Thursday, January 30, 2020

Building Maintenance, Civil Engineers & Real Estate!

“Failure is central to engineering. Every single calculation that an engineer makes is a failure calculation. Successful engineering is all about understanding how things break or fail”... Henry Petroski.

Henry Petroski is an American engineer specializing in failure analysis. A professor both of civil engineering and history at Duke University, he is also a prolific author. There must be hundreds of quotes on engineering but when I have been invited to speak in front of teacher of engineering students by my batch mate friends Vijay Kolhe & Rajesh Aghao, I chose this one & there are two reasons for it. Well, one is its these people who will be making an engineer out of young students & for them to understand failure is important & second is the subject was about repairs & maintenance of the structures, means again failures!  And more importantly I wanted to make them realize how this most untapped subject can actually open many career opportunities as we all hate repairs & maintenance & unlike Structures, Planning or Site Execution the maintenance engineers never get lime light or glamour is also a fact!

Well, lets speak about this aspect of engineering in regards with our real estate as we all know day by day its becoming more customer-centric (at last) & no more you can afford to build a home( flat/row house/ paint-house) with lots of repairs & maintenance to it, leaving an unhappy customer behind! Gone are the days where the builders used to just give possession of the flat & his job is done forever, so the flat holder is supposed to take care of whatever maintenance of that home comes to him or her! With RERA as well MOFA being implemented stringently by the authorities & more than that with lots of options (of homes as well builders) available in market, its only the good product which will survive is a fact which the real estate (read as builders) is understanding, though slowly!And to make a home with lesser maintenance is real challenge in front of engineers & I won’t say maintenance free as just the way we know nothing is water-proof actually we can make a structure water resistant, same way a home which is product made of hundreds of agency’s workmanship, bound to have some maintenance or repairs & all we can do is build it in a way which will need less or minimum maintenance! And then to build a home with less maintenance first one needs to understand maintenance of a home or what kind of repairs it may or will require & here is opportunity for the civil engineers as to become a builder you doesn’t need any technical qualification (rather any educational qualification) but for being a maintenance engineer one has to have a civil engineering degree or education is a fact & here is where  education field (read as industry) as well real estate industry both are lacking is a fact!
And joke is the very same engineers we produce does wonderful work in a country not far away from us i.e. Dubai but when its building something here we mess it up is a fact & that’s why we get so many complaints post possession.Actually there are two types of maintenance in buildings, one is just like automobiles there is a routine maintenance like check up or say servicing. And another is damage generated maintenance which is repairs & I think it’s this second type which needs to be looked after carefully though many a times the damage is outcome of not doing routine maintenance properly or regularly! The missing link in all the maintenance is lack of proper knowledge of engineering or say lack of proper application of the engineering! And when studied in depth I, shortlisted the issue in ten pointers, well there may be many but ten seems a good figure (read as catchy) so restricted to that, lol! 

1 Building a Building with Minimum Maintenance is an Art; Engineering is a Tool to Master that Art… Again a quote or say philosophy which is self derived from my years put on site or say actual construction as well my maintenance engineering tenures outcome. I started my career as maintenance engineer & I was ashamed of telling it as my friends used to tell their post with pride i.e. structural engineer or planning engineer & here I was doing petty repairs of flats like leakages of toilets or choke up of drainage lines! But its these repairs which helped me a lot to understand how to avoid these faults in first place & that’s why I realized building minimum maintenance structure is an art & not just science, all you can do is make use of your engineering knowledge which is a tool!

2 What we see in a land just two hours flight from us & which was barren desert when we got freedom & which don’t have any IIT or Engg College even today... Well, what else than place like Dubai where you get the world’s engineering skills on display as from all over the world architects & engineers come here to build structures which becomes icons of engineering & when you building something like hundred storied tower then you can’t afford repairs & the very same engineers going from our country can make this happen.

3 And what we see here in our country where there are more than 12 IITs’ & over 1000 engg colleges? Well, take any building (indeed there are some good ones) in our Pune city which is more than just ten years old & all you can see is black spots of fungus, leakages, cracks & even the structures like bridges or dams too but let’s focus on buildings. Agreed we have different pattern of weather & we do get heavy rains but then we know it before building, isn’t it? And what about drainage line or plumbing faults, they have nothing to blame on weather but our poor workmanship! 

