I live in Sydney; I live in Sydney’s eastern suburbs; I live in a unit, like many others living in such suburban areas around the country. My unit isn’t in an old building, in fact it’s relatively modern compared to many in my suburb, but it’s ageing quickly and I think I know why. Waterproofing problems.
The University of New South Wales conducted a study in 2012 that found that 85% of all strata units had defects related to waterproofing. Internal water leaks, cracks and water seeping in from the outside of the building were amongst the most common issues.
Personally I have to agree as my unit has suffered from all three; we had a soaked carpet for 6 months while the unit next door had their bathroom waterproofed as it was seeping into our living room. As a result that wall is now cracked and the paintwork ruined due to a damp problem. And as for water leaking into the apartment from outside? We don’t have a drip or a puddle, but what we did have was a significant mould issue caused by insufficient waterproofing.
How do Australian standards compare internationally?
Why do we have such a problem with waterproofing in Australia? You can’t say that we don’t experience the same rain as our international friends; we may have had the driest winter for half a century in Sydney this year, but thunderstorm season is ahead of us and with that comes heavy and regular downpours.
Paul Evans is the President of the Australian Institute of Waterproofing (AIW), he claims that as Australians when we compare ourselves to our friends in the US and the UK we are lagging. For example the UK has a standard for below ground waterproofing that must be adhered to, even being tied to insurance policies/qualification, as well as licensing requirements. Here in Australia we have no below ground waterproofing standard. In America and Europe waterproof treatments and strategies are common; in Australia they are virtually non-existent.
Why are we so bad at waterproofing buildings in Australia?
We can’t blame one individual group for this, as it is a group effort across architects, designers and building surveyors, as well as the construction company who are completing the project to brief. It is a result of poor understanding across these areas that then places responsibility on the building contractor to ensure it’s done correctly, when it is really a shared responsibility.
Beyond the actual prevention of water being able to penetrate structures, very little thought is give to the control and drainage of water that has been repelled. With the industry in Australia remaining largely ignorant to the problem, poor waterproofing and repercussions continue to happen across all states. Evans from the AIW claims that waterproofing is not even nominated in specifications with which builders are presented during tender. This is worrying.
How and who is working to fix the problem?
There isn’t much being done at the moment unfortunately, but the good news is that AIW are working hard on creating and implementing a below ground standard similar to what is in place in the UK, which will be rolled out to all members once it has been completed. The AIW aren’t stopping there though; in unison with the Master Builders Association of Victoria they have created a waterproofing course, which is encouraging. Making sure that everybody understand the value of waterproofing and how to achieve this with the correct materials is crucial.