A Strata Manager’s Guide to Building Maintenance

7 April 2020
By Chris

This is a go-to guide on concrete cancer repair and other building maintenance to-dos that strata managers can take advantage of.

According to the most recent figures available, in Australia, approximately 9% of the population lives in an apartment spread out over some 2.6-million strata lots.

For those of you who manage these residents and buildings (estimated at around 4,300 full-time, dedicated and hardworking strata managers), you know how much work is involved in staying on top of things.

In fact, in the National Strata Data Report released in 2018, it was estimated that a Massive  $5,728,427,524 was spent on maintenance callouts across the country. Work that you, as a manager, have to facilitate.

So, to help you, we thought we would give you some facts about Strata Management but more importantly, provide you with a go-to guide for building maintenance. This guide will provide you with a list of things to look out for, ranging from identification of building defects, common types of defect including concrete cancer, to causes of concrete cancer, and ultimately concrete cancer repair and what is involved if you do not catch it early enough.

What to look for

Yes, we know how overwhelming things can be as a strata manager. Not only are you busy making sure everything within the apartment complex works perfectly, but a big chunk of your time is also usually spent catering to feedback and requests from tenants, among other things!

When it comes to building maintenance, we want to help you in identifying what building defects to look for, as we know that too often, what appears a simple, easily-solved problem may not be, and similarly, others may be deeply embedded as a fault in the original construction. Determining which is which can save you and the owners pain and costs, as if you’re not careful, you might end up not taking rectification action on a serious structural issue that puts the building’s structural integrity in jeopardy. And you wouldn’t want that on your watch, would you?

But first things first… You need to understand that building defects can be easily recognizable or can be hidden from plain sight. They can also appear outside the façade of the building or they can be found inside the structure.

Concrete Cracks

Not all cracks should be a cause of concern. There are some that are non-structural in nature, meaning, these defects do not result in deterioration of the building’s strength and integrity. Examples of this type of fault include hairline cracks, individual damaged bricks, or small isolated cracks.

However, you may wish to delve further if the cracks you see are lined with rust stains or when patches of concrete start to fall off, enough for the reinforced steel to show. Similarly, if the cracks seem to follow a step pattern (similar to what the bricks underneath are layered like) then this is a likely sign of a deeper issue. First, check to see if water leaks are present or if the cracks appear to show a pattern across the surface where they formed. When any of these are present, the apartment you are managing might have concrete cancer.

What is concrete cancer?

Concrete cancer is a type of structural issue that happens when the rebar is exposed to contaminants like air and water. But just why is it exposed? Usually because of loose concrete surrounding the steel or because of poor construction (more to come on this in detail below).

When the rebar is exposed to air or water, it expands, rusts, and causes the surrounding concrete to crack. So, when you see a cemented surface cracking, partnered with rusting, you can almost be certain that the cracking has been caused by the expanding reinforced steel found in the building’s foundation.

Why does concrete cancer happen?

Ok, let’s dive into the reasons why concrete cancer may happen. To make it easy for you, as strata managers, to know what to look for we’ve created a checklist to assess the potential defects that your infrastructure is suffering from.

  • Faulty waterproofing – Bad waterproofing works will show when water leaks are prevalent. The presence of water will affect the reinforced steel, damage to the rebar, and then cause the concrete to crack. In older buildings, waterproofing systems can also deteriorate, which result to water ingress.
    If there are apartments with water leaks, windows which let in rain, or areas on the flat surfaces such as balconies or the roof where water sits for extended periods of time, you may have water issues.
  • Inferior workmanship – Whether it is the use of poor building materials or inferior-standard work on a building’s foundation, the quality of construction can determine how fast reinforced steel corrodes. If there is inadequate concrete around the rebar, it takes very little for water to penetrate and react with the steel underneath, hence the formation of rust. For more on this, read our blog “ The Most Common concrete cancer causes
  • The coastal location of the building – If the apartment you are managing is located near the sea, it is more prone to get concrete cancer because of the salty air surrounding the structure. When the salt seeps through the concrete, it damages the steel within the foundation, thereby jeopardising the building’s structural integrity.
  • Have you noticed that windows or doors in the complex are not aligning properly any more? Are there gaps around the edges, or whistling noises coming through that never did before? This can be a sign the structure is shifting as a result of structural issues in the slab or even surrounding walls.

How to Treat Concrete Cancer

Huge repair bills and even loss of lives (think of the balcony disasters you’ve read about where structural issues have caused it to collapse) is a possibility of you ignore the signs that your building is suffering from serious structural problems like concrete cancer. That is why it is vital to take action if you suspect that your building has issues. Do an inspection, take photos to show the damage so you have a record of how quickly it is deteriorating and call a licensed expert to assess the damage found in the property. They will help identify the defects and recommend preventive and corrective measures for you.

You know first-hand your roles as a responsible strata manager, in undertaking regular checks and maintenance and in following guidelines in accordance with your local regulations as well as the Australian Building Code.  Hopefully, this guide helps that little bit more and makes it easier for you.

Remember, you don’t have to reach the point where you’ll look for someone to help you with solutions on how to repair concrete cancer. With strict compliance to regular maintenance routines and by partnering with the right remedial experts, you can beat concrete cancer before it brings the occupants in danger and the building to a point where expensive remediation is required.

If you need help resolving the structural issue, get in touch with our specialists at Remedial. And if you have any tips or tricks you want us to add, let us know, we can then generate a single page cheat sheet to help you.