The Sinister Side of Dry Rot : The Berkeley Balcony Collapse
By now you may have already heard about the tragedy that occurred in Berkeley, California in mid June. During a party at an apartment building, a fourth-story balcony collapsed, sending 13 people plunging to the sidewalk. The Berkeley Balcony Collapse was an unexpected tragedy that left 6 students dead and 7 with serious injuries, from which the survivors may spend years recovering.
At first, some blamed the students for crowding onto the balcony. But as the official investigation has started under way, a much more probable culprit has appeared: dry rot.
Why the Berkeley Balcony Collapsed
Through a preliminary investigation, it appears that the Berkeley Balcony Collapse was caused by dry rot that destroyed the structural integrity of the wooden support beams that were supposed to keep the balcony in place.
Surely, the added weight of 13 individuals likely contributed to the disaster, but preliminary reports from the District Attorney's office suggest that if it wasn't for the dry rot damage, the balcony would very likely have remained intact.
What is Dry Rot?
Dry rot is a special type of mold that "eats" wood, in a similar
way to termites. Through this process, the wood becomes more porous, which
destroys its structural integrity and makes it very brittle.
Like all types of mold, dry rot thrives in dark, moist environments where spores can grow and multiply. However, unlike black toxic mold, the biggest danger from dry rot isn't the toxic chemicals but the possibility of structural collapse.
In fact, initial reports show that the dry rot within the balcony that collapsed in Berkeley was likely caused by improper water-proofing techniques used by the building contractors. It was even recently discovered that the same company that built the Berkeley building was sued a few years ago for a very similar problem with a multiple tenant building in Millbrae, California.
In the case of the Millbrae building, dry rot was fortunately discovered early in the balconies, before a tragic accident could occur. And out of approximately 30 balconies in the building, 12 are currently being repaired.
As more and more people are learning about the dangers of mold, the courts and local legislators are taking a closer look at the responsibility of landlords when mold is discovered in the building. For example, over the last two decades, courts have started siding with tenants who have sued landlords for development of mold-related health problems.
At first, courts were more likely to side with tenants if the mold was clearly visible, but the opinion seems to be shifting to hold landlords to a higher standard and require a more proactive approach to preventing mold.
In fact, in the case of the Berkeley balcony collapse, the District Attorney is even considering the possibility of bringing involuntary manslaughter charges against the building contractor, if it is found that too many corners were cut during construction and waterproofing of the balconies.
Avoiding Dry Rot
Unfortunately, because dry rot feeds off the structural timber, it is difficult to discover the presence of this mold without a professional inspection. This is because the timber is often located within walls or is covered by plaster or drywall.