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SALT LAKE CITY — If your children have ever enjoyed the frightful delights of Halloween, there is a good chance that they have heard of the infamous Dracula. The name comes from a real historical figure who had a nasty habit: He threw his prisoners onto a field filled with spears, only to watch how they were impaled. His nasty habit resulted in the name he obtained upon his death: Vlad the Impaler.
Such a practice is of course abhorrent: what civilized person would cause or allow a person to be impaled? The answer might surprise you — it could be you. A list of guilty parties might also include your general contractor and his foundation subcontractor.
Stab your children while you’re not looking
If you live in a home with an unfinished basement, you may have exposed form ties on your foundation walls. These are the nasty little bars protruding from your foundation walls. The purpose for these ties was to hold the forms together when the foundation was poured. After the forms were removed, building standards require that the ties be removed. The problem is that the building standards and reality can be very different. Based on the writer’s experience as a homeowner and home inspector, that doesn’t happen — at least not as often as it should.
Foundation form ties come in various types and styles, each with its own set of risks. Various providers call these materials by different names, but most foundation contractors will recognize the terms “flat tie” and “universal.” An x-flat tie will protrude a few inches from the foundation and is about an inch high. The universal variety will generally be about the diameter of a pencil and protrude about 2 inches.
Flat ties have been the source of considerable homeowner innovation: after the contractor is gone, these ties have been known to provide a place to hang a hammock, to becoming a place to rest shelving, and even as a child’s substitute for a rock climbing wall. When left in place, these ties present any number of dangers. If they are used as the support for a hammock, a shelf, or as a belt hook for naughty children — things can go badly. They are designed to give way under the right set of stresses, and a letdown while you’re in the hammock is a nasty way to finish your day.
If you try to remove a flat tie by hitting the tie left to right, you're in for a battle: one that will probably result in a tie — or a loss for you and your will to finish the job.
–- Garth Haslem, The Home Medic
Universal ties tend to look more like a metal bar protruding from the foundation. These are shorter than the flat ties at a visible length of about 2 inches. What these ties lack in size, however, they make up for in their ability to cause injury. These can easily impale, stab, or tear into your family’s flesh.
What to do
Form ties are designed to be easily removed, but their designers assume a couple of things: the first is that you know how to swing a heavy hammer. The second? That you know which way to swing it. If you try to remove a flat tie by hitting the tie left to right, you’re in for a battle: one that will probably result in a tie — or a loss for you and your will to finish the job.
By contrast, if you strike the tie vertically, it’s designed to fall off with relative ease. A good solid hit up and down will probably do it — that is if you’re a manly man. For the rest of us, removing a wall full of ties will be a workout.
Holding a sledge hammer can make you feel manly. Be sure to have someone take a photo while you’re doing it so you can post your manliness on Facebook. Swinging a sledge hammer can be less entertaining — especially if you’re not used to it. Wear good gloves and some foot protection for when the hammer starts flying. Keep children away from the work area while you’re being manly.
There are other tools you can use as well: a pipe whose inner diameter fits the tie can be just the ticket. If you prefer power tools, an angle grinder will work as well.
Most contractors have few kind words for anyone that fails to remove form ties for a homebuyer. In the writer’s experience having built two homes, neither of the contractors removed the ties. Home inspectors commonly find form ties remaining even in older homes — and these inspectors should write the problem up every time they see it.
Keep your family safe. You may not be able to protect your children from everything, but there are certain $10 fixes that can prevent $10,000 problems in the future. In this case, the $10 fix is the cost of a hammer and some sweat. The $10,000 problem will be damaged skulls, rips, tears and hospitalization costs. Choose wisely: the hammer and sweat are cheaper.
Garth Haslem is a structural engineer, home inspector and author of the "Household Hazards Handbook & the Home Maintenance Guide." Follow "Garth Haslem—the Home Medic" on Facebook, Twitter & Pinterest. Visit www.homemedic.tv & crossroadsengineers.co