Waterproofing. Is it slipping through the cracks?

Tuesday June 5, 2018

After pest and termite problems, waterproofing is regarded as the second largest building cost in the construction industry in Australia.

Waterproofing is critically important, so why isn’t it being taken a lot more seriously, instead of the misunderstanding, misinformation and general ambivalence within the actual industry?

Alarmingly, waterproofing is slipping into areas with key responsibilities being hand-balled onto other trades who are not skilled waterproofing specialists. They are expected to take the lead in an expertise that is not a core focus, which can create a disconnect between their specific skill and the important job of ensuring that waterproofing is done correctly, to avoid expensive mistakes and damage.

Case in point: I saw a specification for a major hospital project the other day with a substantial number of waterproofing works specified. However, in all the documentation, none of the waterproofing was listed under its own “Waterproofing” heading.

Internal and external wet area waterproofing works were bundled into the Tiler’s package, all the waterproofing required for podium planter boxes and garden beds was crammed into the Landscapers’ package, the waterproofing for the underground retaining wall was jammed into the Bricklayer’s package and the roof membrane had been lumped into the Concreter’s package. All up, the value of these waterproofing works was in excess of $2million.

Considering Australia’s population growth forecast is 26 million by 2020 and 42 million by 2050, construction is going to keep increasing with the waterproofing market value trending the same way.

I recently read a report that the global waterproofing membrane market will grow to US$33 billion by 2020, with Asia Pacific representing almost 40%. Here in Australia, the latest figures for the waterproofing membrane market sits north of AU$220 million, and are growing steadily.

Despite this greater awareness, the expectation of projected growth of the local construction industry, the industry’s acknowledgment of the importance of waterproofing and the essential role it plays within the construction mix – the industry persists in ignoring an obvious blind-spot.

Two major construction project experiences serve to illustrate this incongruence.

I met with the senior management team of one of the largest construction companies in the country recently. They were specifying one of the Gripset systems on a large CBD apartment project and needed to ensure that they could provide a 15-year warranty for their multi-story construction.

Also in the meeting, was their senior design manager who had the final say in any waterproofing used in their construction, vetting the products, performance data and processes, before authorising use of the product. The fact that they had flown him in especially, demonstrated how far construction companies have moved forward in the waterproofing approval process. Ten years ago this would have been unheard of.

I find it perplexing, therefore, that in 2016 within the Australian construction industry, there’s still such a disparity, with many professionals not sure of what waterproofing is and where it fits in the scheme of the building package.

I realise that many understand where it should go in terms of the surfaces it should be applied to; like roofs, basement walls, planters, wet areas, podiums and so on. What it seems the industry is not clear on however, is where waterproofing actually fits into the scheme of the building package?

How can a major building process not be recognised as a standalone category by the industry?

There is greater awareness amongst building professionals regarding the need for waterproofing, with a lot of emphasis on the importance of a guaranteed system, the need for correct installation by professionals and using the best practice and products that comply to Australian standards.

If we truly value the essential role waterproofing plays in construction, then I believe we’re well past the due date for “waterproofing” having it’s own basket, instead of it being treated like a basket case.