As we go about our busy lives, we often forget about the plain facts of life here on this spinning globe: gravity creates an unceasing tension in the materials we assemble into buildings and other structures. Whether or not we are paying attention, all of matter is reacting to gravity’s pull, and those forces can result in small tears or holes in facades, roofs and other parts of a building.
Over time, such stresses can result in a hole in a roof, oftentimes at a plane change area, such as where flashing surrounds a chimney. Even if it’s just a pinhole leak to start, if it is left undetected for very long, that dripping water can cause serious damage to a building and even adversely affect its structural integrity.
Water leaks are the bane of many homeowners and many condominium superintendents. But unlike a drippy faucet or a drafty window, which often can be simply fixed, water leaks sometimes can be very difficult to find and remedy. Many different technologies exist to help find the source and the extent of leaks and other technologies can help minimize the damage these leaks cause. Knowing what makes leaks happen, the ways that they are found, and how they’re repaired is essential for anyone living in a multi-family building. Because after all, such a leak might happen in nearly anyone’s unit and still affect everyone in the condo because of a costly fix that all will have to pay for.
A longstanding leak might signal the need for a major building improvement project, but it might also require a less invasive solution, such as a spot replacement of just part of a roof. Knowing what solution to use is the contractor’s bailiwick, but understanding something about the fixes for water leaks, and the best practices for finding the source of the leaks, is the responsibility of each building resident.
Water leaks in a condo building are generally of two kinds: rain-related or plumbing-related. “The simple difference between a rain-related leak and a plumbing related leak is if somebody is taking a shower upstairs from you or flushing the toilet upstairs from you and you have water going into your kitchen drain, that’s plumbing related,” says Ralph Noblin, P.E., president of Noblin & Associates, a consulting engineering firm based in both Bridgewater, Massachusetts and Dover, New Hampshire. “In a high-rise situation there is a ton of water in pipes. There are water heaters, washer and dryer hook-ups, so plumbing leaks. This happens constantly with condominiums and with absentee owners it’s becoming more of a problem. Say there’s this guy and he owns the windows in his condo because that’s what it says in the condo docs. So he waits forever to replace them. So when it rains, water comes in and it trickles down into the unit six floors below. So water leakage in condo units from rain events is common.”