Waterproofing Apartments Without Going Overboard

In blocks of flats, the transformation of personal spaces through alterations is a common endeavour aimed at enhancing comfort, aesthetics and functionality. However, such modifications, especially in creating or refurbishing ‘wet’ areas like bathrooms, shower rooms, kitchens and utility rooms, come with their share of challenges and responsibilities. 

Among these, the imperative of incorporating effective waterproofing measures stands paramount, often underestimated in its crucial role in safeguarding the integrity of not just the altered apartment, but also those surrounding it within the block.

Wet above dry

Waterproofing in apartment alterations, particularly when introducing new ‘wet’ areas directly above ‘dry’ spaces in the flat below, is not merely a recommendation but a necessity. The concern here is not unfounded; leakage from these wet areas can lead to extensive water damage, affecting multiple flats. Imagine the havoc wreaked by water seeping through ceilings, ruining flooring, and introducing pervasive dampness that could take months to mitigate, even with several dehumidifiers. This scenario is not just a nightmare for the affected residents but a potential legal and financial quagmire for the leaseholder responsible for the alterations.

Lease check

Before embarking on any such alterations, it’s crucial to consult the lease of the property, which defines the permissible modifications within an apartment. Ignoring the lease can lead to undertaking alterations that contravene the agreement between leaseholder and landlord, potentially resulting in significant repercussions, including the nullification of insurance claims.

Consequences of water damage

This brings us to another grave consequence of inadequate waterproofing: the impact on building insurance premiums and uninsured excesses. Water damage, especially when it affects multiple units, can lead to a steep increase in insurance costs. Moreover, the discovery that an insurance claim is invalid due to non-compliance with policy conditions, such as an onerous unoccupancy clause (check your policy wording!), can leave the leaseholder (who has undertaken the works) financially liable for the damage. This scenario could culminate in legal battles, particularly when attempting to hold the responsible apartment owner accountable for the water escape.

When to waterproof – and how

The most opportune moment to integrate waterproofing measures is during the construction of the block – and the next best moment is during significant renovations.

In kitchens and bathrooms, the necessity of waterproofing cannot be overstated. Among the prevalent waterproofing methods are the use of polyethylene membranes beneath floor or wall tiles, and brush-on liquid systems. These solutions aim to create an impervious barrier against water, with particular emphasis on sealing joints, especially where walls meet floors, to prevent any potential leakage paths.

It’s essential to acknowledge, however, that no waterproofing method can offer absolute protection against severe volumes of water, which can breach spaces via door thresholds. Despite this, the integration of sophisticated leak detection systems can serve as an early warning mechanism, minimising damage by alerting residents to leaks soon after they begin. Although ideally installed during construction, retrofitting these systems in existing buildings remains a viable and effective measure, and there are signs that insurance underwriters are more likely to offer acceptable premium and excess terms where such a leak detection system is fitted, to all apartments.

The inclusion of waterproofing in apartment renovations certainly adds to the overall cost. Yet, the financial burden of retrofitting waterproofing measures pales in comparison to tortuous insurance claims, other expenses and legal complications arising from water damage. This forward-thinking approach not only ensures the structural integrity and longevity of the property but also fosters a sense of security and peace of mind among residents.

Seek out the licence to alter experts

Waterproofing in apartment alterations is not just a technical requirement but a critical investment in the property’s future, the well-being of its inhabitants, and the harmony within the apartment community. As such, it demands careful consideration, planning, and execution. The starting point is the licence to alter ‘manual’ for the building, which determines that any ‘wet’ area alterations must include a minimum standard of waterproofing and an agreed application.

By prioritising waterproofing measures, apartment owners and their design teams can mitigate risks, avoid costly repercussions, and ensure that their homes remain safe, dry, and comfortable sanctuaries for years to come.

For guidance on waterproofing systems, licence to alter manuals or any licence to alter application, please feel to contact me.

Bill Pryke, Director, EK Licence to Alter



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