Why are Britain’s shopping centres leaking?

Category: Detect & Inspect Property Defects


Water Ingress

It’s a source of confusion and concern for property managers, building surveyors and frustrated tenants across the country; Britain’s shopping centres are leaking – and the short-term ‘stopgap’ solutions are leading to longer-term problems.

Dealing with water ingress has become a regular headache for managers of the UK’s older shopping centres, but most gallingly, finding the source of the leaks is widely accepted as being very difficult because of the way water tracks about within multi-layer surfaces.

Whilst leak trays and other such remedial techniques may work as quick-fix ‘fire fighting’ solutions, it’s the longer-term issues that cause most of the problems – not only in regards to the building’s condition and value, but also in the relationship with its tenants, with many growing weary at the persistent inconvenience and regular threat to the condition of their stock.

Given the difficulty in identifying the source of the leak, most centre managers are also unwilling to call on the services of building surveyors, fully aware that the ‘hit and hope’ approach of traditional surveying practices causes tenants further inconvenience and results in costly, time consuming testing.

So what’s the answer? Technology is key.

What does cause the problem?

While the source of the problems is hard to diagnose, more often than not the logic is very simple.

Most of Britain’s shopping centres are old and have already aged significantly beyond their planned lifespan.

Over the years, the decks that service these centres have carried lorries that are far heavier than what was originally engineered for during construction, causing a gradual erosion of key components. In most scenarios the asphalt surfaces, expansions joint and junctions are failing and this is precisely the reason retail units beneath are experiencing the issues.

Defect detection with infrared thermography

Traditional detection of such defects would involve invasive, costly and time consuming but ultimately speculative testing of the property.

For instance, IRT Surveys was recently called to assess the 24,000m2 roof of a commercial property that was suspected to be the reason for the building’s poor performance. While client’s time and money had been wasted with countless destructive tests of the roof, a thermal image captured by IRT in a matter of seconds instantly showed it to be in perfect working order.

Instead, another image of the property revealed a building up of water in the cladding system and brought to an end a five-year dispute between the tenants, landlord and aforementioned surveyors.

This example perfectly highlights the reason an increasing number of shopping centres are being assessed with thermography. Indeed, it is not uncommon for the highly visual results to reveal that areas that have been continually re-treated do not, in fact, have any issues, while other areas that have not been suspected in the past have been the real source of the problem.

Infrared thermography is revolutionising building surveying by allowing surveyors to carry out more in-depth testing quickly and without any inconvenience to the tenants. The results provide clear, undeniable evidence of the source of the problem and ensure refurbishment programs can be prioritised accordingly.

Electronic Leak Detection

The technology is complemented beautifully by electronic leak detection. While the former is used to identify the extent of issues, the latter focuses on precisely pinpointing where penetrations are located. That means there is nothing left to speculation and surveyors can provide the most accurate refurbishment advice to their clients with visual evidence of problems.

Electric leak detection is carried out with an electrically charged brush with a voltage of up to 40,000 volts and conductive bristles constructed with phosphor bronze. With one end of the brush earthed to building, the surveyor carefully brushes over the surface and is alerted to penetrations by a visible spark and audible tone from the equipment, allowing he/she to mark the exact location of the problem.

Shopping Centre

Take this example of a school’s 6,800m2 roof. While the initial thermal image identified 1,462m2 of damaged insulation, the surveyor was then able to reveal the precise location of 59 penetrations by surveying the entire roof with ELD. Crucially, this was done without any disruption to the building’s operation, meaning there was no need for closure and no safety concerns.

As is often the case with ELD, most defects were repaired at the time of the survey with a second ELD test confirming the success and allowing for an IRT Certificate of Waterproofing Integrity to be issued.

Using the technology for shopping centres

Since 2002, IRT Surveys has used the complementary relationship between infrared thermography and ELD to accurately assess the condition of shopping centres across the world.  If you are interested in more information then please do not hesitate to contact us.