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Vibration Potential

 Home Up Vibration 101 Is Damage Possible? Pre-Construction Vibration and Damage Vibration and Distance Vibration Potential Pursuing A Claim Vibration Monitoring Non-construction Vibrations More Information Closing Thoughts Appendix D - Homeowner Checklist Appendix E - Damage Inspections



Most construction procedures create vibrations which can be felt, if you are sufficiently close. However, not all vibrations are of equal concern from the standpoint of damage. Felt vibrations will not always cause damage.

On this page, I summarize some typical construction operations, with comments, based both on my road construction damage experience and the literature of vibration damage, on their potential for causing vibration damage. Since other kinds of construction involve many similar uses of the same types of construction heavy equipment, one can apply this information in other types of construction which use the same types of heavy equipment in similar ways. Some numerical estimates of relative construction equipment type vibration potential can be found in our Vibration and Distance chapter.

Construction Operations and Vibration Potential

Those operations of the most concern are bolded in the list below. I separate those operations which may produce felt vibrations from those which produce felt vibrations which may be damaging. Note that this list may not include absolutely every kind of operation involved in road demolition and construction, or construction generally. Some items of lesser concern could produce damage if inappropriately performed or if your house is particularly close to the work. Indeed, some such operations are known to have produced many vibrations in excess of the FTA ground vibration standard (see below). This list is provided for those who may want to plan for documenting certain activities around their home during construction operations. Vibrations from non-construction sources are discussed in the CVDG's Non-construction Vibrations chapter.

Critical Operations

  • Pavement breaking - This operation, if done correctly with the correct equipment at sufficient distance, is usually not a cause for worry. Most commonly, pavement can be "rolled up" by getting under it with a loader (e.g. video frame capture at right) or excavator bucket and raising it . This operation generally produces relatively little and short-lived vibration. Other types of pulverization/cutting equipment (e.g. Wirtgen pulverizer) can also be properly used without much concern for excessive vibration. Even a specially-designed excavator attachment can be used to roll up or break pavement without significant risk, so long as it is used far enough away from homes. However, there are other, generally non-approved, methods which can cause very large vibrations and damage. I have personally observed and repeatedly documented on video the use of a large excavator (e.g. the one at the top of the page) standard bucket to pound on asphalt pavement to break it on multiple occasions.4 The effect of this was similar to being in a large number of moderate size earthquakes.10 It caused widespread extensive damage to many homes on the street. The types of damage resulting from this pounding (e.g. multiple breaks in monolithic concrete 180 feet from the work site) was such that it implied vibration velocities far in excess of any vibration standard worldwide. Such a use of the excavator violates the Operator's Manual for the excavator in several places.6,13 I have also documented pavement being broken by picking large chunks of it up and dropping them on the ground to break them. This also generated felt vibration, exceeded construction vibration standards and created documented damage.
  • General demolition - Demolition has the potential to cause damage, because many of the vibrations it produces are of the ground impact variety. Impacts produce ground vibrations with a broad spectrum of frequencies that overlap the resonance frequencies of homes. The damage potential of demolition depends on the procedures and equipment used, the type of structure demolished, and the skill and concern with which it is done.
  • Pile driving - There are several different methods for pile driving and several different types of piles. Impact (hammer) pile drivers are known to cause large and potentially damaging vibrations. Vibratory and sonic (resonance) pile drivers, despite the names, generally produce much less ground vibration than impact pile drivers,2,11 although even they can be a problem if your home is sufficiently close. In cases where structures are within 100 feet of the pile site, hammer pile drivers should not be used. Sonic (resonance) pile driving can have well over a factor of ten lower vibration generation than hammer pile driving. It is usually considerably faster than impact pile driving, thus reducing further the total amount of vibration created. It should be used in place of hammer pile driving whenever vibration damage of any sort is possible.11
  • Compaction - There are two basic kinds of compactors, vibratory and oscillatory. Vibratory compactors can be used in static mode, without vibration. Static compaction merely rolls the asphalt or ground and has less damage potential than compactors using vibration. Compactors in vibratory mode (e.g. at right) transmit substantial vertical vibrations to the ground, which can cause damage in our experience (vibration record of a small portion of one day's compaction operations at left). Oscillatory compactors are newer types which use side-side oscillation in place of, or in addition to up-down vibration. They produce lesser vibration for the same degree of compaction.14 The amplitude (intensity) of the vibration can be varied over a wide range by the compactor operator, causing the ground vibration to vary as well. Vibratory compactors are of sufficient concern that the Federal Transit Administration has advised against their use in "sensitive" locations, including residential areas.1 As the diagram at left shows, the contractor violated some or all FTA construction vibration standards (starting at 0.12 in/sec for structures sensitive to vibration and going up to 0.5 in/sec for reinforced, engineered structures) numerous times during vibratory compaction at this and other locations.7,8 In this example and others, the contractor also repeatedly exceeded the far less demanding USBM RI 8507 blasting vibration recommendation of 0.5 in/sec for homes with plastered walls. If you can feel vibrations occurring as a compactor approaches, chances are that a vibratory or oscillatory compactor is responsible.9,12 You will need to observe and document carefully the use of the compactor and any damage that may occur during its use. Compaction is the single most-cited damage-causing operation among those reported to Vibrationdamage.com. The CVDG Pro page, Damage Occurrence, has a statistical information breakdown of CVDG downloads by reason for download, technical backgrounds of damage reporters, building types, construction project type, damage-causing operations, and more.
  • Blasting - It is well-known that blasting vibration can damage structures to varying degrees. Indeed, much of the scientific literature about vibration damage deals with damage caused by blasting. Although blasting is usually done in mines and quarries and, to a lesser extent, in construction, it must be done properly and at sufficient distance from structures to avoid damage. Construction blasting ground vibrations often differ from mine and quarry blasting vibrations, so conclusions from studies of mine and quarry blasting vibration studies may not always carry over well to construction blasting. All blasting produces vibrations which have a broad range of frequencies. USBM RI 8507 has extensive comparisons of vibrations from these three different types of blasting.

