On the Structural Integrity of the Modern Home

Topics in this category pertain to planning. Discussions include how to prepare yourself, your family and your community for catastrophes and what you plan to do when they hit you.

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On the Structural Integrity of the Modern Home

Post by NapTime » Tue Jul 29, 2008 3:30 am

For two summer I worked as a lackey for a remodel construction company, which meant I was the one doing all the unskilled dirty-work. I took a couple of houses down to the studs, and did almost all of it by hand. This gave me an interesting look into how sturdy the average American home really is. Or, isn't, as the case may be. This information could be useful for getting supplies from long abandoned, but fortified houses, or for getting people out if they become trapped in their own house, or for thinking about fortifying your building for bugging in.

Point One
Sawzalls are a man's best friend. As the name implies, they will saw through damn near anything. If the power works, use one You can destroy just about anything by hand that you can destroy with a sawzall, but it's a lot easier with the saw. I promise it will save you unfathomable amounts of time and energy. They cut through wood (a 6 inch beam is easy cutting), they cut through metal (I wouldn't try it on half inch plates, but nails and pipes don't stand a chance), they cut through stucco, anything. Be careful about cutting through live wires though. Also, if you get the hang of plunge cutting, you can put a hole in the middle of any flat surface (floor, ceiling, wall, whatever!), which brings me to my next point.

Point Two
Walls are the new doors. Door to the outside are usually heavy, wooden, and fitted with hefty locks. Some aren't, but let's pretend. If someone tried to fortify a door by nailing things over it from the inside, or pushing a bookcase in front of it, it'll be pretty hard to get through. The wall right next to it? Worst case scenario it has a half inch of stucco, three quarters of an inch of plywood, a couple inches of insulation, and a half inch of drywall. Most will just have siding, which pops right off. If you have a sawzall, any wall can be a door in a matter of minutes. Be careful about cutting studs though. Studs are the upright boards that come every 18 inches. You can cut right through them, but they're there to keep the roof up, so you don't really want to. If you take one out, you should be OK, and 36 inches is plenty of room in a pinch, but I give no guarantees if you've had an earthquake or something. Be careful.
This point is only more true with interior walls. They're just drywall on either side, with maybe some wires and pipes inside. You can put your foot right through if you have the mind to do so, and you can tear the rest off with your prybar/hands/teeth/whatever. It's really easy, I promise. The nails/screws won't come out with the drywall though, so be careful around bare studs if you don't intend to pull them out. It's really easy to cut yourself on the heads just walking past, and nobody likes infections in the PAW.

In Practice
The easiest way into a house is still probably going to be the doors/windows because these are the places that were built to be holes in the structure. If someone boards up both sides of a window and you have no saw, it's still probably easier than going through the wall. Use your prybar to pull the stuff off that's on your side, and use your sledge hammer to knock what's on the other side back off. The sledge hammer is surprisingly effective for “opening” things. To knock a door open, you have to break the (locks / hinges) free from the (door / wall). Any combination of those will do. Hit the edges, where you do the most direct damage to a single thing (lock, latch, hinge, etc). Above the handle if you're trying to break the lock free, or the three places where the hinges are. Look at the inside of your door if you need an approximation of where those might be. Most doors open in, which is why it's easier to open them by knocking or prying them into the house itself. To pry a door open towards you, you have to tear off most of the trim and some of the door framing, and rip the hinges off anyways. It's just easier to go with the flow.
If you really don't want to go through the doors or windows (bricked over/tree fallen in front of/heavily boarded up) you just have to choose a section of wall. Pry off the siding (top to bottom is easiest, because of the overlap) and find an edge in the plywood. Pry the plywood off towards you. This step sucks, I've been there, I know. If you can cut it into smaller sections, it'd be a good idea. If you have the brute strength to bash it into smaller pieces, be my guest, but bashing through three quarter inch plywood isn't my idea of a good time. I bet an ax would be a lot easier than the sledge, but having never tried, I can't comment. There's no grain to follow, so it'd still be a chore. Once that's off (be careful of the nails sticking out if it!) pull out the insulation. If it looks fluffy, don't play with it or touch it more than necessary. Fiberglass insulation is like cotton candy, but made out of tiny slivers of glass instead of sugar. It is not your friend. Don't play with the wires, don't play with the pipes, as both can get you into trouble. Kick or otherwise knock out the interior drywall, and be careful of splinters, nail heads, and rolling an ankle on bits of ex-wall. You now have a new door.
Same is true for going through roofs, except the first step is taking the shingles off with your flat bar (still top to bottom) and there's no drywall to worry about. From there, the easiest way from an unfinished attic space to a main level is a misplaced footstep. Only the ceiling joists (like studs, but in the ceiling) will hold you weight, and if you step between them, you will go right through like there was nothing there. I have done this, it is not fun, and if you DON'T want a new skylight, it's a costly mistake. Be careful up there kids, and don't play on roofs unless you have to.

