This is a question I have been asked more than once by frustrated building owners, even owners of new buildings. Poor design can certainly be a contributory factor in leaking buildings,particularly modern buildings.
“Surely modern buildings are less likely to leak than older buildings” is a not uncommon response to this answer. Logically you would think so, but unfortunately this is not necessarily the case.
Think of a traditional Melbourne weatherboard or period home, with its steeply pitched roof, eaves in proportion to the roof pitch and gutter running along the edge of the roof line. If the gutter
becomes blocked, it will overflow but water will cascade onto the ground, not onto or into the building.
Now think of a modern townhouse. These are normally fitted with low angle roofs and recessed box gutters set behind parapets. If this gutter becomes blocked, the overflowing water runs down the inside of the parapet and then on top of the plaster ceiling.
So this is definitely a case of design contributing to building leaks.
Another common modern building feature, particularly with townhouses, is the inclusion of a flat balcony over a living area.
As a design feature these are certainly vulnerable to leaks. The builder is left with the problem of making this vulnerable design feature work. There are so many things to get right at the construction phase with these type of balconies, from use of good quality materials, adequate waterproofing and effective drainage so that the water will run off effectively.
So why do we end up with these problem features in so may buildings. Obviously, hidden or box gutters can increase the visual appeal of a building and including a balcony over a living area can also increase a building’s appeal, as well as its value. Designers and builders then underestimate the difficulty of keeping the building watertight. And finally deterioration over time will also lead to leaks which did not exist when the building was new.
If you are buying a home or a building, certainly look out for tell tale signs around features such as – water stains, recent repairs, water damaged timber, and internal replastering. And I would always spend the money to have a pre-purchase inspection carried out to identify existing problems, paying particular attention to gutters, drains and balconies.
So particular design features do contribute to building leaks, and it leaves the builder a limited range of options to make the building waterproof. And also a greater chance of leaks over the life of the building.
All the best, Martin
This should be an easy task, but it isn’t. Just because someone calls himself or herself an expert, it doesn’t make them one. Essentially it comes down to knowledge, experience and reputation.
Don’t necessarily be taken in by a ‘leak expert’ who turns up with all the latest infrared leak scanning devices and equipment. ‘All the gear, no idea’ is a phrase that can apply here. The right tools for the job are only ever useful in the right hands.
As old fashioned as it sounds, what you should be looking for is someone with real building knowledge – how buildings are put together, where corners are sometimes cut during construction, what kind of materials should have been used. Someone with a real understanding of how the fabric of a building works.
Experience and reputation
Can your leak expert demonstrate experience in detecting and remedying leaks in your type of building? What kind of reputation have they got?
Talk to them, ask them about similar jobs, do some research online, and ask to talk to recent clients. If your supposed leak expert is not happy for you to talk with a couple of satisfied clients, chances are those previous clients are in the unsatisfied category!
More often than not Melbourne Leak Repairs is called out when other firms – non-experts – have failed (often at considerable financial cost and emotional stress to the client) to fix a leaking building.
We’ve just completed one job that our client has labelled ‘the potential solving of the 8 year mystery’. Why? Since 2007 a consistent leak into a downstairs bedroom cupboard has been causing damage to woodwork and made the cupboard unusable.
Having spent thousands of dollars over the years, and having retiled the balcony and carried out many other expensive repairs, the homeowner contacted us. This is a job in progress, but what we have been able to do thus far is positively identify the source of the leak and stop the water during regular rainfalls. Having said that the recent exceptionally heavy rainfalls have highlighted further problems which may be a result of the design and sizing of the box gutter. We will now do further work to come up with a deluge proof and permanent solution.
This job in particular got me thinking about the effectiveness of building leak repairers. Generally, it is not good. In what other profession would a supplier be paid for a job that didn’t fix the problem? When they first come to us, most of our customers have been in this situation.
Watch this space! We are putting together what I think will be a watertight (yes, I know, appalling pun) Melbourne Leak Repairs guarantee for qualifying buildings which will be launching in the next few weeks.
Imagine that. A leak repairer who can repair leaks. Whatever next…
All the best, Martin
Perhaps unsurprisingly, these are questions I am asked frequently, all too often in an incredibly exasperated tone of voice and accompanied by a somewhat worried look.
