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Properties Don’t Last Forever

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Concrete buildings need a health check too, here’s why.

Text: Sr WL Kang

When we buy commercial properties, we pay attention to the location, orientation of the building, traffic flow, amenities and even things like Feng Shui instead of defects or condition of the building. We somehow think it can be overcome by renovation or upgrading. While renovation and upgrading may be good at covering the artificial or surface defects, it is not the remedy to defects hidden from the naked eye. Defects arising from structures, moisture leakages and hot spot in electrical components are especially hard to detect. Also, there’s a misconception that commercial buildings lasts forever, which in all likelihood has resulted in less focus for routine inspection of the building.

 

A Healthy Approach

For the health conscious individuals, an annual medical check up is a routine preventive measure to ensure the body is functioning well. By the same token, a Building Inspection is akin to “medical check up” for buildings. Any failure in commercial buildings will not only affect business activities but also cause financial losses and a dent in the reputation of the business. Moreover, such damages may also injure visitors or occupants in the premises.

But what does it entail then in an inspection for commercial properties? First and foremost, inspection of the building structure is essential. For example, cracks on the building correlates to structural stability and a crack of say 5mm in width or more may be considered a structural crack. Continuous monitoring and further inspection on the crack is necessary to determine whether it is an active crack or a “dead” crack. It is also vital to know where this crack is heading. The crack’s pattern or direction will indicate the sign and types of different structural movements of the building.

Next, if water and heat are essential to living organisms, they are by contrast key enemies for buildings in tropical countries like ours. As such, water intrusions and energy losses are the other two inspection points for commercial buildings.

The presence of moisture in building envelopes, either from leakage or condensation, can have serious consequences. A building inspection can pinpoint where water intrusion occurs and find the moisture beneath the surface which cannot be seen with the naked eye. However, adequate air exchange is also essential for the occupants’ health and safety. Therefore, it is important for buildings to strike a balance between the two. Unfortunately, most buildings have a far higher rate of air exchange than is necessary and the root cause is often due to poor design and construction which allows two-way air leakage, from the inside to outside of the building and vice versa. Heat losses in buildings can account for up to 50% of the total energy consumption and the common culprits are through the attics, wall vents and badly sealed windows and doors.

A direct result of a building quality, whether good or bad, is the atmosphere within or indoor environment. Quality of its indoor environment can be compromised by poor insulation, poorly sealed windows and doors, inadequate or poorly sealed ductwork, plumbing leaks or other plumbing issues relating to Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) systems. As part of building inspection for commercial buildings, the building energy audit can diagnose the functionality and energy efficiency of the M&E systems inside a building.

 

What Should We Do?

Inspection on commercial buildings generally include shop-house, office suite, factory, shopping mall, office tower, show room and any other buildings meant for business occupation. As building owners or the property managers of these buildings, it is imperative that the condition of the building is assured to be safe for occupancy for the tenants. In addition, the building’s performance must also be kept at its optimum and does not endanger users of the building. With that in mind, the following are some possible steps and guidelines to observe before buying or maintaining commercial properties:

a      Don’t rush into the purchase before having the building inspected as the actual condition of the existing building has yet to be determined.

b      When buying a new commercial property from a developer, a professional building inspection should be carried out when the building is ready. A complete defects report should be submitted to the developer in order to get the defects, if any, rectified.

c      Routine building inspection is recommended for completed commercial buildings.  It is recommended to monitor the condition and performance of the building every 3 to 5 years.

d      Engage professional building surveyors who are qualified and eligible to conduct building diagnostic and building condition survey.

Realistically, it would be impossible to find a building anywhere in the world that lasts forever and ever, and is defect free. Whether it is a new or old building, there are bound to be some defects in it. More than just a preventive measure to diagnose and detect energy waste, moisture intrusion, discrepancies in M&E systems and defects in structural components, building inspection is actually a tried and tested practice to ensure the safety and health of both the occupants and the building; it is another way to protect your property investment.