A stitch in time

Construction

A stitch in time

Regular building maintenance is crucial. Ensure that beams, columns and pillars are safe. Non-structural elements such as painting and carpentry also need attention, writes K R Srikanta Prasad.

Maintenance is crucial when it comes to safeguarding buildings. Building maintenance is more than mere house keeping! Because of ageing, a building is prone to deterioration and this needs periodic monitoring.

Maintenance depends on the age and condition of the building. Typically, for a building that is 15-30 years old, monitoring can be taken up once in five years. Maintenance can be taken up every three years for buildings that have stood for over 30 years. This can be reduced to one year if the building is deteriorating fast.

Before taking up building maintenance, the owner needs to prepare a comprehensive maintenance schedule with the help of a consultant.

Various aspects and elements of the structure will have to be enlisted and a chart prepared. This systematic approach will streamline the process.

The main aspects of the building can be classified as structural and non structural elements. Structural survey is the first step. For any building and more importantly for high-rise structures, all structural elements such as columns, beams, slabs and masonry walls need to be observed and assessed.

A structural consultant is involved in this process. The steps include going through original structural drawings, repair history, critical observations, possible cause of distress if any, remarks on structural health and further recommendations. After the assessment, a structural audit report is prepared by the consultant. A thorough study of cracks in elements such as masonry and plastering needs to be taken up.

The consultant needs to ascertain whether the existing cracks are structural or non-structural, and give a fitness certificate based on the health of the structure. Based on the prescription of the structural consultant, further steps are taken.

Buildings in the coastal belt are structurally more vulnerable because of saline and a humid atmosphere. Appropriate products and technology should be used.

Checklist

Ensuring the waterproofing of the roof and tanks are as important as the structural assessment since the former can have a bearing on the safety of the building. Any leakage will affect the steel in the RCC element and aids in rusting. Consequently, even the concrete starts crumbling. The non-structural elements that need to be monitored are as below:

*Carpentry: The wood used for doors, windows and interiors shall be inspected for defects and powdering because of borers and termite infestations. All the hardware including the locks should be checked.

*Plumbing and sanitary: Pipelines, chambers and fittings should be inspected for leakage or cracks. Ducts provided for the purpose of inspection should also be maintained.

*Electrical: This is also a vital element. All the points, especially the earthing quality, need to be checked. Lines with technical problems should be immediately attended to.

*Painting: Repainting the building every five years will automatically take care of many aspects. During this process, all the structural and non-structural elements, cracks in the walls, etc need to be looked into.

Appropriate chemical compounds should be incorporated before a paint coating. Also, repair of damp walls, ceiling and plaster are of utmost importance. Use of the right product for painting also matters in increasing the life span of the building.

*Tiling: Make sure to check all the tile joints. Re-grouting should be taken up if needed. Loose tiles, if any, should be replaced.

*Cladding, paving, skylights: It is important to get the cladding and paving washed and replaced. Glass used in skylights should be maintained regularly.

*Garden: Landscaping in front of the house or on the terrace needs regular maintenance.

*The choice of plants used for the garden should be based on the extent of monitoring that is practically possible.

*Maintenance of a building is probably more important than the initial process of construction.

*It is important to keep the maintenance aspect in mind at the construction stage. While good-quality construction involves less maintenance, quality maintenance increases the building’s durability.

*It is essential to have an exclusive repairs and maintenance fund for any facility.

*In case of multi-dwelling units, the housing society/owner’s association will take care of these issues.

*There are professional agencies that will handle building maintenance. In some cases, especially government buildings, AMC (annual maintenance contract) is in practice.

*The contract is usually decided after taking into account the initial building cost, age and condition, and depreciation. Whether your building is big or small, it is advisable to keep these vital aspects in mind.

After all, a stitch in time saves nine.

(The writer is a civil engineer.)

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