Building evaluations: Can you recognize spalling in your commercial building?

How exterior building issues impacted Surfside’s Champlain Tower collapse

Concrete is a significant component to constructing a building, and especially a commercial building. As buildings age, they inevitably deteriorate. One of the most common ways this happens is concrete deterioration. As concrete deteriorates, something called spalling occurs. 

What is spalling? It’s an exterior building issue in the concrete that begins with cracks that allow moisture to seep into the building’s exposed exterior structural elements. As moisture collects in the concrete, it causes the reinforcing steel or rebar inside the concrete to corrode and rust as the moisture seeps deeper into the separation and settles in. As the steel begins to rust, it causes tension and pressure within the concrete. While it’s true that concrete does well with compression, the same can’t be said of its willingness to bend. Once the structure experiences that stress, any internal force can cause breakaway. The part that broke away from the wall – creating an almost spider web type look of concrete – is known as a spall.

Spalling concrete often appears as round or oval depressions in concrete joints and along surfaces. The phenomenon commonly appears in coastal areas due to the climate’s moisture and salt content. Another location primed for spalling is cold climates, thanks to de-icing chemicals that utilize salt. The salt amplifies the damage to the concrete.

A spall is a visible sign that something isn’t right and needs immediate attention before further damage occurs that could impact the integrity of the building. A condominium structural engineering firm can carry out an exterior building evaluation to identify any spalling and ensure that it doesn’t impact the building’s overall structural integrity.

For Surfside’s Champlain Tower collapse, structural concrete deterioration caused a spall mixed with long-term deferred maintenance to catastrophic effect. Understanding how to prevent spalling by applying proper water sealant to the finished concrete surface (thus preventing water from entering the concrete) and knowing how to repair a spall are key to keeping your building safe from dangerous deterioration and possible collapse.

Watch our free webinar today to learn more about the Champlain Tower collapse and the common questions associated with it.

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