Sorry to those of you bugging in, but I really don't know much about building, just about unbuilding, so this is all speculative from my demo experience. Screws are harder to knock back out than nails are. When in doubt, use more than you think you need. I've taken things apart where people have used way more nails/screws than they needed to. It doesn't make it impossible, but it makes it a LOT harder.
If you're going to concrete a door/window off, don't just use concrete. Fill the area with chicken wire and attach that to the frame. If you have the prep time, drill holes in the window frame and fit them with rebar or sections of pipe. This will prevent them from breaking the concrete apart, forcing them to take the entire window, frame and all, out of the wall, rather than breaking the concrete out of the opening. Again, the wall is only so strong, but this makes it a lot tougher.
If you're going to board up a door, screw the door to the frame on all four sides, and screw heavy boards/plywood over both inside and outside. More screws than you need, all around the frame, and then into all the studs out along the wall. This will anchor the door to the whole section of wall, and not just the frame. Screwing it to the siding/drywall in between studs does nothing for you but make your board/plywood easier to split, so find the studs before you start this little project.

In case it is unclear in any way, I don't condone breaking into other people's houses if they are a) alive and b) don't want you in their house. Or c) want their house without new doors. This is a last resort for rescuing trapped people or salvaging supplies in a world where no civilization or hope of reconstruction exists. Just because you CAN do terrible things to houses with hand tools, doesn't mean you SHOULD.

I'm sure there are other ways to get into houses besides this and ringing the bell. Anything I've missed? Anything I've gotten wrong? What do the rest of you think about all this? Is this in the right place (mods)?

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Re: On the Structural Integrity of the Modern Home

Post by doc66 » Tue Jul 29, 2008 8:06 am

When I went through my SWAT/SRT school, it was run by Miami Dade. They looked at our houses here in Ohio and told us that they'd never want to get into a firefight in/around one since the construction was so shoddy.

It was made of wood for christ'sake. Apparently in Miami everything is now built of concrete to meet code. They travel with a demo guy whose job it is to blow holes in the walls to gain access on raids.

Houses, unless made of brick, concrete or something equally soild, are pretty easy to blow holes into. Doors, unless the locks are sunk into the stud (which most aren't) are easy to knock in, even with shit in front of them. A determined guy with a pretty stout hand held ram can beat down a baracaded door in short order. I know, I've been on raids with fortified doors. What usually happens is that the door holds the farme around it gives up and you yank the door and frame away in one piece.

I agree that modern houses are easy to get into and out of if need be... good write up.
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Re: On the Structural Integrity of the Modern Home

Post by LittleTeapot » Tue Jul 29, 2008 9:09 am

Nice write-up, NapTime.

I was having a discussion with another ZSer about a related issue.

