We have a long question, which is relevant, considering all the bad building I have been seeing.
Questions and answers
Rene has this question: I am the one in the house that does most of the maintenance work as my husband is not a born fixer.
We desperately need your advice. We have been living in our sectional title unit for six years. It was brand new when we purchased it. A few months after moving in, two or three of the tiles on the front porch cracked. We viewed these as settlement cracks, as they did not deteriorate over the years. All we wanted was for the body corporate to replace the tiles.
About two years ago members of the body corporate decided to do excavation work around the porch to fix “the problem”, digging more than a metre deep to get under the foundation.
It took a few days, and we were unable to use our front door. They even dug out some of the rocks. Since they’ve finished the work, we have had numerous cracked tiles in our lounge, dining room and kitchen, and some loose tiles. Even the cornice in the dining room is coming loose. We think that there was movement under the foundation as the complex was built on river rocks.
How do we prove all this is happening because of the excavation work that was done? And how do we find out how bad it really is underneath our house, ie what future problems we will experience?
Answer: This is an interesting subject and one with serious consequences.
No underpinning work should be undertaken unless an appropriately qualified and registered structural engineer has been appointed to oversee the works. There are just too many things that can go wrong, and thus an engineer with the appropriate professional indemnity insurance is needed. Most builders know what to do, but you don’t want to be involved with somebody who will disappear when things go wrong.
Rule one: never rush in and start digging massive holes. Small trial holes are needed for an engineer to prepare a geo-technical report. Once some idea of the problem has been established then a detailed repair specification can be submitted. No hole wider than a metre should be opened up under a foundation, and only once the first section has been underpinned should the next section be opened.
I would first ask the body corporate for a copy of the engineer’s report and his scope of works for the necessary repairs. If this is unavailable, you may have a strong case for an action against them. If you agreed to let them proceed, did you do so in writing?
Without visiting your home and seeing the plans of the house it is difficult to make a call on the problem. If the cornices are pulling away there is a strong chance the foundations are moving and the walls are dropping. But there are different design criteria for internal and external walls.
There is also a chance the filling under the floors has not been compacted properly and the floors are sinking, causing the tiles to crack. Place a marble on the floor and see if it starts rolling, an easy way to check if the floors are level.
I believe you should appoint an engineer to handle the problem. Also check with your neighbours to see if they have similar problems. If yours is an isolated incident, the cause may well be a leaking pipe or something similar.
I know times are tight money-wise, but when I am building a house or doing alterations, I always insist that we put some reinforcing steel in the foundation concrete, and mesh reinforcement in the surface beds. A couple of thousand rand now can save you thousands later.
Diana wants to know: If I want an eco-friendly, reasonably priced floor tile, what would be your choice?
We have had terracotta tiles, and the builder battled with linseed oil, and we battled with resealing.
Now we have African blue slate, and the builder battled with grout residues on the naturally uneven surface. We should have the tiles stripped and resealed.
For our third choice, I’m thinking of glazed ceramic tiles (no sealing or resealing needed). Or sandstone? Or Earthcote paint on concrete?
Answer: Long ago I vowed not to get involved in choices of materials that really come down to personal choice.
There is no reason at all why any of the tiles you’ve described should not work, if you are using first-grade materials, applied by professionals in the manner recommended by the suppliers. However, we all are continually on the lookout for the best (read cheapest) buy.
Personally, I am a soft floor finish type of guy, timber or carpets work for me, and there are some great new vinyl products on the market now. I am not a fan of cement and paint finishes, as the cement screed needs to be perfect, otherwise it will start to crumble or at best “dust” up. Sorry Diana, but the choice is yours.