If you’re getting your own home soon, you might have heard your friends warning you to check your newly-bought property for defects. Maybe they might have remarked something along the lines of, “Aiyoh, have you heard of ceilings collapsing due to water leaks?”, “Be careful ah, HDB sewage pipe has leaked before and it’s super gross”, or even “Did you hear about the Ang Mo Kio HDB flat fire? Must buy HDB fire insurance hor!”
Having your own home also means attending to home maintenance needs beyond household chores. If things start breaking down or incidents happen, you would need to take care of it. When renovating your HDB flat, improperly installed furniture or false ceilings may cause accidents too. That’s why you’ll want to be as involved as possible to check for quality and ensure things don’t go awry during the renovation process.
So, if you’ve yet to embark on your homeownership journey, now’s the best time to learn from what has happened before. Even if they’re not 100% preventable, at least you’ll know how to prepare for and deal with them if you ever get dealt a bad hand.
Here are 6 most ‘jialat’ HDB flat renovation disasters and incidents over the years to take note of, and what homeowners like yourself can do to circumvent them.
1. 100kg Ceiling Fell in Queenstown HDB Flat in 2022
What happened: A false ceiling weighing about 100kg collapsed in the newly renovated master bedroom of a 4-room flat at Block 91 Dawson Road on 8 June 2022. The hefty structure crashed without warning at around 6.30pm. Thankfully, the incident occurred when the family of 5 were out of the house, instead of lounging on the bed, which they normally do at that time of day. No one was injured.
How it could have been avoided: Investigations revealed that the false ceiling had been secured with only 50 screws. According to the contractor, SR Tech Engineering, the collapse of the false ceiling could have been due to the lack of supporting structures.
In HDB flats, false ceilings are popular as they not only beautify the home but also conceal messy wires. However, this means a reduction of the floor-to-ceiling height which can make your home appear smaller. Plus, you’ll have to take extra care to clean the dust that easily accumulates in the cavities of false ceilings.
2. Lightning Bolt Directly Striking an HDB Flat in Queenstown in 2022
What happened: On 23 April 2022, social media was abuzz with a photo of lightning striking the side of Block 53 Strathmore Avenue in Queenstown. The streak of white, set against a gloomy backdrop, appeared to enter one of the units in the 43-storey building. This prompted jokes about the mythical God of Thunder, Thor, as well as raised questions about why the bolt didn’t strike the top of the building, where the lightning rods are usually located, instead.
How it could have been avoided: According to reports, the lightning strike seemed to have passed without incident/complaint, and the lightning protection system (i.e. the conductive rods that direct the jolt safely to the ground where it dissipates) was working well.
This is a key requirement when a building’s Temporary Occupation Permit (TOP) is awarded. In Singapore, buildings taller than 45m have additional lightning protection on the sides of the building. While most lightning strikes hit a building’s top rod, it could strike at an angle and hit the sides of a building. However, this is a rare occurrence.
For metallic window frames, even if struck by lightning, their connection to the building’s structural steel ensures that any voltage is quickly neutralised, avoiding electrical shock hazards. Although there’s no avoiding the force of nature, it’s wise to stay indoors during a thunderstorm and avoid being close to or touching metallic window frames, especially if the windows are open.
3. HDB Fires Over the Years
What happened: Every now and then, a fire in an HDB flat is reported. One of the most recently reported incidents was just on 3 August 2022 at 92B Telok Blangah Street 31.
Another fire broke out on 1 July 2022, at Block 682 Hougang Avenue 4, and again on 22 June 2022, at Block 218 Marsiling Crescent, where two toddlers who were alone at home were rescued (they’ve since been referred to Child Protective Service). There was also an Ang Mo Kio HDB flat fire on 14 June 2022, at Block 333 Ang Mo Kio Avenue 1.
Sadly, on 13 May 2022, a fire at a Bedok North Avenue 2 flat claimed the lives of three residents, including a toddler. There was also another fire within that same month, at Block 117, Jalan Bukit Merah on 17 May 2022, and preliminary investigations indicate that it was of electrical origin.
As you can tell, HDB flat fires are not uncommon.
How it could have been avoided: According to the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF), the leading types of fire in 2021 were fires of electrical origin, which involved faulty wiring or electrical appliances that ignited nearby combustible materials. Next were cooking fires, and then, ‘dropped light’ fires such as from cigarette butts, charcoal and incense sticks.
What can you do to prevent accidental fires? The obvious thing would be to triple-check your electrical wiring, not to overload your electrical sockets, and to always make sure you use electrical appliances with the Safety Mark. When cooking, check that the stove is properly switched off when not in use, fully extinguish any embers, and ensure combustible materials aren’t near or touching a heat source.