Other Operations

  • Pavement milling - This is a process by which pavement is ground off in small pieces (see at right above for a photo of a pavement miller in use) with rotating blades, rather than broken apart in large chunks by impact. It usually produces a small amount of non-damaging vibration. That said, because pavement millers are tracked vehicles removing pavement by impact and moving at a slow rate in front of any given location, their use should probably not be completely disregarded as a vibration damage source in at least some circumstances.
  • Excavation - Excavation can be done with backhoes or excavators. In our experience, excavation usually causes vibrations of low velocity.
  • Dirt moving - This can be done with a wide variety of heavy equipment, such as graders and dozers. It usually produces little or no vibration or damage, if properly done.
  • Pavement forming - This is the process of laying down the pavement. It involves a pavement former and trucks which provide a continuous supply of asphalt to the pavement former. In our experience, pavement forming produces only minor vibrations, which do not normally generate damage at distances of more than 50 feet from structures.
  • Jack-hammering - This procedure is often used in road projects, as well as many others. Perhaps surprisingly, the vibrations created are so localized that they can't normally be felt if you are more than 50 feet away.
  • Other operations - Grading, sweeping, concreting, curb installation, manual operations and a host of other activities can take place during road building or other construction activities. Although there could be exceptions in specific cases, all of these are usually of little worry, if carried out properly and in accordance with accepted procedures for use of the equipment. Similarly, construction operations done by people using only hand tools pose little risk of damage in most circumstances.

Heavy Tracked Equipment Movement

While not a construction operation, per se, movement of heavy equipment is a part of any construction project. Indeed, tracked excavators and dozers must move small distances (usually well under 100 feet in any one movement) to perform their work at a given location. These short distance moves in the normal and approved use of heavy equipment generally present small risk to structures.

Tracked heavy equipment is supposed to be transported any significant distance on trailers. However, we've observed and documented on video several instances (e.g. the video frame capture at right) where tracked heavy equipment was being driven on a city street for a mile or more. That movement caused so much vibration in homes that it could be felt more than a half block away and continued for more than a minute in each such location. I documented damage specifically caused by those movements.

The intensity (peak particle velocity) of ground vibration associated with movement of tracked equipment is often relatively small and within some construction vibration standard limits. For this reason, it is commonly discounted as a damage source. However, as described in detail in the CVDG Pro pages, Vibration Signatures, and in abbreviated form on the CVDG page, Is Damage Possible?, because the vibration frequency distribution generated by tracked equipment movements is skewed toward frequencies close to the resonant frequencies of the home and because the vibration created in the house can last for a minute or more, such passages can be particularly ill-advised.

Although tracked equipment movement is rarely a subject of vibration damage studies, a study from the U.K.3 shows that driving large tracked vehicles of the sort used in road construction (large bulldozers, excavators) can produce vertical axis ground vibration accelerations in excess of those caused by vibratory compactors. Higher accelerations mean higher final ground vibration velocities (higher peak particle velocities, PPV's) over any given time period. Vibratory compactors, themselves, are known to violate some U.S. and international construction vibration standards.