The only benefit we came up with regarding the construction of most modern home walls is that bullets can
go out as easily as something/one can come in.
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Re: On the Structural Integrity of the Modern Home

Post by MosinMe » Tue Jul 29, 2008 9:20 am

[quote="doc66"]When I went through my SWAT/SRT school, it was run by Miami Dade. They looked at our houses here in Ohio and told us that they'd never want to get into a firefight in/around one since the construction was so shoddy.

It was made of wood for christ'sake. Apparently in Miami everything is now built of concrete to meet code.[quote]

In Florida most of the houses I've seen built are indeed made from cinder block and not wood at all. I just assumed all modern homes were made this way? Regardless, having wood walls and teh like would indeed be scary in a neighborhood where stray bullets have been known to strike peoples walls at night :shock:
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Re: On the Structural Integrity of the Modern Home

Post by razi » Tue Jul 29, 2008 11:24 am

Florida houses and buildings are built with cinder blocks and concrete because of hurricane regulations. You'll find older houses in other areas are built of brick, and other masonry materials. The 2x4 method is referred to as 'stick-built' because basically, you're building with sticks. These can be wood, but more often you'll find thin-guage steel. As stated, these are 18" apart. All new commercial buildings are built like this. In between tenants you will find two layers of gyp board, for fireproofing (this makes a wall much tougher to sledgehammer through, but it's not impossible). Fire escape walls are always masonry, per code.

The front door of a commercial building always swings out (egress for fire codes), while the front door of a residence always swings in. In commercial buildings, only tenant seperation walls and bathroom walls actually go to the ceiling (sometimes, just the bathroom walls). Any other walls only go up to the drop ceiling. When you're in an office next, look at the joint between the wall and the ceiling and you'll see what I'm talking about.

I've done a bit of demolition as well. If you ever need to take down a whole wall, score the drywall with a knife (boxcutter is better) at the corners of the wall, or along whatever edge you need. this breaks the surface tension of the paper (gypsum board is basically finely crushed rock/limestone between two sheets of paper, with a lot of glue). use a sledge and hammer away the bottom of the wall, making sure to disconnect the studs from the bottom track. The metal studs are much easier to deal with than the wood ones. Once this is done, get a few guys and push on the wall. when it gets at a good angle away, get on the other side of the wall and pull it, letting the weight of the wall bring it down. Be VERY careful doing this, you don't want that wall to land on you, or even a piece of drywall to hit you. That stuff is surprisingly heavy and will hurt like a sumbitch. Also, make sure you locate and clear out around any piping in the wall first. Disclaimer= I cannot and will not be held liable for your stupidity.

If you need to punch a door into a drywall wall, the best way to do it is with a good crowbar (if you don't have a sawzall). the round ones work better than the flat ones, and once you start the hole (avoid the studs), you then hit it with a downward stroke and carve out a large enough hole to pass through. Remember, carve, don't punch with the crowbar. It takes roughly a minute to do this (just be careful about what's in the wall, or any shelving on the other side).

Even a lot of brick buildings these days are stick-built with a brick veneer (one layer of brick, or sometimes less). don't expect any of these to be cover in a firefight.

safety glass is surprisingly difficult to break if you don't have the right tools. If you do have the right tools, it's very easy. make sure to use whatever tool you have to knock the remaining glass out of the frame so you don't cut yourself if you have to pass through it.
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Re: On the Structural Integrity of the Modern Home

Post by razi » Tue Jul 29, 2008 11:35 am

also, in a disaster/PAW scenario, be careful about modern homes for prolonged shelter. Modern housing is designed to keep water out and need upkeep. The problem is, though, when water gets into the house it molds quickly. The glue and paper in the gyp board, the insulation, the 2x4's... all of it. Even if you don't see mold on the wall itself, it can still be behind the wall. any signs of water damage means be careful. This can be broken out windows in a humid environment, broken pipes can result in water leakage, holes in the ceiling, flood damage, whatever.

