Wednesday 29 January 2020

Timber beams on fatal Berkeley balcony badly damaged by dry rot

The remains of the balcony at the Library Gardens apartment complex showing the degraded timber beams
The remains of the balcony at the Library Gardens apartment complex showing the degraded timber beams

US officials are set to confirm that dry rot was the primary cause of the Berkeley balcony collapse which catapulted six students to their deaths.

One timber balcony beam was found to be so degraded by the water-based fungus the wood had been reduced to little more than dust.

Other balcony beams were blackened by the fungus with tell-tale white blotches.

Seven other students were hurt, two of them with critical injuries, when the fourth storey balcony collapsed at 12.41am last Tuesday.

City of Berkeley officials will release the preliminary findings of their investigation within the next 24 hours.

Overloading has already been ruled out as a cause with the balcony, supported by eight timber joists, designed and built to be capable of handling 1,770kg or the weight of 25 young men and women.

Inspections have also revealed suspected dry rot in an apartment on the floor below.

The inspection conducted on September 11, 2013 found evidence of dry rot in an interior floor deck.

The building developers, Segue Construction, insisted the Berkeley incident is totally unrelated to the settlement of construction litigation cases in San Jose and Millbrae which cost the firm $6.5m.


Both claims were lodged over allegations of water-damage to balconies.

Segue is also the focus of an ongoing breach of contract court case which alleges “water intrusion causing tangible property damage” in Colma, California.

The focus of the City of Berkeley probe is now on what caused the dry rot in a building just eight years old.

Central to the probe is a water-proof membrane which, under planning regulations, must be wrapped around supporting timber beams in the so-called ‘podium construction’ of the Library Gardens complex.

The membrane is designed to protect weight-bearing timber beams from water and from dry rot which is a significant threat in California.

“The design drawings appear to have called for proper waterproofing,” former Brentwood building inspector, Lloyd Dinkelspiel said.

The families of the 13 victims are not understood to have made legal contact over the tragedy. San Francisco lawyer, Niall McCarthy of CPM, said litigation in such cases can take years to resolve.

“Over the last 13 years there have been six balcony collapse cases that we have handled.

The two most frequent causes are dry rot and structural defects. The important thing to note is that balcony collapse cases are 100pc preventable,” he added.

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