and the vast majority of them do so without much trouble. However, accidents do happen, and when they do, they raise issues concerning the science, technology, and morality of construction. Although they can occur for a variety of reasons, causes of building collapse can be divided into three categories: those brought on by natural disasters (such as earthquakes, mudslides, tornadoes, and the like), unintentional collapses (due to flaws in the design, use, and/or maintenance); and intentional destruction (including both planned demolition and malevolent attacks). Each type brings up unique ethical issues, even if they are connected.

causes of buildings collapse
In Nairobi, it is still believed that dozens of people are trapped beneath the rubble. Image: BBC News
Among the primary causes of building collapse are:

1. Unqualified workforce

Contractors who work quickly to save time may make mistakes that compromise the structure’s strength and integrity. Similarly, suppose a business employs staff who are not fully qualified or trained. In that case, they risk making costly errors that compromise the building’s safety.

Tragic consequences of construction mistakes include:

  • Improper waterproofing and water drainage away from the foundation
  • Improper roofing materials installation leads to moisture intrusion
  • Windows that were installed incorrectly allowed moisture to enter.
  • Lack of insulation around pipes causes condensation to build up, endangering nearby materials.
  • Choosing the incorrect materials for the task. For example, construction in a coastal area where corrosion and erosion are ongoing concerns may not be suitable for the same materials used in an inland building.

2. Inefficient structural design

A structural engineer can make calculation errors and overlook the amount of weight that a structure will need to support.

During building construction, the engineer might also adhere to false theories, use false data, and select incorrect materials. Such an engineer will cause the future collapse of the building.

3. The building materials that aren’t strong enough

Low-quality materials can compromise the building’s structural stability and lead to its collapse.

Examples of weak and subpar materials that could compromise a building’s structural integrity include:

  • Concrete blocks
  • Bricks
  • Beams
  • Plywood
  • Waterproofing and insulating

The building site may have an impact on the materials used. For example, buildings may be more prone to collapse if construction companies use materials that are vulnerable to corrosion in coastal areas, such as bare carbon steel.

4. Neglecting to take the strength tests

All stages of a building’s construction ought to include strength tests. For example, one method for determining how much weight a structure can safely support without developing cracks or other types of damage is through load testing.

To make sure it can support the weight of the structure properly, the concrete that was used should also be tested. A rebound hammer can be used to test concrete. The hammer’s rebound strength can be used to estimate how much energy the concrete is absorbing.

Penetration testing, which gauges concrete strength based on how easily an object from outside can pierce its surface, is one of the other types of concrete testing. Concrete damage, such as cracks, can be identified using ultrasonic pulse velocity.

5. The foundations are too weak

A building’s overall structural integrity depends heavily on its foundation, but this is especially true in a coastal area like Miami. Buildings have started to sink over time due to soil subsidence, rising sea levels, coastal flooding, and the sudden or gradual sinking of land.

The Champlain South Tower has reportedly been sinking since the 1990s, according to a study done in 2020. It is still unclear whether this had anything to do with the building collapsing.

According to a structural field study conducted in 2018, waterproofing failures beneath the pool deck and entrance drive had caused “major structural damage” to the building. In addition, the parking garage had developed cracks, and regardless of the weather, water was frequently found on the garage floor. The report suggested replacing entire concrete slabs that were damaged.

Despite the issues outlined in the report from three years prior, the condo association did nothing to address the damage right away and even assured residents that the structure was secure.

causes of house collapse
Champlain Tower South collapsed. Photo NIST

6. Natural calamities

Because storms and other natural disasters are unavoidable, buildings ought to be built with adequate defences against things like high winds and flooding.

In order to withstand hurricane-force winds, newly built homes and structures in South Florida must adhere to additional building codes, which include installing impact windows and doors. In addition, in order to prevent flooding, buildings along the coast must also be elevated.

Contractors and property owners are expected to take reasonable precautions to protect buildings against potential damage and failure, despite Mother Nature is beyond our control.

Building collapse
Disaster-proof home builds to withstand a hurricane in Florida. Image CNN

7. Corrosion

Corrosion is one of the causes of building collapse in coastal areas. Due to floodwater’s salt and chloride content, materials are susceptible to corrosion and weakening. This may impact the stability of the building’s structural system over time.

Metals that are resistant to corrosion, such as stainless steel, or metals that have undergone special treatment and coating to be corrosion-resistant, should be used to build a structure. Additionally, it is important to check buildings for corrosion routinely.

Corrosion can weaken cross-beam reinforcements and cause structural failure if it is not treated.

8. Greed for money

The country’s major cities are experiencing an increase in housing demand as a result of the population movement into urban areas over time.

Rogue developers are rushing the construction of subpar structures in an effort to take advantage of this by ignoring building codes.

Some are adding additional floors that were not initially anticipated, which will result in a heavier load than what was anticipated in the foundation. This is particularly typical in less affluent residential neighbourhoods.

The National Construction Authority claims that because of a lack of staff, it is unable to inspect each and every one of the numerous structures that are being built every day across the nation.

Therefore, in order to prevent disasters, it is the responsibility of the public to confirm that a building has an occupancy permit before either renting a unit or reporting any shady construction projects that are going on in their neighbourhood.

9. Corruption

Government organizations tasked with inspecting structures to determine whether they are fit for human habitation are rife with corruption and inefficiency.

Corrupt inspectors are willing to turn a blind eye to mistakes that cause deaths and financial loss in exchange for a few thousand shillings.

In addition to lax enforcement of building codes, these violations—even those that result in fatalities and constitute criminal negligence—rarely receive punishment.

The most serious and preventable causes of the collapse of buildings can be avoided by carrying out site assessments to adopt the most suitable building designs informed by technical reports of the site.