Four Signs Your Building is in Distress

Mar 26, 2020 | Body Corporates, Commercial and Industrial, Hospitality, Retail

The coronavirus crisis has shown us Australians need to be prepared ahead of a catastrophe. But when life returns to normal, we may fall into old habits of not planning ahead.

Current events have shaken us, but typically we’re a nation where half of us don’t have a will. Another half of us just put up with a broken smartphone screen, because it’s too much hassle to repair or replace it.

When it comes to commercial buildings, they’re too valuable an asset to get away with a “wait till it breaks then fix it” mentality.

Certain building problems should be tackled quickly – for example signs of termite infestation.

But as these can be tricky to detect,  we’ve identified four core signs of building distress that will tip you off on the need for preventative maintenance.

 These items are all related to water damage and moisture in some way, one of the biggest hidden hazards in buildings.

Signs of termite damage. Source: Adobe Stock

1. Timber Trouble: decaying doors and woodwork can be a telltale sign of termites

Termites: these pesky creatures are a plague in Far North Queensland (and about as welcome as a NSW team on Mad Monday), but they also love Brisbane’s warm, humid climate.

Many Brisbane commercial building owners and body corporate managers will have had a brush with these tenacious vermin. The Building Code of Australia has strict regulations on termite management systems for new buildings, particularly in infestation-prone regions like FNQ.

Thriving on moisture, these destructive mites burrow their way through buildings. They don’t just eat wood but munch happily away on plaster and other materials, causing invisible havoc by trashing the structural integrity of frames and foundations.

Because termites dislike being exposed to the elements they do all their devastation behind the scenes, which makes them hard to detect.

However, there are some clear indicators that termites could be infesting your property.

  • Timber is softened or hollow-sounding when you tap it, because the insides have been gnawed at and destroyed by the pests
  • Doors and windows are hard to open – termites produce moisture when they burrow through the wood, which causes warping
  • Architraves and skirting boards crumble when pressed, as their structural integrity has been impaired
  • Brown tunnels have appeared – these are the nests that termites build to protect themselves.

The most common sign of termites is softened wood, but other symptoms include discolouring, mould and a damp, musty smell. Sometimes you can even hear them inside the wall.

Termites won’t stop their trail of destruction until the right treatment is in place, so don’t delay, call a QBCC-licensed pest inspector if you notice any red flags.

Signs of the “wood-chopping varmints”, as they’re called in this Bunnings DIY video on how to check for termites

2. Cracking Up: you notice cracks greater than 2mm in building walls

Unlike termites which are always bad news, not every crack in your building will be cause for concern. But cracks in walls? They’re a potential drama.

When a crack in a wall is longer than 2mm or has shown up suddenly in a short period of time (say two months), get on speed dial to your maintenance specialist.

In many cases, render or plaster can mask the full extent of a deeper structural flaw. Or they can be an ominous sign of a larger issue related to water damage, which as Core4 has mentioned before is a major hidden problem for building owners.

You might just have to seal the opening or monitor it for a while; and if you need more significant repairs or reinforcing, at least you’ll get the bad news quickly.

As you can see from Core4’s photo gallery below, a pro can mend even the scariest looking fracture or fissure. But early detection and remediation always beats more expensive longer-term fixes.


3. H2NO!: Water is turning up in unwanted places

In a perfect world, water is contained in pipes, pools (and spa baths). So if you see good old H2O surfacing where it shouldn’t be – in areas like walls, ceiling, floors and basements – it’s likely a sign that something has failed.

The unusual appearance of water can be caused by a blocked drain, or burst pipe, but is more often due to a crack in the building’s exterior fabric. 

If the water is brown in colour, pay particular attention as this is rarely a good sign. It may not be a broken sewerage line. That could be your first assumption (but trust us, the smell would be a dead giveaway).

More likely, it will mean that water has made the reinforcing steel inside a structure rust, which has led to concrete spalling and the surface cracking.

Like termites and broken phones, the issue won’t take care of itself. Stop damage from spiralling by enlisting a specialist to check it out – they may unearth a more serious structural issue.

4. Move and Shake: retaining walls are moving – when they shouldn’t be

Water damage is also a factor in the next sign of building distress to keep an eye out for: retaining walls that look more like the Leaning Tower of Pisa than a landscaping feature.

Again, assumptions are the enemy of good building upkeep. While a lot of retaining walls appear to be part of the landscaping, they are installed for a critical reason: keeping ground movement on your property in check. They are vital to your property and need to withstand a lot of pressure, particularly during heavy rain.

In some instances retaining walls are part of the building’s external wall and are covered by plaster or other finishes.  In these circumstances, a clear symptom of distress is a musty, mildewy smell. This indicates that a crack has appeared and that water is working its way into the building.

A collapsed retaining wall not only involves large expense, it has serious safety implications.

If you notice a musty smell or any cracks, curves, or signs of leaning, you have time to catch a problem before the point of no return.

Don’t spend a fortune on fixes – make prevention your mantra

It can be natural for body corporate managers and property owners to assume that some signs of distress, like decaying wooden architraves, are caused by exposure to the elements or a building “naturally” ageing.

In reality, these symptoms can conceal a hidden danger like a termite infestation.

Remember, your building isn’t an iPhone, you can’t just assume damage is superficial and think “she’ll be right”. Getting a flaw inspected will give you peace of mind.

As your partner in Brisbane commercial preventative maintenance, Core4 is always happy to help with a property check-up. Contact us for a free consultation now.

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