To the homeowner or resident, a building leak is not only a source of damage to their property, but can be a very traumatic experience. The thought is never far away, particularly if the building is new, that ‘if my building is leaking, what other hidden defects are there going to be’.
Having been involved in the building industry for over 20 years, I would say that leaks in new buildings are more prevalent than they used to be. But why should this be?
It is partly due to modern building trends using external tiled balconies, no eaves, low angled roofing and box gutters. And partly down to factors such as building design, material selection and quality of construction.
Here are my top causes of building leaks based on what we have seen in modern Melbourne buildings over the last few years:
External tiled balconies: Common issues are insufficient grading leading to pooling water (commonly above living areas) and defective waterproof membranes, often the only barrier to leaks. Many leaks are around the perimeter of the balcony where they meet up with doors and windows.
Parapet walls fitted with low angle roofing and box gutters: If not designed and installed correctly these lead to water leaking into the building, collapsing plaster ceilings, and causing water damage. Design and quality of construction is key here – and as a rule low angle roofing should have a gradient well beyond the minimum of 1 degree specified by some manufacturers. The shallower the roof angle the more likely the roof is to have drainage problems.
Cladding cracks: These can come from a number of causes. Ground movement, subsidence or simply poor construction. On the positive side, leaks from cladding are relatively easy to identify and trace, and usually straightforward to repair.
Windows and doors: Again, relatively easy to identify but frustrating none the less. All too often the cause is shoddy workmanship during construction or installation.
If any of this sounds familiar, whom do you call? Accurately diagnosing a leaking building requires a high degree skill, knowledge and, perhaps most importantly, building and construction experience.
Once you have done your initial research, make sure to check your leak repairers credentials. I would even go as far as asking them for a customer reference. If they can’t come up with at least a couple, probably best to keep on looking.
Building leaks can be fixed, and all that worry and stress removed, as long as you choose the right person for the job. Of course, it goes without saying, we are happy to provide customer references on request!
All the best, Martin
Are you thinking of a bathroom renovation? Be warned. While the ever-growing number of home makeover television programs and glossy magazines feature shiny people re-modelling tired bathrooms into gleaming wet
ooms, careful planning and expert advice is essential.
Here are my own top three bathroom renovation pitfalls to avoid, which will hopefully save you time, money and aggravation.
Trying to Do It Yourself
The very nature of a bathroom – a wet room that integrates multiple services into a small space – makes bathroom renovation one of the most complex renovation tasks that can be undertaken. It is one for the experts.
Always use qualified, knowledgeable tradespeople. Not only will it give you peace of mind, it is also less likely that the work will be defective.
So just how many experts could it take to complete your bathroom makeover? Possibly a few…I would say certainly four, maybe six.
Take your pick from the list below:
- Experienced builder
Did you know that there is an Australian waterproofing of domestic wet areas standard? If you want to check it out it is AS 3740-2010.
Waterproofing failure is one of the most common building defects in Australia, with bathrooms obviously being pretty near the top of the list as the source of internal leaks. They can be particularly destructive, with poorly waterproofed showers and baths leaking downstairs or into voids for many months before being discovered.
If you do nothing else, use a qualified tradesperson to waterproof your new bathroom. It will be money very well spent indeed.
Planning & Budget
Of all the rooms to renovate in your house, the bathroom is the one that will require the most planning. Not only are there the technical aspects to consider, but also factors such as how many people will be using the bathroom, where to locate essential services and specification of (often expensive) fixtures and fittings.
Put simply, invest time in planning and set a realistic budget. Melbourne Leak Repairs has been called out many times to trace and fix leaks in new bathrooms, often because corners have been cut
Renovating a bathroom can seem expensive, but it can be a lot more expensive in the long run if corners are cut on essential waterproofing and effective sealing of shower units and baths.
Recently a friend needed to get some advice regarding a water leak in a renovated house in Melbourne. There was a problem with the tiled balcony which sits over the top of two bedrooms. The house was extensively renovated a few years before and all appeared OK – no leaks and no cracks. Now however, there were cracks appearing in the internal plaster walls and water was leaking from the tiled balcony into the bedroom ceilings. Water flowed through the light fittings every time it rained and one of the bedroom ceilings was in danger of collapse.
