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Waterproofing: Cutting corners upfront leads to long-term pain


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Waterproofing is an absolutely essential element to a construction site of any size. Implementing the appropriate design considerations and using high-quality materials to prevent water penetration has become an increasingly complex problem in the past 30 years.

This is mainly due to the sheer size and quantity of new buildings – particularly high-rise residential, as these sites have more balconies and bathrooms per floor than an average high-rise commercial building. Apartments are currently being built at a breakneck pace along Australia’s east coast in particular. Project managers are tasked to do more with tight time schedules and budgets, there is a serious danger the vital waterproofing phase of the construction process may be overlooked.

Lack of Waterproofing Upfront Leads to Cost Blow-Outs
According to Ross Taylor of Ross Taylor & Associates, a waterproofing consultant and auditor with more than 40 years’ experience, water penetration is the most expensive defect in any building.

The numbers are dire: For every $1 saved on appropriate design coordination and effective materials for waterproofing during the construction process, this blows out exponentially later in the piece.
Saving $1 in the construction phase becomes $10 to rectify during construction, and $30 after the building is complete. If it involves lawyers and experts, it becomes a mammoth $100 for every dollar not spent in the initial phases.

The State of Waterproofing in Australia
Taylor comments that the extent of water-related defects in new buildings in Australia is “alarming.” Ironically, he notes this is occurring at a time where there are hundreds of available waterproofing membranes and sealants on the market.

The crux of the problem, he says, is the sole reliance on the materials only to provide protection from the elements. There is a lack of collaboration between designers at the initial stages of a project. “These days, you arrive at the end of the design process, and then waterproofing is brought in – by that stage, it’s too late,” he says.

A reliance on water-shedding principles instead of a reliance on waterproofing membranes is an important mind-shift for those in the construction industry.

“No waterproofing can smooth over all the design elements that have been brought in to meet other design imperatives. It’s the reliance of the design process, on designing the building then whacking on a membrane or squeezing in goo to prevent water penetration. This simply never works,” Taylor says.

Timelines and Dialogue Key to Success
According to Taylor, project managers have a critical role to play in preventing these defects from occurring. As design coordinators, they can either enable or cut off the essential interdisciplinary conversation required.

“There has been an alarming increase in the reduction in coordination between designers and engineers. The essence of good design is iterative – tweaking and adjusting until you end up with the right design – and taking away this dialogue is linked to a rise in defects.”

Taylor believes that waterproofing, apart from being one of the most costly defects to repair after the fact, is the tip of the iceberg of a wider industry quality issue with the utilisation of cheaper or non-compliant measures to deliver projects faster.

“The losers will not only be the future users of the building but also the reputations of those who create the problems in the first place,” he concludes.

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