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The UAE was recently subjected to severe storms with heavy rainfall and strong winds. Some buildings and infrastructure, are not designed for this uncharacteristic weather. We have seen car park expansion joints opening up and water streaming in, flooded shopping malls, ceilings collapsing, roads turning into rivers and roofs being blown from buildings.
These events highlight two main issues — buildings and infrastructure are not designed to consider the likelihood of extreme weather and insurance for your property and possessions.
The water tightness and wind resistance of a building is established when it is designed. The design of a building should take into consideration the climate in which it is constructed and also allow for the extremities to ensure that it is future proof. Buildings tend to have two basic waterproofing mechanisms: below-ground waterproofing that protects the building from water in the ground and aboveground waterproofing that protects the building from the natural elements such as rainfall. In the recent storm we saw the failure of the latter and, in particular, the details at construction joints. These are considered weak spots and are prone to water penetration in extreme conditions, due to the fact that a construction joint is weak.
You will also have seen flooded roads and highways. The main reason for this is the lack of sufficient drainage as design of buildings and infrastructure does not consider heavy rainfall. Villas do not have gutters and downpipes, balconies in high-rise residential towers tend to have small drainage outlets and roads do not have drains for water and as a result the water ponds. As we have seen this can cause streets to effectively become rivers, as some were seen on social media kayaking through the streets.
The extreme wind has caused issues with industrial buildings. Aluminium sheet roofing panels have been stripped from the frame and this can be caused by the fixing being insufficient and an ineffective design allowing strong winds to get a grasp of the panels and tear them off.
It is recommended that an expert is involved at the earliest possible stage in a building's lifecycle to advise on waterproofing details and monitor the construction quality in general. A chartered building surveyor is an expert in diagnosing defective construction and inadequate design in buildings and can recommend suitable solutions and designs for appropriate detailing.
Existing buildings can be inspected for waterproofing defects. The survey is executed in a two-stage approach: first is a desktop review of the construction details establishes weak spots and ensures the details are sufficient to withstand extreme climactic conditions. The second is a visual inspection of the construction to establish any potential issues that may arise from defective construction. Equipment such as a borescope is used to access voids in the building that are not visible to the naked eye. Repair solutions are then proposed to ensure the building withstands the wind and rain next time.
It is important that building owners or tenants understand their insurance responsibilities. Sadly it is all too common in the UAE for building and contents to be underinsured or worse be uninsured. If you live in an apartment block or lease a unit in a tower, the owner's association manager will be responsible for insuring the building structure, but this may not cover your contents. If water damage occurs in your unit and your possessions/equipment are damaged, you would only be covered if you had taken out your own contents insurance. If you own a villa or detached commercial unit, you will most likely be responsible for insuring both the building and its contents.
It is important that your building and its contents are insured for the correct value to be suitably covered in the event of a total loss. An insurance reinstatement valuation of the building can be undertaken to ensure the building is suitably insured. For commercial buildings, a plant and machinery valuations team can value your assets to ensure they are adequately insured and can be replaced like for like in the event of flooding. This adequate insurance will mean that the impact on business continuity can be minimised.
If we have learnt anything from the last few months, it is that buildings in the UAE have to be built to withstand the elements. They need to be constructed with consideration of high temperatures, heavy rainfall, strong winds and the risk of fire, and insurance needs to be adequate to reflect the risk.
Fixing the Damage
The recent storms in the UAE have left some areas flooded and as a consequence many buildings and construction projects have experienced water damage and are now in need of repair. The first action for property owners and developers is to dry the affected areas and ensure that stagnant water is removed to eliminate the risk of infection.
Next is to undertake an investigation into why water entered the building. The effects of the ingress can be traced back to the source, and defects in construction or design can then be identified. A qualified professional should undertake a visual inspection in the first instance and when the source is established, a water test can be executed to verify the source and an appropriate solution can be specified.
Water can also collect if drainage is inadequate. It needs to be sufficient to allow the rainfall to be taken away into the main system and prevent build-up on roads and in flat places. It is recommended that developers assess each area they are responsible for, to check for water run-off and determine what happens in the event of rainfall. If it is found that water could build up to a dangerous level, then the fall needs to be changed or additional drains installed.
If a building is built at the same level or lower than the external ground there is a high risk of water entering the property via the entrance thresholds. This should be addressed by a qualified professional and a remedial measure specified.
In the event of more heavy rainfall in future, property owners and developers should have an emergency plan in place. This would involve making the most valuable items safe, including electrical installations where only a small amount of water could cause catastrophic failure.
Source: Rhys Steel, Special to Property Weekly