Waterproofing of building to prevent the ingress of water is an activity, which, perhaps is practiced in one form or the other, ever since the first building was built on earth. The methodology has been changing with the changes in the architectural designs and with the availability different building materials in construction.
In the initial stages when stone was the main building construction material placed in position with mud or lime mortar the emphasis used to be to make the construction in such a way that the rainwater does not collect on the roofs. Hence old architecture relied mainly on dome structures or slanting roofs. The slow speed of such construction and unaffordability of common man to build such structures for their own dwelling, made constant evolution and development in the construction material technology.
With these developments the concepts of waterproofing also changed. Now in present day construction wherein the ordinary portland cement and its blends with puzzolonic and slag materials has come to stay a lot of compatible alternatives are available for a builder to choose from various waterproofing systems. Some systems are old and conventional but still practiced successfully and some are modern systems designed taking the material and structural behaviour into consideration.
There are some compounds, which are used in plastic concrete to make it less permeable to water. These compounds are known as integral waterproofing compounds. They are based on plasticising and air-entrainment or water repellence principles. These are used as a good waterproofing precautions when other factors such as good mix-design, proper mixing/placing, compacting/curing etc are taken care of. This subject of integral waterproofing compounds requires in depth discussion hence will not be taken up here. Similarly there are some water proofing techniques for vertical surfaces. These techniques are also used for preserving heritage buildings by stopping/minimising the aging process of these buildings.
For solving water seepage problems, customers use both conventional as well as modern waterproofing techniques.
Some of the old and conventional waterproofing systems are as follows:
- Brick bat coba system or lime terracing
- Bituminous treatment
- Metallic sheet wrapping
- Polyurethane based waterproofing treatment
- Epoxy based waterproofing treatment
- Box-type waterproofing system
Brick bat coba system
This system was developed during the initial stages of flat roof construction with lime mortar burnt clay brick pieces. This system involved laying lightweight mortar on the roof and spreading it to give gentle slopes for draining away the rainwater immediately. The mortar consisted of lightweight brick pieces as aggregates and ground brick with lime as binding matrix.
During British rule this system became more popular not because of its waterproofing efficiency but because of its efficiency in keeping the interiors cool. Some applicators developed better skills in laying these systems, with neatly finished top with lines engraved on top of plastic mortar now known as IPS. Some practiced embedding broken tile or ceramic pieces in the plastic mortar and called it china mosaic.
This type of system remained most popular with multi-storeyed construction in all major cities. The system lasts up to 15 years if done by skilful applicators. This system may be considered more from its weather proofing abilities rather than its waterproofing qualities. Once water starts entering into the brickbat coba the brick pieces absorb too much of water and the roof becomes an invisible pond of water continuously causing leakage and increasing burden on the roof slab. It will be highly beneficial if brick-bat coba is laid on a flexible waterproofing membrane as water proofing as well as economical weather proofing can be achieved with this system.
Discovery of petroleum and its products and by-products has given the construction industry an indispensable product in the form of bitumen. Bitumen is more commonly used in the form of felt or flexible membrane formed by sandwiching jute fabric or fibreglass/polypropylene mats with chemically modified bitumen. These membranes are laid on the roofing over a bitumen primer. There are two types of membranes one is cold applied and the other hot applied which means one needs to heat the edges of the felt with a torch so that they melt and stick to the second layer in the overlap area.
On the RCC flat roofs the bitumen felts have not been successful because of the unacceptable black appearance and inaccessibility of the terrace for other social uses. Technically it is not preferred because bitumen layer or felt on the terrace not only makes it watertight but also airtight. Concrete has the breathing property. It takes water/moisture and breathes out water vapour. Hindrance of this breathing property of concrete develops pore pressure, which causes blisters in the felt.
After a few seasons the blisters multiply and eventually delaminate the felt from the concrete surface. Hindrance of breathing property of concrete makes the concrete weak. But on the asbestos cement sheets and zinc sheets in factory roofs, this bitumen felt is the only dependable waterproofing system. Hence all factory roofs in India adopt this water proofing system.
Bitumen is very effective in waterproofing of basements from outside. Bitumen primers have very successfully been used as damp-proof course in earlier days. This practice is slowly discontinued for whatever reasons now very few engineers now believe that this was in practice once. As consequence of this absent DPC we have a lot of cases of rising dampness, which we tend to attribute to wrong reasons such as the quality or salinity of sand etc. Bitumen still is the product of first choice where it is commonly recommended, in areas such as industrial roof waterproofing, basement waterproofing, and damp-proof course. More over bitumen is the most economical product available for waterproofing.