It doesn't take long for this stuff to sneak in, and if a house is abandoned, be VERY careful entering them. Ideally, have a HEPA certified air filter before going in, and do NOT stay long. Some molds can kill you, others will cause lung infections, brain damage, and all sorts of ugly things.

http://www.usaweekend.com/99_issues/991 ... 5mold.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
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Re: On the Structural Integrity of the Modern Home

Post by gart43 » Tue Jul 29, 2008 2:13 pm

Give me a litlle time and I'll find a link to this video showing various different modern infantry being fired at a house made of cinder block, brick, and wood, with the standard stud construction of 2x4 under sheet rock.
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Re: On the Structural Integrity of the Modern Home

Post by MosinMe » Tue Jul 29, 2008 2:27 pm

gart43 wrote:Give me a litlle time and I'll find a link to this video showing various different modern infantry being fired at a house made of cinder block, brick, and wood, with the standard stud construction of 2x4 under sheet rock.
That would be very intresting! :o
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Re: On the Structural Integrity of the Modern Home

Post by razi » Tue Jul 29, 2008 4:14 pm

there was a future weapons episode about israeli armaments that deal with urban warfare, and how to deal with heavy doors, cinder block houses, etc.

I'd hate to be on the recieving end of those. :\
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Re: On the Structural Integrity of the Modern Home

Post by NapTime » Tue Jul 29, 2008 4:18 pm

I've seen that same video. Terrifying. For anyone planning on hiding behind walls in a firefight, watch these please.

http://youtube.com/watch?v=dKhMOfaYwvE" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false; Is part one.
http://youtube.com/watch?v=w22M1DAQ59I" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false; Is part two.

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Re: On the Structural Integrity of the Modern Home

Post by Y.T. » Tue Jul 29, 2008 4:22 pm

This makes me feel better that most of the free-standing apartments and houses here are all cinder block or brick (mine included), not the prefab dry wall stuff. All the apts I lived in NYC were "pre-war" buildings as well, so also cinder block or brick. It doesn't seem to age well though... try hanging a picture on a 50+ year old cinder block wall and all it does is crumble and turn your nail/screw-sized hole into a nickle-sized hole. And I've noticed that as a result of this inner room door frames aren't all that secure. The outer ones here seem to reach full length. At least the building structure seems more sound and you can't easily cut through even the inner room walls with a saw or blade.
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Re: On the Structural Integrity of the Modern Home

Post by MosinMe » Tue Jul 29, 2008 4:31 pm

NapTime wrote:I've seen that same video. Terrifying. For anyone planning on hiding behind walls in a firefight, watch these please.

http://youtube.com/watch?v=dKhMOfaYwvE" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false; Is part one.
http://youtube.com/watch?v=w22M1DAQ59I" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false; Is part two.
The AK shot thru brick and cinderblock when the AR could only shoot thru brick head on.

I guess that ends the AK vs. AR debate. :lol:
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Re: On the Structural Integrity of the Modern Home

Post by DryGrain » Tue Jul 29, 2008 4:37 pm

I thought it was "Saw-Zaw" :(
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Re: On the Structural Integrity of the Modern Home

Post by Deschain » Tue Jul 29, 2008 5:01 pm

+1 on the Saws-All.

Point of note- in a gunfight, cover will be dissolved by repeated bullet impacts. Most houses made of brick or cinderblock won't stand up too good. Bugging in is all well and fine- but your cover is limited, and unless you can repair or reinforce your walls, multiple firefights may put a hurting on even a well designed house. Don't bug in to a house with aluminum siding would be my advice.

