Have you “collapse-proofed” your building?

The most prized possession of any family would be their homes, since a roof above one’s head provides not only unmatched physical security and satisfaction but also gives mental stability and a sense of belonging. Families toil for years and put together many chunks of money to be able to buy their place of possession. Because of these reasons, it is inevitable for families to safeguard their home’s longevity as when the timely repairs to homes are taken lightly, chances for unfortunate calamities like a building collapse increase.

Building collapses occasionally may also happen due to adverse weather conditions, but in the majority of cases, they occur due to negligence in structural maintenance or improper construction practices. The worst enemy of a residential building is not fire or structural collapse, but water.

When left unchecked, water or simple moisture can infiltrate your structure envelope and cause severe damage throughout the structure. With heavy rains lashing Mumbai and battering the metropolis and its residents, a few months back, the issue has been bought back into the spotlight as for the number of risky structures standing across the country.

The concrete structures in hostile marine environment tend to deteriorate due to corrosion of the reinforcement, and Mumbai being an island city suffers the most corrosion related problem in the country. Because of this reason, many buildings collapse in monsoon.

The frequency of such occurrences has been alarmingly increasing: On 28 June 2014 more than twenty people died in two separate incidents, one in Chennai and the other in Delhi. The building of Delhi was fifty years old, and the one that crumpled in Chennai was under construction. Again, in the same year, a seven-storey building crumbled in Santa Cruz, and another one collapsed at Mumbra. In October 2016, a five-floored building collapsed in Bandra East and more recently, a portion of a three-storey building collapsed in Kurla, though no casualties were reported. The latest addition in the list is the collapse of the Andheri suburbs railway over-bridge.

 The above statistics do not account for many other major and minor building collapses that took place in other small towns and cities, which mostly go unreported.

Reasons for Building Collapses:

According to Dr Sanjay Bahadur from Dr Fixit, “Building failures can be categorised into two broad groups: structural failures and application failures. Most of the building collapses in the country are due to the use of cheap raw materials, insufficiently trained workforce and inadequate supervision during construction of multi-storey structures. Removal of load bearing members such as columns and beams, shifting of kitchen and toilets etc. within the flat without consulting structural consultants or engineers is also a serious issue.”

Moreover, one natural and essential factor that causes building collapse is rainfall, and therefore buildings must be constructed keeping climatic conditions of the region in mind. Issues related to seepage are considered only during the monsoons. Seepage causes various problems like rusting and internal leakages; though, in most cases, it is difficult to ascertain the problem.

Most of the co-operative housing societies engage in crack filling and repainting of their structures, which is a partial solution that does not suffice for the structure’s waterproofing needs. Therefore, it is critical to undergo a thorough structural audit before any repair work to uncover the nature of the problem and decide the remedial measures to avoid future mishaps. Even then, in most cases, people tend to avoid spending money on health assessment of buildings, which results in an increased repair cost at a later stage since the distress in structures increases with time. Proper diagnosis of defects and evaluation of conditions are crucial for a successful repair and maintenance. Many times, the builders neglect the long-term effects of using poor quality raw materials. Even when the projects seem to be completed with good exteriors and appearances but also in the construction of such structures, the raw materials used are compromised.

CA Ramesh Prabhu, Chairman – Maharashtra Societies Welfare Association (MSWA) has said that, “Major reason for building collapse is lack of timely preventive actions such as regular maintenance and flat inspection at least once in six months to identify possible leakages and rectify it by applying various waterproofing techniques, and postponing the decision till the building is declared as dilapidated.”

Timely repair:

Out of the 31,000 CHS in Mumbai, around 15,000 to 16,000 are in urgent need of repairs. Due to some issues, these societies are not being reconstructed, and they are considering redevelopment as an alternative to repairs. Nevertheless, renewal is not a substitute for repairs. Unfortunately, only 10 per cent of these buildings repairs. There is a dire need of some regulation on the age of the building for redevelopment. With the construction practices carried out these days, a structure can experience distress within ten years of its construction. Therefore, it is essential that societies connect with a designated civil-structural engineer for diagnosing the problems of the building every five years to identify the issues leading to leakage and recommend appropriate waterproofing solutions. This exercise will save the enormous loss of workforce and wealth, and the same resources can be used for building new buildings.

The benefit that will come out of this is the availability of more housing stocks for living resulting in a decrease in the rental property value of the city.

The disturbing fact is that at present not even 10 per cent of the structures undergo a structural audit, even when there is a strict regulation from the municipal corporation in this regard. In this context is the issue of conducting timely repairs, accurate diagnostics and waterproofing for structures has been emphasised on several occasions.

Dr Sanjay Bahadur from Dr Fixit says, “Timely structural diagnosis with the accurate detection of water leakage and structural rehabilitation and use of expert waterproofing solutions helps to create a waterproof building envelope that leads to a healthy building.”

With the technology driving innovation, new products and systems are found each day that can completely alter the conventional methods and bring about a revolutionary change in current constructional practices. It is essential that the industry creates awareness about the importance of modern construction techniques and materials. It could be one active pathway to alleviate India of collapsing buildings – a problem that is prevalent in the nation for quite a few years.