With the proliferation of multifamily homes, be it condominiums or town homes, parking needs are often met by building underground garages. These below ground, behemoth concrete structures employ waterproof membranes on the outside of the walls and ceiling to protect the concrete from the constant exposure to water. The membranes are an important part of the building. The original builder, the owners, and most definitely a buyer, all have a large interest in this largely unseen, but integral part of the structure.

The membrane’s job is to prevent water from entering into the structure. Underground garages often have patios, landscaped areas and ponds, as well as additional parking above. These areas can collect large amounts of water that need to be controlled and moved away from the building. This water puts significant pressure on the membrane. If built correctly, and installed with attention to detail, these membranes can last for 20 years and beyond.

The condo or town home owners and strata council members play a large role in the longevity of the building. Having control of spending for inspections, maintenance and repair, they can do themselves and the building a favour by not procrastinating on repair and maintenance spending. Regular inspections of the underground structures can help catch problems at their earliest stages. Having the owners recognize and report on leaks or other issues can also help catch the problems early.

Concrete roof slabs themselves have long-term durability, when properly protected and maintained. “Do the waterproofing repairs and masonry that is required and it will last as long as the building.” says Edgar Vargas, senior engineer, GENIVAR Inc., a global engineering company with offices in 35 countries.

Concrete structures will leak. It is expected to some degree. Hydrostatic pressure is continually applied to the outside of the concrete. This pressure will allow water to find its way through the concrete via small cracks, often at joints and other penetrations. In time, these leaks if not repaired, can damage the structure and the cost of repair can become exorbitant. There are well accepted methods for repair, and small leakages are common enough to consider them a maintenance item for building owners. It is important that any leaks have inspections done by the appropriate professionals and repaired when necessary, without delay.

“The reluctance of owners to spend money until concrete deficiencies are so serious can affect the eventual cost of repairs exponentially,” says Edgar Vargas.

In recognizing that repair and protection of concrete buildings is a necessary practice, over the past several decades, products, methods and technologies have evolved to improve their performance and longevity.

When searching for a new home, the amount of information to absorb is considerable. When the search includes condos and town homes, the information offered in strata council minutes and if available, engineering reports, can be invaluable. Also, hiring a home inspector can help you view the property in a objective manner, as well as help you understand any issues contained in the reports or discovered during the inspection.

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