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Concrete spalling is one of the biggest ‘hidden’ safety threats within our HDB flats.
On 19 May 2020, a scary close shave happened in a HDB flat in the West of Singapore, when a block of concrete fell from the ceiling of a family’s common toilet and narrowly missed a young boy’s head.
The 6-year-old boy, Muhammad Danial, was in the toilet when the concrete broke off. The concrete hit his back and he sustained a cut, according to photographs his mother posted on her Facebook account.
According to the boy’s mother, known as Syasha, Muhammad Danial was “happily playing with water” when the concrete broke off from the ceiling and landed on the boy’s back.
From the photos, we estimate that the block of spalled concreate measured about 70cm across and 10cm wide. The block broke apart upon impact.
Syasha gave further details in her subsequent post, clarifying that there were cracks on the ceiling before the incident and that his son had shot the water at the ceiling before the concrete block fell on him.
Immediately after the incident, Syasha rang for help said that the “police and ambulance arrived to check on the situation”, as well as personnel from the Housing & Development Board (HDB) and the Town Council.
The boy was then sent to hospital for “further checks”, and had an X-ray and dressing done on his back. Luckily, no stitches were needed.
On the comment thread of Syasha’s original post, several flat owners have also shared their experiences with spalling concrete.
Anna lives in a flat built in 1980 and lives on the 10th floor in a 12-storey block. Fortunately, no one was hurt even though the collapse occured right above the kitchen sink.
Nur lives on the highest floor in her block, and has had HDB officers come to check the issue after spalled concrete detached from the ceiling and landed on her head.
HDB periodically carries out reroofing works in existing flats, to improve the waterproofing of roofs and rectify any damages and defects.
Spalling has the same meaning as “breaking off”, but concrete spalling is also used to refer to early stages where cracking and bulging of the concrete can be observed.
According to HDB, spalling concrete is a common issue in older buildings. It is largely caused by carbonation, a natural deterioration process.
The deterioration causes the steel bars embedded in the ceiling slab to corrode over time, which in turn causes the concrete covering it to crack and bulge.
Eventually, the concrete is ejected and falls out.
Concrete spalling is more common in areas like toilets, as moisture accelerates the effects of spalling.
You can definitely slow down the process. Keep areas with typically high moisture, such as kitchens and washrooms, well-ventilated. You can do this by leaving the doors and louvre windows open. Additionally, you can install a ventilation fan or place a dehumidifier in the environment.
You can also repaint your home regularly using a good quality paint with anti-carbonation characteristics. Painting will slow down the carbonation process and reduce the chances of oxygen and moisture penetrating the concrete.
Concrete spalling is a problem that should be caught early, at the very first signs of cracks appearing, paint flaking off and any surface bulging. HDB advises owners to “carry out regular visual checks and repairs in their flats to keep them in good condition”.
For repairs, you’ll have to bear all costs; this is what the HDB says about concrete spalling inside flats.
“As the owner, you are responsible for the repair of any spalling concrete in your flat.”
The same would go for condos and private properties. An exception would be flats rented directly from the HDB, where the HDB would foot the costs of repair.
Here’s a directory of HDB approvated contractors.
The typical fixes are as follows:
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