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Concrete Cancer In Your Brisbane Home? Action Property Inspections

Concrete Cancer In Brisbane

Cancer…it’s a word that carries with it a bagful of negative connotations, and it’s now been hijacked by the building industry. ‘Concrete cancer’ describes a number of defects in concrete that can occur over time if the conditions are right. It’s a little bit like tooth decay; you have to treat it as soon as it’s discovered or it can lead to an expensive and unsightly problem. In fact, if left untreated for long enough, concrete cancer can result in the complete collapse of a structure and even put lives at risk.

What is concrete cancer?

Concrete cancer is an emotive, umbrella term given to a range of defects in concrete. Those defects have the effect of undermining the strength and stability of the concrete. Concrete cancer affects steel-reinforced concrete structures.

The causes of concrete cancer

More often than not, moisture and air are leading factors in the development of concrete cancer. Moisture attacks the steel reinforcing and causes it to rust. Air reacts on a chemical level with the steel, causing rust (iron oxide). The rusted reinforcing can expand up to seven times its normal diameter inside the concrete. The concrete itself doesn’t have a great deal of flexibility so it accommodates the expansion in the only way it can: by cracking. This allows even more moisture and air to get into the concrete. Eventually, whole pieces of concrete may flake or crumble away. This is known as concrete spalling or concrete scaling.

Concrete in coastal areas is more susceptible to concrete cancer because of the higher salt content in the environment, which also accelerates rusting. It’s also a significant issue in humid climates or areas of high rainfall such as Brisbane.

Moisture can work its way into the concrete in a number of ways. Sometimes there isn’t enough of a margin left between the reinforcement and the edge or the surface of a slab. It can also be caused by poor workmanship or inferior waterproofing materials or techniques. Steel reinforcing materials need to have been properly treated before being incorporated into a slab. Cracking of the concrete also provides an easy pathway for water to get into the concrete and attack the steel reinforcing underneath.

Concrete is comprised of water, cement, sand and aggregate (like gravel, for example). If the mix was wrong to start with, with too much sand, it’ll be susceptible to failure. If the wrong type of sand (eg. beach or river sand) was originally used, over time it can be a recipe for disaster. The composition of the slump (ie. too much or too little water), or overworking the concrete when it is laid can also contribute to the problem.

Eventually, failures like this can take the form of concrete cancer. Unfortunately, it can take many years for concrete cancer to become really obvious, and by then the damage can be extensive.

Problems caused by concrete cancer

Concrete cancer can be a very dangerous defect to have in a building. It is at its most dangerous when the concrete cancer undermines the structural integrity of a critical structural element, such as an elevated balcony or verandah, like those so popular in Brisbane’s ‘Old Queenslanders’ or trendy apartments (click here to learn more). At best, concrete cancer is unsightly. At its worst, concrete cancer can cause a structural collapse. Crumbling concrete can also be a hazard in other ways too, falling and damaging property or even injuring people. It can be a public liability nightmare.

If you’re selling your property, concrete cancer can also adversely affect the value of your home. It’s often discovered and documented when a prospective buyer commissions a property inspection report.

If you are buying a property, concrete cancer can seriously undermine the value of your investment and place your family’s lives at risk.

Repairing concrete cancer

In some instances, you can carry out concrete cancer repairs, but always consult an expert to be sure you know exactly what you’re dealing with. Any crumbled or spalled concrete must first be cleared away so that access can be gained to the steel reinforcing underneath. An assessment must them be made as to whether the steel should be replaced or whether it would be sufficient to treat it with a rust inhibitor or an anti-corrosive. Steps must be then taken to properly waterproof the area before fresh concrete can be laid, especially in Brisbane where high rainfall can be a problem. In other circumstances, different concrete repair techniques may be used.

The symptoms and signs of concrete cancer

Take a quick look around a property and you might stumble across some signs of concrete cancer. The main symptom of concrete cancer is the crumbling or ‘spalling’ of the concrete.

However, concrete cancer can be hidden underneath paint or other building material such as tiles or brickwork. Here are just a few of the symptoms of concrete cancer:

  • Distortion in the tiling or brickwork, and lifting of the tiles or bricks;
  • Cracks in the concrete itself;
  • Cracks in your ceiling or walls;
  • Rust stains in concrete or rendered paintwork.

Concrete cancer can be especially difficult to spot where there’s been a concerted effort to hide or disguise it. The only sure-fire way to distinguish between concrete cancer and something less worrying is to organize a professional inspection. Get the advice of an expert to be sure of an accurate diagnosis. Action Inspections can assess the extent of your problem and give you advice about your concrete repair options so you can plan an appropriate and effective solution.

If you’re concerned that your property might be affected by concrete cancer, call Action Property Inspections today on 1800 642 465.


About Andrew Mackintosh

Andrew Mackintosh has been answering home inspection questions in the greater Brisbane area since 1995. He has personally carried out over 20,000 building inspections and is a licensed builder and licensed building inspector, Member of Queensland Master Builders Association & Institute of Building Consultants. Being the business owner and the inspector, Andrew is passionate about providing clients with excellent customer service, value for money, honest, unbiased, thorough inspection and reporting in a professional and timely manner to allow clients to make informed decisions when purchasing property.

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