Vibrations produced by driving tracked equipment often have peak frequencies in the sub-40 Hz range of most concern for damage effects. The U.K. study demonstrates that such vibrations from driving tracked equipment are of special concern, especially when repeated or lasting a significant period of time (more than a few seconds), even though they were not suspected to be capable of causing "architectural" (cosmetic) damage at the time of the study cited (1977), when vibration standards set far higher limits than are acceptable today. A more recent U.S. study confirms the damage potential of driving tracked equipment over significant distances.15

Tracked equipment vibration levels are known to vary with the weight of the tracked equipment, the speed at which the equipment is driven, the underlayment (soil/type  and pavement) and the type of track (standard or low-vibration track patterns, metal or rubber tracks) on the equipment. The U.K. study also shows that rubber-tired vehicles usually produce little vibration above background levels. My own observations of movement of a wide variety of tired construction equipment, and other vehicles, in a road reconstruction project are consistent with that finding. Thus, it is tracked equipment whose movement over distances should be monitored for vibration, not only with respect to the largest vibration produced, but with careful consideration of both its duration and frequency distribution.

Vibration and Damage

Structures respond differently to vibration and have different damage thresholds, as well as different responses to vibrations having different characteristics. The materials of construction, the building design, its age and its level of maintenance are some of the important determinants of vibration damage resistance. The CVDG page, Vibration and Damage, discusses building design and construction type effects on the potential for damage by vibration.

1. Federal Transit Administration Noise and Vibration Manual, p. 12-14
2. Federal Transit Administration Noise and Vibration Manual, p. 12-12
GROUND VIBRATIONS CAUSED BY ROAD CONSTRUCTION OPERATIONS, D J Martin, Department of the Environment, Department of Transport TRRL Supplementary Report 328: Crowthorne, 1977
4. Even properly done pavement breaking can be dangerous to homes: "
With the exception of a few instances involving pavement breaking, pile driving, all Caltrans construction vibration measurements have been below the 5 mm/s (0.2 in/sec) architectural damage risk amplitude for continuous vibrations. The highest measured vibration amplitude was 73.1 mm/s (2.88 in/sec) at 3 m (10 ft) from a pavement breaker." (Transportation- and construction-induced vibration guidance manual. June 2004. California Department of Transportation, p. 15)
Structure Response and Damage Produced by Ground Vibration From Surface Mine Blasting, USBM RI 8507, p. 58
6. Caterpillar Operation and Maintenance Manual, 320 B, 320 B L, and 320 B N Excavators, SEBU 6075-07, p. 31, p. 101, p. 106, among others. Obtainable in PDF format by online purchase from Caterpillar
7. Because these vibratory compaction data show such high peak particle velocities, some further information is in order. The vibration monitoring technician did not record, photographically or textually, the location of the seismograph at the address he cited for these data, with respect either to the house, the work, or any other fixed landmark. However, photos taken that day by the vibration technician of the compaction operation show that the point of closest approach to the seismograph was at least 17 feet away from the vibratory compactor (based on Google Earth measurements of the site and the photos taken) when the 0.66 in/sec PPV in this diagram was recorded. The point of closest compactor approach to the home was, at most, 48 feet from the home, based on the same measurements. In the 33 minute period of monitoring at this date and location, there were 58 vibration events over FTA vibration standards, only a portion of which are shown in the graphic record above. These data involved compaction of a first layer of asphalt over compacted soil (type classified as silty sand), using an Ingersoll-Rand DD70-HF vibratory compactor with a specified front drum static weight of 7,410 lb. (33 kiloNewtons, kN), a rear drum static weight of 7,485 lb. (33.4 kN) (from published specifications), and an unknown operator-chosen vibratory amplitude (intensity) at a nominal vibration frequency of 66.7 Hz. The centrifugal force range for this compactor is 7,820 – 21,080 lb (35 – 94 kN) (from published specifications).

The PPV's of all vibrations from compaction of a second layer of asphalt the next day in the same lane at the same address are not known. The relevant histogram data were among those "lost" by the vibration technician and the contractor, without any credible explanation for the loss of these and other critical paving vibration data. The seismograph monitor log for the second day at that site shows 6 events occurring in the first 2 minutes of a 20 minute installation, before event recording stopped when seismograph event memory filled. The largest of the recorded events, one minute into the installation period had a PPV of 0.320 in/sec, already in violation of the FTA standard for frame homes of 0.2 in/sec, with the FFT dominant vibration frequency at 40 Hz and other component frequencies below 40 Hz. However, compaction in the same lane at other locations on the same street that second day, for which histogram data were not "lost", resulted in maximum PPV's which were generally 0.15 to 0.2 in/sec higher than those recorded the previous day for the same lane of paving over soil at or near the same locations. There were a correspondingly higher number of events recorded. Thus, it is a reasonable expectation that, if the data had not been "lost" by the vibration technician and the contractor, they would likely have shown a PPV of at least 0.8 in/sec on this second day of vibratory compaction, exceeding all current U.S. blasting vibration standards, as well as all U.S. construction vibration standards.