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Re: On the Structural Integrity of the Modern Home

Post by gart43 » Tue Jul 29, 2008 5:40 pm

MosinMe wrote:
gart43 wrote:Give me a litlle time and I'll find a link to this video showing various different modern infantry being fired at a house made of cinder block, brick, and wood, with the standard stud construction of 2x4 under sheet rock.
That would be very intresting! :o
Fucking A man, I can't find it, I know what website I got it off (survivalblog.com) but I can't find the article that the link was in.
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Re: On the Structural Integrity of the Modern Home

Post by bookshop » Wed Jul 30, 2008 6:11 pm

One of the Black Panther autobiographies, I think it was Geronimo Pratt's, mentioned the use sandbags to fortify the walls against bullets.
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Re: On the Structural Integrity of the Modern Home

Post by BIGIRISH1000 » Sun Aug 03, 2008 9:34 pm

Remember that movie made a few years ago, Four Brothers. In the scene where the guys were assaulting the mom's house, they tore through the brick with relative ease, after shooting many .223 recently I bet that scene is pretty damn accurate.
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Re: On the Structural Integrity of the Modern Home

Post by Ashre » Sun Aug 03, 2008 11:46 pm

o.O

Interesting and quite unnerving post.

My family is renting an apartment right now, so I'd imagine that the situation here would be even worse...
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Re: On the Structural Integrity of the Modern Home

Post by warlock4u » Mon Aug 04, 2008 9:10 am

http://www.everycitizenasoldier.org/id20.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

Cover is hard to find :(

The 7.62x39 is a very good round, it really does not seem to get the respect it deserves sometimes. The 7.62x54 is even more fun :)
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Re: On the Structural Integrity of the Modern Home

Post by A.C.E. » Thu Aug 07, 2008 2:19 pm

warlock4u wrote:http://www.everycitizenasoldier.org/id20.html

Cover is hard to find :(

The 7.62x39 is a very good round, it really does not seem to get the respect it deserves sometimes. The 7.62x54 is even more fun :)
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The test was done as follows: A cover large enough for one person was made by shoveling together dirt (rather sandy, with some gravel in it) and packing it with the shovel. It was dry outside and no water was poured on the mound. Two large pieces of cardboard were placed in the mound to measure penetration, one after 0.5m and one 1m into the mound. For reference a piece of board was also placed in front of the cover.

100 rounds 7.62NATO FMJ were rapidly fired in a tight group into the mound from a beltfed machinegun. Distance approx 30m.

Examination revealed that the first board was pretty f*cked (duh, we shot 100rds through it.) The second board, protected by 0.5 metres of dirt was also badly damaged, most of the rounds (est. at least 85-90%) had penetrated it . The last board, behind 1 metre of dirt showed zero (0) penetrations. Most of the bullets were found at approx 80cm from the front of the mound. The damage to the cover was slight and could have been repaired by one man with a shovel in a matter of moments.
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Re: On the Structural Integrity of the Modern Home

Post by OhioMe » Thu Aug 07, 2008 2:24 pm

Excellent post, A.C.E. thanks.
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Re: On the Structural Integrity of the Modern Home

Post by A.C.E. » Thu Aug 07, 2008 2:44 pm

OhioMe wrote:Excellent post, A.C.E. thanks.
Thank you. It was a pleasure, (at least the shooting). We spent a whole day shooting stuff up to see what would happen to it.

I also work in construction so I have some knowledge of how a modern house is built, suffice to say: not many parts of it will stop a bullet of any noteworthy caliber.

The same army manual recommends 20cm of concrete as cover. In modern housebuilding (at least here) almost all concrete elements are hollow to reduce weight and manufacturing cost. The result is a cheap house that probably won't stop anything bigger than an airgun pellet.
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Re: On the Structural Integrity of the Modern Home

Post by Gingersam » Thu Aug 07, 2008 3:16 pm

If I remember rightly, the little piggy who made is house out of sticks got eaten didn't he?
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The majority of British houses are made of bricks and stuff. You would need a big hammer and a bit of time to get through a wall.
However conservatory's are often the week link with plastic doors and frames.

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Re: On the Structural Integrity of the Modern Home

Post by SimonZayne » Thu Aug 07, 2008 3:44 pm

DryGrain wrote:I thought it was "Saw-Zaw" :(
"SawZaw" is a product name. Saws-all is the tool.
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