It’s also wise to invest in home contents insurance. While it’s compulsory for every HDB dweller to buy HDB fire insurance, that just protects the building structure. Oftentimes, what’s inside the home is very valuable as well, and that’s where the optional home contents insurance add-on could provide the extra coverage.
HDB Fire Insurance vs Home Insurance: What’s the Difference?
Read more here.
4. HDB Sewage Pipe Leak in Punggol in 2015
What happened: An HDB sewage pipe leak turned into a full-blown s***storm when a couple was about to move into their newly-renovated BTO flat at Block 313C, Sumang Link in May 2015.
To their horror, the floor of their 4-room flat was so flooded with faecal matter, that a neighbour had called them earlier to notify them of the waste that was seeping out of their front door. The waste had apparently come out of a toilet pipe. To make matters worse, the family had spent $50,000 on renovations and had already moved their things in, including $10,000 worth of furniture and a sound system.
On a separate note, there was another report in 2019 where a Punggol household faced dirty water seeping into their master bedroom from a wall via a leaking rainwater downpipe.
HDB Ceiling Leaks and Water Seepage: Who’s Responsible?
Read more here.
How it could have been avoided: According to plumbing experts, the first issue could have originated either from renovation or construction works. The flooding possibly happened due to a huge build-up within the main pipes of the building and the lower floors are where the main pipes end. It’s a common problem that can be circumvented with frequent checks by the renovation and/or construction personnel.
One way to protect yourself is through home contents insurance, where at least the cost of your valuables and belongings can be recouped.
5. Chunk of Ceiling Collapsed on Child in Henderson Road HDB Flat in 2020
What happened: On 19 May 2022, a six-year-old boy was playfully shooting water at the ceiling of his HDB flat’s toilet in Henderson Road when a huge chunk of concrete fell, injuring the boy.
The flat was 45 years old, and the ceiling had already sported a visible crack before the incident. This was due to spalling concrete, which is a natural course of wear and tear in older flats, especially in areas with high moisture levels. As the steel bars embedded in the ceiling begin to corrode, the concrete cover starts to crack and bulge, which may result in chunks of ceiling concrete falling.
What Is Concrete Spalling and Is Your Home At Risk?
Read more here.
How it could have been avoided: Look out for signs of spalling concrete, such as flaking, chipping or even smaller chunks missing from the ceiling, exposing the rough surface of the concrete. The surface might also look pitted.
Regular maintenance can help to prevent spalling concrete incidents. This includes the regular painting of ceilings, checking for and sealing holes and cracks in the ceiling, and making sure the area is well ventilated as moisture speeds up the carbonation process. If you remove a bathroom fixture, cover it up as it can invite moisture and carbon dioxide into the concrete.
When attended to immediately, spalling concrete does not affect the structural integrity of the building. It’s best to get a licensed contractor to assess and carry out the repairs for spalling concrete.
6. Tiles Popping in Tampines HDB Flat in 2022
What happened: Imagine hearing loud firecracker-like noises and seeing the floor tiles spontaneously crack open. This was what happened to a family living in Tampines Street 45 early this year, with a grandmother and young grandchild just inches away from tiles that suddenly shattered into pieces.
HDB received an average of 247 complaints of dislodged floor tiles a month in 2019. Tiles popping were also a hot topic in 2018, with a spate of cases reported in Toa Payoh, Fernvale and Woodlands over a few days in January that year.
How it could have been avoided: Tiles pop for a number of reasons. One of them could be due to temperature fluctuations, which cause the expansion and contraction of the tiles and substrate at different rates, causing a loss of adhesion.
Another factor could be shoddy workmanship when laying tiles or poor quality tiles that could be more prone to breaking. Last but not least, tiles can swell after absorbing moisture and this pressure could cause them to pop up.
Do note that HDB tiles have a 15-year ‘warranty’ where HDB will offer goodwill repairs. Beyond that, HDB can help with inspections and support the removal and disposal of broken tiles.
To avoid tiles popping in your HDB flat, ensure that you engage an approved contractor with a proven track record, and refrain from flooding the floor with water unnecessarily.
Buying Home Insurance for Your HDB Flat
In most of these cases, there’s damage to property and belongings, either due to fire or water damage. That’s where home insurance comes in, as it is able to cover the financial losses arising from such damage.
Home insurance should not be confused with HDB fire insurance and the Home Protection Scheme. Home insurance protects the contents of your home, while the latter two policies cover the building structure and mortgage. While home insurance is totally optional, it’s definitely useful to have.
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This article was written by Mary Wu, who hopes to share what she’s learnt from her home-buying and renovation journey with PropertyGuru readers. When she’s not writing, she’s usually baking up a storm or checking out a new cafe in town.