The process of lengthening something

I recently returned from an overseas business trip in Europe meeting with customers and suppliers, managing to spend a day at one of the building exhibitions in Germany. Always good to see how the Europeans approach their industry and where the future focus points are directed over there.

Much of the discussion I had with exhibitors was similar to discussions had with my suppliers and customers in Europe, and the chat somehow always brought me back to our waterproofing methods and standards in Australia. I’ve mentioned before about the general building quality in Europe compared to the quality and approach we take here, however on the waterproofing front we seem to have our focus on items that are perceived as critical points but in reality I believe we’ve allowed ourselves to lose track of where the real focus should be.

For this blog, I’ll cover the elongation properties of waterproofing membranes. There are various test methods one can use to test elongation of a membrane but basically the objective is to measure the membrane under stress and somehow express the result as a percentage of the product at rest or in its original form. Yes, a very important property of the membrane no doubting that, but I would guess for many sourcing, specifying or selling membranes in Australia this elongation property seems to be one of the main points of discussion and ends up being the central highlighted point in product selection, and I have to say we get this part of the focus wrong. AS4858 and AS4654 for the respective internal and external wet area standards have a heavy emphasis of membrane elongation with the various Classes referring from low (<60%) to high (>300%) elongation properties. For some reason in this country there is a general perception that low elongation membranes are inferior to high elongation membranes for internal and external applications, and this has been going on for over a decade now. Fact is there are numerous other membrane properties to be looked at to determine what will provide a quality waterproof system.

Why is it nobody makes references to the water impermeability of membranes, the adhesion properties of membranes to surfaces, the adhesion properties of these membranes for surface finishes, flexibility of membranes in differing temperatures or crack bridging properties? Simple answer is none of these properties get a serious mention in the Australian Standards for internal or external wet area membranes. I believe the current standards are due to be tipped on their head and fully reviewed to check what we’re missing. If half of what I hear and read is true about waterproofing failures in urban buildings that are less than 5 years old then we have a serious problem, and many of the facts that come across my desk show the problems have passed the serious phase, as we’re entering the calamitous phase. Keep an eye out for the reported problems that have reared in the big cities, it is fugly.

Before anybody tells me we have timber frame construction in Australia and there is a need to focus on membrane elongation, go look at the types of timber constructions on the other side of the world where they deal with movement, varying temperatures and light weight building materials, yet have nowhere near the issues we have on our hands now. Let’s not kid ourselves to think having a membrane with elongation at 600% is better than a membrane with 200%, if our buildings need membranes to elongate at these levels then bring in the engineering cavalry as the waterproofing will be the least of our worries.

We have more applicators, more products and overall more industry players in the market now than 10 years ago yet the numbers of these failures are on the rise. It is not only a Standards issue, it is also a mindset change needed, but what we demand and need of our products is one key factor to get right followed by how we police the way products are installed (a discussion for another time).

This leads me to the point that the construction industry, specifically the waterproofing sector, consumer watchdogs, insurance industry and other key stakeholders need to collectively make a serious move in getting the relevant authorities to review the issues at hand as a paradigm shift needs to happen on where the focus is directed.

While we think having a membrane with high elongation is key to the success of waterproofing buildings, we need to look at many of the poor buggers that have invested in properties and are dealing with major problems related to the leaking building syndrome that is now real in this country. Before worrying about lengthening the stretch of a membrane, lengthening the life expectancy of what we build should take centre stage.