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.

What happened in Syasha’s flat

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.

Other concrete spalling incidents have been reported by the media before.

What is concrete spalling

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.

Why does concrete spalling occur?

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.

concrete spalling ceiling example
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Another example of concrete spalling in a home.

Can you prevent concrete 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.

What to do when you notice cracks on the ceiling

Concrete spalling is a problem that should be caught early, at the very first signs of it. HDB advises owners to “carry out regular visual checks and repairs in their flats to keep them in good condition”.

You’ll have to bear all costs though; 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:

  • For less serious spalling, cracks and holes are sealed with hydraulic cement or caulking. You may DIY this.
  • In more serious cases (e.g. the spalling has spread), get a contractor to clean the exposed steel bars, removing any rust before patching up the holes and repainting the area.

 

Have experience with concrete spalling? Let us know in the comments section below!

If you found this article helpful, 99.co recommends The most life-threatening condo hazard you didn’t know about and 5 crazy things we found outside HDB flats (besides koi ponds)

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