Metallic sheet wrapping
Because of the non-existence of suitable expansion joint filling compounds before the discovery of poly-sulphides, a complex procedure used to be adopted to treat expansion joints, in concrete dams and such huge structures utilising thick copper sheets. An extension of this practice was to try thin foils of copper and aluminium for wrapping the concrete surfaces with nagging leakage problems.
Unavailability of common joining material for these metal foils and the concrete and mortar created weakness in the system at the joints. This discouraged the system in its infancy only. But there after the metal manufacturers have been trying to market this type of waterproofing system with improved adhesives as and when the metal market slumped.
Polyurethane based waterproofing treatment
Polyurethane consists of two liquid components one is called the base component and the other is called reactor or curing agent. Base is a polyol and the reactor is an isocyanide such as TDI or MDI. There are various grades of polyols and so also there are numerous isocyanides. The combination of these two ingredients results in a formation liquid applied rigid membrane or a foam depending upon the selection.
In waterproofing, this rigid liquid membrane was tried with fibreglass reinforcing mats. The systems failed because coefficients of thermal expansion of concrete and rigid PU membrane being different lateral movement or creep occurred with the passage on one working climatic cycle. When exposed to ultra violet rays or direct sunlight most polyurethane rigid membranes became brittle and crumbled.
Apart from this the application of polyurethane coating needed very rigorous surface preparation. The surface needed to be neutralised by removing alkalinity from the concrete surface through acid itching then washing and blowtorching to make the surface bone dry. This kind of surface preparation with acids angered the civil engineering community and the product ceased to be used as waterproofing material apart from its several failures. Never the less continuous research in the polyurethane technology gave the construction industry excellent sealant for glazing industry and foams for thermal insulations. The new generation polyurethanes, which are alkali stable and water-based, may find better applications in waterproofing industry.
Epoxy based waterproofing system
Like polyurethane is also a two-component system having a base resin and a reactor or curing agent. Base resin is obtained by dissolving bis-phenol A flakes in epichlorohydrin. This base is available in various viscosity ranges to suit different application conditions. The curing agent is an amine/polyamine aliphatic or aromatic, or an amine-adduct for general applications and polyamide or an amino-amide for coating purposes. After mixing base and reactor components the resultant viscous liquid or paste if some fillers are added to it can be brush applied like a paint or trowel applied like a mortar.
Here also epoxies not withstanding the alkalinity of concrete and the concrete needs to be acid washed and neutralised, which the civil engineers hated. Here again the coefficient of thermal expansion of concrete and epoxy being different the compatibility of epoxy in waterproofing exposed concrete surfaces such as roofs became limited. Later the use of epoxy in waterproofing was discarded. But epoxies have come to stay in civil engineering industry as bonding agents, floor & wall coatings, coatings for food processing units, operation theatres and computer and pharmaceutical industries.
Box type waterproofing
This type of water proofing system is used only for basement waterproofing or waterproofing structures below the ground level from outside to prevent leakages of subsoil water into the basement.
In this method, limestone slabs (Shahabad Stones) are first laid in the excavated pit over blinding concrete in a staggered joint fashion to avoid the continuity of the mortar joints. The joints are effectively filled with rich mortar admixed with integral waterproofing compound and cured. Over this the raft is laid and shear/brick walls constructed. The limestone slabs are erected around the walls in a similar fashion leaving a gap of one to two inches between the external surface of the wall and the inner face of the stone surface. The joints again effectively sealed with rich admixed mortar and the same mortar is filled in the gap between the wall and the stones. This stonework is continued up to ground level. In this system the raft and the sidewalls are protected from direct exposure to sub soil water.
This system works on two principles of common sense. First, the area exposed to subsoil water is only the area of the joint where as the whole stone is impervious to water, hence only a fraction of area, that is, that of the joint is exposed to subsoil water, when the joint itself is filled with rich and quality mortar. Second, the path of water to reach the raft or the sidewall is elongated. This elongated path is through quality mortar. This system seeks to delay the occurrence of leakages in the basements. A lot of building structures are waterproofed by this system. A few notable successes are to its credit especially in five star hotels and of-course there are a few failures as well.