Money Matters - Simplified

Masonry infills can protect against quakes

West Lafayette, Ind. -- U.S. engineers say they have created a simple, inexpensive method of strengthening some buildings that are dangerously vulnerable to earthquakes.

The Purdue University civil engineers said many buildings in China, Latin America, Turkey and other countries have too many partial-height walls between structural columns, making them vulnerable to an earthquake.

Assistant Professor Santiago Pujol, who led the research, said partial-height walls do not extend all the way to the ceiling, sometimes causing structural columns to fail during powerful quakes.

But the engineers said their research determined the flaw could easily be corrected by replacing some windows with ordinary bricks.

"The most important result is that we showed that buildings with partial-height walls … can be improved very easily with not a lot of investment by simply rearranging the masonry walls," Pujol said. "Granted, this is not the best technology can offer, but this is cheap, and people can do it with their own hands."

The study was presented last fall in Beijing during the 14th World Conference on Earthquake Engineering.

Copyright 2009 by United Press International.