Most construction procedures create vibrations which can be felt, if one is sufficiently close. However, not all are of equal concern. Felt vibrations will not always cause damage. On this page, I summarize some typical construction operations, with comments, based both on my road construction 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 using the same types of heavy equipment.
Construction Operations and Vibration Potential
Those operations of the most concern are bolded in the list below. I try to differentiate those operations which may produce felt vibrations from those which produce 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 standard (see below). This list is provided for those who may want to plan for documenting certain activities around their home during construction operations.
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) to perform their work at a given location. These short distance moves in the normal and approved performance of heavy equipment use represent 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. 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 case. I documented damage specifically caused by those movements.
The absolute magnitude (size) of ground vibration associated with movement of tracked equipment is often relatively small and even within some construction vibration standard limits. For this reason, it is generally 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 is skewed toward frequencies close to the resonant frequency 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. shows that driving large tracked vehicles of the sort used in road construction (large dozers, excavators) can produce vertical axis ground vibration accelerations in excess of those caused by vibratory compactors. Vibratory compactors, themselves, are known to violate some U.S. and international construction vibration standards. Vibrations produced by driving tracked equipment have peak frequencies in the sub-40 Hz range of most concern for damage effects. The diagram at right, reproduced from the U.K. study3, 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 of causing "architectural" damage at the time of the study cited (1977).
Vibration levels are known to vary with the weight of the tracked equipment, the speed at which it is driven, the underlayment (soil and type or 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. This observation is consistent with my own observations and videotaping of movement of a wide variety of tired construction equipment in a road reconstruction project. 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.
Documenting Equipment Use
If you have a problem with vibration damage, it is wise to document on photos or video every kind of equipment used in the work, with sufficient detail that one can read the contractor logo, equipment manufacturer and model number of the equipment used, all of which are usually readily visible on the equipment. The model number allows you to find online the specifications and, perhaps, the operating manual for the equipment. These will be helpful in understanding both vibration records (e.g. correlating the primary frequencies of compactor vibration with the vibration records) and the way the equipment was used in your area. They are usually available on the Internet free or for a small fee in PDF format from the manufacturer of the equipment. These can be an important resource in proving misuse of equipment.
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