This was distressing to say the least – and that was only the start! The owner called in several people over a period of several months who said that they could fix the problem. Several plumbers, a builder or two, a tile expert who dealt in leaking tiled areas, and a couple of home handymen.
Solutions ranged from the application of silicon to the tiled surface, to the installation of an expensive epoxy grout to try and stop water from seeping below. The plaster ceiling was repainted and repaired several times after a few expensive but ineffective solutions were carried out. Meantime the leaks continued and the owners were trying to control the problem by sweeping water off the balcony every time it rained.
The point of this story is to give an example of how difficult it is to get good advice about building problems. Every day in our maintenance business we are confronted by building issues that have been going on for years. Water leaks that have been active for decades with no effective resolution. Owners who are living in fear that the minor crack in the wall means their house is about to fall down. And as always the concern that the already stretched budget will have to accommodate expensive emergency repairs. Given a severe lack of knowledge about buildings and fear of what is happening to their home, it is easy to fall prey to poor advice and be misled by those who are seeking to take advantage of this situation with expensive but ineffective “solutions”.
So, where do you turn to get un-biased advice and a clear and logical analysis of the problem? Followed of course by a few options for repairs, cost estimates, and the likely success of the various options. This is tricky!!! To help in deciding who to turn to the following comments are worthwhile.
Plumbers – If a building leaks then the obvious person to call is your local plumber. For a simple leak from a roof or plumbing fitting then you cannot go too far wrong and mostly plumbers will fix the problem. If the problem is water leaking through walls, windows, doors, or tiles for example then plumbers are not usually able to help. The problem is outside of their area of expertise. They will generally not be prepared to spend time to try and sort out difficult problems given they have far more urgent work to complete on any given day.
Engineers – To deal with a serious building problem it is essential to engage a registered structural engineer to look at building failures, water leaks, public safety, and a wide range of building problems. Engineers can analyse issues, look for causes, suggest possible solutions and generally communicate effectively with written reports. Any building matters involving litigation, arbitration and disputation must be carried out by a professionally qualified person.
While engineers can capably analyse building problems they are not always effective at producing a detailed scope of works that can be carried out by tradespeople on site to remedy the problem. Supervision of such works is generally not carried out by an engineer.
Tradies – plumbers, carpenters, tilers, etc. These are the guys who are usually installing and constructing buildings and it would be great if they could assist with problems that occur after the building is completed. While some wise insights can be gleaned from tradespeople, they are not usually the best place to turn for complete advice re fixing building problems. A specialist trade person can have a very narrow focus on their own area of expertise. They do not generally have a wide enough area of knowledge to address challenging building problems. Written communication is often problematic as well. It takes a real commitment of time and energy to come up with building solutions – for a busy trades person who is running from job to job they do not generally have the focus or commitment needed to assist.
Builders – these are the people who sometimes have the required experience to come to grips with building problems. Because they deal with all aspects of buildings on a daily basis then they can be very useful. As a group however they are so focused on keeping their construction business up and running they are generally not interested in dealing with ongoing maintenance issues in buildings. Even where the problem is in one of their own buildings they are often unable to fix the problem. It is true to say that “the person who built the problem is frequently not able to fix the problem”. With many of the problems we deal with, the communication between builder and client has broken down completely and the owners are desperate for a solution from anywhere.
So, where to turn for help??
Maybe the best answer to this question is to give a list of important attributes that are needed to successfully work in this area:
- Show a commitment to maintenance and repair work on buildings. This gives the required depth of experience combined with a focus for dealing with ongoing building issues that should give a good outcome.
- Written and verbal communication – a high standard of communication is essential to convey information to the various parties involved.
- A focus on finding cost effective solutions to building problems.
- An understanding that not all problems are fully “fixable”. Mostly a range of solutions are available with different costs and levels of effectiveness.
- A proven track record.
- A sound understanding of basic principles – the most obvious being that “water flows downhill”!
- A high level of care about the outcomes of clients’ building problems.