There were at least two later paving days along the street in question, as shown by subcontractor documents produced in litigation, but the contractor did not do any vibration monitoring for this later paving. The contractor stopped all monitoring at least a month before the completion of the job, as admitted in sworn testimony, in spite of the clear violations of vibration standards caused by its work.
8. "Starting and stopping of the vibratory compactor may temporarily increase the ground vibration... If there is any risk of damage to buildings, low amplitude or even static compaction should be used." Vibration Problems in Structures: Practical Guidelines, pp. 136-137. A manufacturer of vibratory compactors, Dynapac, indicates that the minimum safe distance from structures in meters is 1 to 1.5 times the drum module weight in kN. (see http://www.dynapac.co.uk/en/knowledge/End-user-Support/Soil-Applications/  (go to http://dynapac.co.uk, choose Knowledge, then End-user-Support, then Soil Applications, if the direct link fails)
9. Vibratory compactors are the most commonly used equipment for pavement and soil compaction. However, pneumatic rollers (rubber-tired rollers) and combination rollers (rollers with a steel drum on one axle and tires on the other) are also employed. Such rubber-tired rollers are usually of less concern for vibration generation than vibratory compactors. More recently, compactors which use oscillatory (side/side) drum motions, alone or in addition to vibratory motions (up/down), have appeared. Such compactors can produce lesser vibrations for the same degree of compaction than all-vibratory compactors (see Ambient vibration of oscillating and vibrating rollers, J Pistrol, F. Kopf, D. Adam, S. Villwock, W. Völkel, Vienna Congress on Recent Advances in Earthquake Engineering and Structural Dynamics 2013 (book), p. 6). Once must look at the specifications for the compactor of interest to determine the specific type and frequency of vibration.
10. An excavator very similar to the one referred to on this page (a Caterpillar 320 B L) has been used to simulate earthquakes by pounding on pavement: "Soon after, a PC750LC excavator shocked attendees by pounding its massive claw into the pavement and creating a "did you feel that?" earthquake moment[.]", The Santa Clara Weekly, March 2011, Issue 10, Out With the Old: In With the New, http://www.santaclaraweekly.com/2011/Issue-10/quakes_stadium.html
11. Sonic Pile Driving: The History and the Resurrection of Vibration Free Pile Driving, Matthew Janes, http://www.resonancetechnology.ca/res%20driver%20history%20090112.pdf.
12. Vibratory compactors cannot usually be used to compact asphalt on bridges, due to the potential for vibration damage to the bridge. The newer oscillatory and vibratory-oscillatory compactors are claimed by their manufacturer (Hamm) to be safe for pavement compaction on bridges, because of the lower vibration they produce for a given degree of compaction.
13. Since the publication of both versions of the CVDG, several others around the world have reported to me similar use of an excavator pounding on pavement for demolition. To date, all of those have also reported damage which they attribute to the pounding. The damage effects seen imply vibration velocities far in excess of any worldwide ground vibration standard (see Recognizing Damage for more on this topic).
14. Ambient vibration of oscillating and vibrating rollers, J. Pistrol, F. Kopf, D. Adam, S. Villwock, W. Völkel, Vienna Congress on Recent Advances in Earthquake Engineering and Structural Dynamics 2013 (VEESD 2013), C. Adam, R. Heuer, W. Lenhardt & C. Schranz (eds) (available online)
Ground Vibrations Emanating from Construction Equipment, R. M. Lane and K. Pelham, New Hampshire Department of Transportation, Report # FHWA-NH-RD-12323W, 2012, p. 9.

This is a chapter from the Construction Vibration Damage Guide for Homeowners (CVDG), a 100+ page free document with over 200 color photos, diagrams and other illustrations. It is available at http://vibrationdamage.com as a series of web pages or in full, web navigation and ad-free, as a downloadable PDF document, with additional content not available on the web. The free version of the CVDG is licensed to homeowners and others for personal, at-home use only. A Professional Edition (CVDG Pro), licensed for business use and with over three times as much content, can be ordered from our Order the CVDG Pro page, usually with same-day delivery. You can comment about this page or ask questions of Dr. Zeigler by using our Visitor Comment form. If you would like to discuss vibration damage issues and view additional content not found in the CVDG, Join us on Facebook. Please Like us while you're there.


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