Don’t Drop the ball on Drips

13 October 2020
By Simon

After a super dry 2019 and early 2020, the last couple of months have seen some significant rain events across the Eastern Seaboard of Australia. In fact, Warragamba Dam, NSW’s largest dam, has doubled in capacity in the space of 12 months (much of that from the rain through July and August).
And whilst it is good to see water in the dams, we know that seeing water stains and drips in your property is anything but. In fact, if you manage a strata or commercial property, or are a tenant in a building, those little drips of water are usually not a sign that someone left a window open, but — and especially in large commercial and residential buildings — an indication that there are significant waterproofing issues afoot.

Ideally whilst the best defense against a leaky building is to undertake waterproofing in the construction phase, rectification of faulty waterproofing membranes and poor waterproofing can be done later and is often needed after a number of years to address membrane which is starting to leak due to ongoing element exposure.
The key is figuring out where the water is coming from, because more often than not, the leak is never directly below the area of weakness.

Why do water leakages occur?

When there’s an opening in the building, intentional or not, there’s potential for an issue. Whether it is a service opening, or a poorly sealed drain, the wind and temperature changes will ensure that water will move to where it is not welcome.
It may seem we are oversimplifying it, but truth is, if surfaces are sealed properly, water will not get into places it is not welcome. Whether it’s through gravity, surface tension, slab movement, air, kinetic forces, or pressure differentials, water will seep through your building if there is a space, no matter how minute, that allows for it to pass through.

How to spot potential water leak problems

If you just see even a single drop leaking through your wall or your roof, it may not be a reason for mass panic, but it is a signal that you should not ignore – well not if you want to protect your building and reduce your repair bills. See the thing is, before a leak becomes apparent to you, a greater volume than you can see has leaked into areas it shouldn’t and could be affecting other things you cannot see. One drop on your ceiling for example means there is a greater volume of water sitting above on a beam, or a slab or leaking down your conduits.
Yup, yup you might be thinking “I know this, but are there any warning signs I should look out for? ” How do I know if there is a larger problem imminent and can I avert it? Indeed, there are and yes you may be able to. Here are early symptoms and structural issues that you should take note of.

Unmaintained drainage systems

If it’s been quite long since you had your gutters and downspouts cleared from leaves and other objects that might cause blockage, would it be any wonder that water starts seeping through your roof or ceiling. Over time, the water collection channel system will weaken or overflow when there is significant rain. If the drain is blocked the water will rise and flow towards areas it is not meant to. Eventually it will find a weak spot and that is when problems start to occur, both aesthetic and structural problems.
It is therefore considered sage practice to ensure your drains and downpipes are kept clean ensure that water can flow easily where it is meant to.
Similarly, if you see water collecting (known as ponding) on a flat surface such as your roof due to a blocked drain, chances are eventually that water will find a weak spot and leak away into it. Clear the drains to prevent this happening.

Poor choice of materials

We don’t want to bad mouth other trades, but sometimes (more often than we would like to see) tradies will use materials where they shouldn’t be used. Whether it is using the wrong type of silicon to seal a joint, or using a rivet which is incompatible with the surface it is binding, or a slab which is poured too thinly/or not settled well enough etc, poor material choice or installation can cause a raft of issues. From rust, to cracked surfaces, the problems caused can be the source of your water ingress.
Similarly, if you have had repairs done before, a handyman may have patched over a problem and not really fixed the issue causing it, leading to ongoing issues which get worse over time.
When undertaking repairs, make sure that the items you need as replacement are compatible with the remaining, functioning materials.

Thermal expansion

Natural tectonic movement and weather and temperature will affect the structural integrity of a building. In Australia daytime temperatures can quickly change in summer with the arrival of a southerly. Rapid temperature drops can cause stresses on concrete eventually causing cracks. Where they appear, water can get a foothold and cause other ongoing complications as described above.
Similarly, if your building has been shaken by a mild earthquake before (yes we do have some of them in Australia) doing a check for any hairline cracks should be something you do to ensure your structure is as problem free as possible.

Poor construction and waterproofing design

The great majority of the water leakage issues stem from a lack of focus on structural moisture control. No matter how good the waterproofing design may be or the materials use, if the application of waterproof sealants, the coatings, membranes, sheet flashings, and the like are not up to par (compliant with relevant construction codes and Australian Standards), then there is the chance that these surfaces will be the cause of water leakage.
The fact that membranes are used would indicate that the surface area is large. If this is the case, the volume of water collected during a storm can be in the hundreds or thousands of litres. If the membrane has a weak spot, the water will find it and a leak will be inevitable.

Waterproofing should not be an afterthought

During the construction and design phase, how the building is waterproofed should be a primary consideration. However, not every project is a new build, and in most cases, a lot of waterproofing issues are on older buildings – Commercial and residential.
Fixing the problem as soon as it appears is a good way to minimise the damage and also reduce your ongoing rectification costs. In this instance, partnering with an expert team like us, who have extensive knowledge in the components and risk factors contributing to water leakage should be your priority. We know the Australian Standards and NSW regulations on waterproofing and structural safety and have an expert team who can design and implement the solution.
Remember, getting the services of an inexperienced team will be both costly and harmful to building owners like you not to say the possessions of the building occupants too. When it comes to waterproofing in building rectification, consult the Remedial Building Services’ specialists. Call us today.