By Rahul Sarkar
Structural Audit of a Housing Society
By Rahul Sarkar
Your residential building is typically constructed to last for about 80 to 90 years. It is not too different from a living and breathing organism that is programmed to live a full and healthy life, if all goes well. However, with the passage of time, the structural sanctity of a building may be compromised due to rainfall, extreme weather conditions, natural calamities, wear and tear or sheer neglect. Enter Structural Audit… the vaccine your building needs in order to fight off the viruses of decay and ageing.
What is a structural audit?
Structural audit is an examination of the overall health of a building to ensure that it is safe, risk-free and habitable. The purpose of a structural audit is to correctly identify parts or sections of a building that may be in need of immediate repair, renovation or replacement. Structural audits are performed by licensed consultants who have the required expertise in civil construction and are empanelled with the government authorities.
A structural audit is government mandated. For buildings that are between 15 to 30 years old, the statutory requirement is to conduct a structural audit once in 5 years. For buildings over 30 years, a structural audit must be conducted once every 3 years. The said durations begin from the date the completion certificate/occupation certificate was issued or since at least 50% of the occupation of the built-up area, whichever comes first.
Why is a structural audit important?
To enhance the overall lifecycle of the building, its components need to be periodically examined so that there is no danger to its inhabitants. Areas in need of crucial repairs need to be identified to employ corrective measures so that the day-to-day life of the residents is not inconvenienced on account of unexpected leakages or breakages.
In the probable scenario that the builder has cut corners and left any sections of a building prone to collapse or faster dilapidation, a structural audit is your best bet to avert any disasters. Even if the building is relatively sound in its basic framework, it is likely that during a preceding repair or renovation, less than ideal quality materials were used that have led to further damage or leakage. In cases where continuous neglect from the stakeholders persists, it may happen that a massive redevelopment project needs to be undertaken, costing the residents exorbitant amount of money. A structural audit is a highly recommended preventive measure to avoid any calamitous eventualities altogether.
What are the stages of a structural audit?
To begin with, the society needs to hire a Project Consultant/Agency after inviting tenders from prospective service providers. The estimated repairs or preventive actions need to be approved in a general body meeting. Once an agency is appointed, it is the responsibility of the society’s committee to provide them with all the pertinent details, plans and designs of the building including information on any previous reparations and maintenance history. Below are the phases and techniques of a structural audit.
The first stage of a structural audit consists of a visual inspection that should lead to the identification of defects, material degradation, deformation of any sections or interior components. If alterations, additions or replacements are needed, they should be identified during the visual inspection too.
All the elements of the building are examined, including but not limited to, columns, beams, slabs, balconies, false ceilings, roofs, parapets, railings, rooms, bathrooms, kitchens, lofts, mezzanine floors, stairways, water tanks, storage, plumbing lines, drainage lines. These inspections are carried out in order to ascertain cracks/deflections in retaining walls, leakages, and concrete durability. Dampness in the walls is also inspected along with varying loads on the structure that may have occurred. Additionally, soil bearing capacity is determined through pit trials or from soil data of the vicinity.
The structural integrity of a building is initially determined by the visual inspection; however, the strength and durability of concrete is an essential factor that decides its longevity and safety. For this purpose, non-destructive testing (NDT) should be carried out to check concrete strength, chemical attack resistance, corrosion assessment, among other things. Below are the common techniques to assess whether your building’s concrete will stand the test of time.
- Rebound Hammer Test on beams, slabs, etc. to check the compressive strength of the concrete.
- Ultrasonic Pulse Velocity Test to inspect cracks and to test the quality of concrete and natural rocks in the building.
- Core testing consists of a method in which samples are tested in a laboratory to determine strength.
- Chemical tests are performed to check carbonation and pH, water/acid soluble chloride and sulphate contents of the concrete.
- Rebar locators and cover meters are used to check the cover, diameter and reinforcement of steel
- Water permeability test is carried out to check the resistance of concrete under water pressure.
- Half-cell potential test is done to check corrosion or the possibility of it in the steel.
- Some other popular tests in current practice are Leak Testing, Electromagnetic Testing, Laser Testing, Magnetic Particle Testing, etc.
- Earthquake resistance (seismic diagnosis test) and fire readiness (fire fighting system analysis) is measured and analysed by the structural auditors in addition to the above mentioned tests.
A structural audit report is presented to the society by the consultant which entails the following:
- Recommendations for repairs based on the assessment of deterioration, breakage, and faulty materials
- Retrofitting, and restoration measures to bring the damaged components up to the required standard
- Strengthening the current components of the building to make it more resistant to collapse and increase its load bearing capacity
The consultant provides the cost of labour, materials, equipment and overall services to the society in the audit report, and offers expertise on future maintenance and cost-effective measures to slow down future deterioration.
Why should a housing society conduct a structural audit correctly?
It is no secret that a number of structurally unsound buildings collapse during monsoons or due to ill-maintenance. Buildings older than 20 or 30 years are often found lacking in integrity as per modern standards. If the repairs are not done carefully, the loss of human lives in addition to property can be devastating. As the adage goes, it is better to be safe than sorry. The only way to avoid such mishaps is to conduct your structural audit with utmost sincerity and apply remedial actions immediately.
The managing committee should hire a reliable and recommended structural audit agency, which stands in good stead with customers. It is easy to fall into the trap of hiring a less-than-honest auditor who may offer his services at affordable prices and eventually do a half-baked job of misidentifying or overlooking critical repairs. At the same time, there is the possibility of someone overcharging and siphoning your money. Incompetent auditors who do their job poorly can leave your building open to damages and burn the society’s pocket holes in the long run.
The most vigilant approach to a structural audit is staying involved and alert from the start to the end. Engage the services of a certified, empaneled audit agency that has a proven track record in the field. Do not hesitate to seek expert opinions online or offline. Compare the list of services offered by each provider and select the one that best suits your requirements.
The pros and pros of a structural audit
All that talk of precaution may seem enough to dampen the walls of your spirit. Fret not… there’s a silver lining to the task of a structural audit. Recent changes have led to a slashing in the professional fees of a structural audit in most areas of the country. There is also the provision of taking out a bank loan in case if extensive repairs are needed. The issue of safety is paramount in the eyes of the residents, which is why it becomes relatively easy to educate residents in the matters of critically needed repairs and restoration.
The residents should be made aware of the benefits of a structural audit in the long run. A safeguarded building increases its own lifespan by decades. Most new buildings meet the quality standards set forth by the law with minor or negligent repairs that are discovered in structural audits. In the end, it is always wise to maintain good foresight and conduct timely structural audits for your housing society in order to thrive as a sustainable and safe community of mindful residents.