But back to the story about the leaking balcony. Once the building had been assessed and levels determined, the following facts became apparent.
The building had subsided to such a degree that the balcony which originally drained in one direction, was now tilted in the other direction and water was flowing toward the building. Rainwater was pooling for long periods after rainfall and eventually found its way downstairs, through the plaster ceiling and flowed out through the light fittings.
After some discussion it was agreed to install a carefully fitted drain and rain-head outside the balcony. This was carried out and the low area of the tiled balcony fitted with a waterproof membrane to prevent water seeping under the tiles. Once this was carried out the leakage into the building stopped completely and the water no longer pooled on the balcony. The repair work to the tiles was happily located outside the entry door and a carefully constructed small removable deck was installed. This covered all evidence of the work and it could be lifted by one person to check on the drainage from time to time.
The building subsidence had stopped and the owners elected to repair the cracks and not do any further work on the building. In this case we managed to come up with a cost effective and practical solution after the key issues had been identified.
Mr Right Property Maintainers
Before I get sprung – I have to confess – the title was borrowed from a recent article about leaking high rise buildings in Hong Kong. The article makes the point that the problem of leaking buildings in modern construction is not limited to Australia.
I have spent 20 years in Melbourne working on buildings. Much of that time constructing new homes and apartments, as well as extending old inner city homes. In the last five years I have visited hundreds of homes and apartments – mainly in the inner city – carrying out leak investigations and finding ways to stop water getting into buildings.
One thing stands out as being a specifically modern problem is that new buildings leak? This problem is so widespread that it warrants a look at the types of leaks that occur and the reasons why.
Remember back to the “olden days” when dinosaurs roamed the earth and buildings were constructed from timber or brick and had such things as a tiled or steel roof with a steep roof pitch and substantial eaves. The designs and methods of construction were such that any water landing on the building would quickly flow off the roof or walls into a storm-water drain. Therefore – no water problem! Any leaks that did occur were related to the installation of one specific product by one specific trade – such as roof tiles, or roof sheeting.
Fast forward to the current situation. Homes, commercial buildings and apartment blocks are now routinely built with:
• Tiled balconies – located directly over living areas.
• Low angle steel roofing – with water running into box gutters sited behind parapet walls.
• Box gutters which run through the centre of buildings trying to remove the stormwater from a large area, low angle roof.
• Basement carparks which have persistent leakage from the time they are constructed.
• Interior floors which are 100mm below the level of the tiled balcony immediately outside the window or door.
• Tilt up concrete panel buildings that have continual damp plaster and water leaking between the panels.
• No eaves, which allows the designer to achieve the modern design aesthetic or to allow the building to be located on the site boundary.
These design features have a number of inbuilt problems.
• No eaves mean that walls, windows, doors are fully exposed to rainstorms and are more likely to leak where they fit into the building.
• Balconies are completely dependent on waterproof membranes to prevent water flowing into the building.
• Box gutters with minimal fall and frequently too small, are very vulnerable to blockage and overflow.
• Balconies fitted with drains are frequently poorly graded so that water drains to one point and the drain is located elsewhere. Pooling water will almost always find its way into the building.
• Basements with inadequate water control drains are very difficult to correct once the building is completed.
These defects in the building construction arise from several sources:
• The designer of the building never detailed the correct method for proper water sealing. The expectation is that the building contractor will have adequate knowledge or ability to ensure that the building is watertight.
• The building contractors frequently do not have adequate knowledge or experience to produce a watertight building.
• The contractors carrying out the work may be in a hurry or not be instructed properly to carry out the work. It takes the work of several different trades to install a tiled balcony for example. There is generally little coordination to carry out this critical and detailed work and in fact the different trades may never meet each other.
• The Building Surveyor may not have picked up such features as the exterior floor levels being higher than the interior floor, or various other non-compliant construction work.
As a result, many buildings leak due to this combination of factors.
So, what do you do if you have purchased a leaking building or apartment? Water is leaking though from the balcony above your living room, there is stained and rotting timber around the window frames, there is mould on the walls that you are cleaning off on a monthly basis, and the ceiling is in danger of collapse.
This is covered in the next exciting episode!