What Is Concrete Spalling and Is Your Home At Risk?

Eugenia Liew
What Is Concrete Spalling and Is Your Home At Risk?
If your home ceiling is something you never gave much thought to, we don’t blame you. However, after a recent concrete spalling accident that injured a young child in Singapore, perhaps it’s time to look up and do a quick check.

Young boy injured by fallen ceiling in Bukit Merah flat

A few weeks ago (on 19 May 2020), Facebook user Syasya DanialAlissa shared that her 6-year-old son was playing with water in the bathroom when a block of concrete broke off from the ceiling, and dropped on his back, injuring him.
This viral story is a classic example of concrete spalling, which is more common than many think. The ceiling apparently already had cracks before the incident, and according to HDB, such cracks are usually due to moisture and are common in older buildings.
Parts of the bathroom ceiling fell on a boy in a bukit merah hdb flat
Syasya’s story sparked a conversation among fellow homeowners in the comments, many of whom shared similar experiences with fallen ceilings. At this point, you may be wondering: Is my home risk? What should I do if there are cracks in my ceilings?
Read on to find out more about spalling concrete and what you can do about it.

What is spalling concrete?

Like all things, your ceiling will suffer from normal wear and tear. Spalling concrete is a natural deterioration process, which is why it’s more commonly seen in older buildings.
It’s usually caused by carbonation, which causes the steel bars in the ceiling to corrode. When that happens, the ceiling will bulge and crack, and eventually collapse.

If I notice cracks in my ceiling, will HDB fix it for me?

Since the home in question was a 45-year-old rental HDB flat, HDB has taken charge of the repairs, for which preparations are already underway. However, in most cases, homeowners — of HDB flats, condominiums and landed houses alike — are responsible for the repairs.
As such, our advice is to do frequent checks on your ceiling, looking out for cracks and any signs of damage. The earlier you nip the problem in the bud, the better.

How to prevent concrete spalling

There are 3 main ways to prevent concrete spalling, as shared by HDB:

1. Make sure you ventilate high-moisture areas properly

Since it’s due to moisture buildup, concrete spalling often occurs in places like your bathroom, laundry area, and kitchen. To reduce the humidity (and thus slow down the carbonation process), you can open the windows, vents, and doors of these rooms when not in use.

2. Paint your ceilings regularly

It’s good practice to paint your ceilings once every few years. Adding a fresh coat of paint adds protection to your ceiling, helping to prevent or slow down carbonation.

3. Check for cracks and holes, and seal them asap

These openings allow more moisture and carbon dioxide to enter your ceiling, so if you notice them, you should have them sealed immediately. If there are drill holes (maybe from a previous ceiling fixture), you should also seal those.
Of course, prevention is better than cure, but what if it’s too late and there are already visible cracks on your ceiling?

How to repair spalling concrete

If the damage is minor, chances are, you may well be able to repair it yourself. Here’s a short guide on how to do so:
  1. Remove the spalled concrete and expose the corroded steel bars.
  2. Scrape and clean the steel bars, using a wire brush to remove any rust.
  3. Paint the steel bars with 2 coats of anti-rust paint.
  4. Patch up the area with a bonding agent and polymer modified cement mortar.
  5. Finally, paint over the area and you’re done.
If there are more than just cracks and you think it may be dangerous to DIY, you should carefully remove any loose spalling concrete while waiting for a professional.
Wearing protective gloves, use a hammer and chisel (or flat point screwdriver) to loosen the debris to remove them. Don’t forget to cover your floor and walls with thick cardboard too.
On the HDB website, there are 3 repair contractors listed for the different regions in Singapore.
EC Builders
North and west regions of Singapore
Mr Frederick Lee ( / 9668 2667) and Mr Kevin Zuo ( / 9126 8198)
Sin Jit Seng Building Construction
East region of Singapore
Mr Samuel Choo ( / 9187 2625 or 6257 6822)
Success Forever Construction & Maintenance
Central and South region of Singapore
Mr Jack Oei ( / 9689 8822 or 6752 2212)
Do note, however, that although these contractors are listed on HDB’s website, they are not endorsed by HDB. You will have to negotiate the price with them privately, and should always read up and check reviews before committing. You can also look up the Yellow Pages or Google, or ask around for other contractors who can help.
And there you have it — that’s about everything you need to know about concrete spalling and ceiling damage. Good luck!
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