On June 29, 2003, the wooden porches on the second and third floors of an apartment building in Lincoln Park served as the venue for a great party among law school students and young professionals. Celebrations were supposed to last on and on—but stopped when disaster struck. The porch on the third floor collapsed, bringing the second-floor porch and the party down to the ground. There were enough casualties to bring the tragedy to national attention. As the Chicago Tribune recalls:
The early morning disaster 10 years ago — June 29, 2003 — became news nationwide and a flash point for controversy in Chicago, sparking lawsuits affecting victims, family members, city officials and property owners.
“It is certainly the most catastrophic single porch collapse in Chicago,” said Francis Patrick Murphy, a partner at the Corboy & Demetrio law firm, which represented a number of victims.
Chicago porch builders like DAL Builders know this as much as the rest of the city. Changes in porch design codes were made shortly after the tragedy. Notes the Tribune:
There are fewer building inspectors employed by the city today than there were in 2003 because of economic cutbacks, the city said, but building inspectors have been cross-trained on the changes made to the building code. Meanwhile, the number of porch complaints has decreased over the years, a sign, the city says, of better compliance from property owners.
Violations Left and Right
Porch safety, since the disaster, improved to the point that the city disbanded its task force on the job. As porches grew sturdier and stronger thanks to changes in building codes, property owners made sure porches were not used for parties again.
The poorly built Lincoln Park porch, reports stated, was supporting far too many people. The International Residential Code states that residential porches must be able to support 40 lbs per square foot (psf) as well as the weight of the porch. Chicago codes insist on porches being able to withstand a live load of 100 lbs psf, due to their secondary function as a means of exit.
Reports following the accident also stated that the porches were too big for the building, jutting out and increasing the risk of collapse. Now, the limit for the collective area of porches must be no more than 6,250 square feet.
These changes, among others, contributed to the healing of wounds and the increased safety of porches built after 2003. Professional Chicago deck builders made it a habit to stick to the code when building decks and porches high above the ground, understanding the city doesn’t need history repeating itself.
2003 disaster still reverberates