4 That’s why I have concluded that more than 90% maintenance problems are outcome of Bad Planning & rest 10% are because of Poor Workmanship. Now, many will say how planning can affect maintenance of a building? Good question but only the person who has worked as maintenance engineer can understand or reply this question because take simple example of roof tops or building terraces, most top floor flats are un salable (or difficult to sale) because of fear of leakage through roof, is a fact. This happens because we forget a simple rule, give proper space & arrangement for the rainwater to flow & it won’t bother you by leaking through your roof! And for that right in the planning you have to mention this in drawings as well building construction manual which hardly anybody cares! Simple thing like giving proper slope to the terrace parapet wall tops & inside makes difference. And then we cast slabs of roof to minimum thickness just as it doesn’t have more dead load but this less thickness makes the roof slab heat up more in summer & that’s again a complaint! On top of it we end up breaking water proofing of roof for hundreds of reasons like erecting solar panels to dish antennas  & result is damage to water proofing, all this just because we don’t plan site activities in sequence! See one simple aspect of roof slab & how we mess up the things & there are hundreds of such aspects in building a home!

Key to solve maintenance problems is a good civil engineer with logical mind looking for solutions… well, this is an endangered species as how you define a good civil engineer in first place? Is it his college marks or his ability to complete the task fastest or build something with minimum expenses? By me, a good civil engineer is the one who understands what & why he is building a building! We are building a home where some family is going to stay for nearly fifty or more years & the aim must be they should have minimum disturbance while they are living in this home & what more disturbance there can be than regular repairs of all sorts, may it be plumbing or waterproofing or electric short-circuit & list is endless. So the sign of a good engineer is he understands this outcome expected from the home & builds it accordingly by solving most maintenance issues in advance!

6 Maintenance is in a way a door to Innovation… This is best thing which maintenance can gift you as our country survives on “Jugad” i.e. a popular term for making use of available means to solve the problem! Unless you don’t come across a problem you don’t start working for solution is the way we have been bought up & the more maintenance problems you face & solve the better you became in innovation! For e.g. hair cracks in walls in Pune are most common enemy of the buildings & reasons are multifold such as percentage of clay in sand used for plaster as well masonry & extreme temperature changes in a day, causing thermal cracks. And then the way we build i.e. RCC frame & partition walls combination, forming dissimilar materials joints. Now once you understand the reasons then you can innovate the ways to overcome the restriction & from washing the sand properly to using chemicals to minimize the cracks while plastering is on to use sealant on joints of walls & rcc beams, many things you can try & at least minimize the cracks! This is innovation & ever going process!

7 As I mentioned earlier, with RERA & MOFA in, as with aware home buyers (clients) next future of opportunity in building industry is Minimum Maintenance Homes & Allied Services; point is, are we ready for that?… This is most important aspect as gone are the days where a non technical builder can buy some land, gathers team of few “thekedars” (contractors)  & build something which eventually gets sold & show over as never after possession the builder is showing his face to the residents! No sir, the days are long gone, people (read home buyers) are smart, social media internet (read Geo) is there & then in first place with bad maintenance buildings as your history, you won’t be able to sale the flats. And if you are lucky & sale then the laws & increased level of awareness won’t allow you to get away with a bad workmanship building & no proper maintained or repair service can send you even behind the bars!  Here is where again a good maintenance engineer can be a very good option of career with so many homes still needed to be built!

8 Role of Real Estate Industry in training good maintenance engineers is simple & that is, give respect to the maintenance aspect of the building!Real estate is a service industry now & just the way in any good restaurant its service is the key factor, same way in real estate minimizing repairs & giving effective & timely maintenance service is going to be the key! And for that we need to give training to all of our engineers to handle the maintenance. It ensures two things one is the engineer get to know how problematic his small mistake (read as negligence) can be for the family living in the home he has build & second is it helps you in developing communication skill with the customer, as aspect where most civil engineers lack miserably!

9 At the same time role of Education Institutes in producing good maintenance engineers is equally important & such seminar is outcome of the awareness that education field has taken cognizance of their own lacuna in making civil engineers which understands their job!

10 Lastly, role of Civil Engineer himself or herself in becoming a good maintenance engineer is most vital as apart from education it has great career potential also wit real estate industry accounting for nearly a third of India’s economy just look at the volume of money involved in repairs or even daily routine maintenance of all these buildings! And more than that what you want to become in the end is the question I will ask to every builder or engineer (well, it’s not from education aspect but creation aspect) that when you will visit any building which you been part of construction team, will you like to enter in its premise with head high & pride or with head down & ashamed of looking at it because of its poor maintenance, for which you only are the cause! The answer to this question holds your own future as civil engineer or a builder & if this much your engineering or real estate career hasn’t taught you then no one can repair your career, not even the best of civil engineer, god bless!

Well, you can even watch the presentation at link below & share if feel its worth…

Sanjay Deshpande 
Sanjeevani Dev.

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