If you noticed that the ceiling paint inside your bathroom(s) is peeling, don't assume that it is due to Singapore's humid weather (or the humidity in your bathroom). That is because, most paints are resistant to humid condition and will not peel due to exterior condition.
A most likely reason for the peel is due to a leak that resulted in wet ceiling that caused the paint to deteriorate and peel.
Now, how can a ceiling be leaky? As I got to find out, bathroom in HDB is layered by water-proof membrane (it is just paint-able waterproof polymer that will solidify and function as a water-proof layer). This waterproof layer act to direct excess water to a sink (or drain), while preventing water leak to the lower unit. See the figure for explanation. Due to wear and tear, the water-proof membrane need to be replaced.
Fig. 2 dimension representation of bathroom floor layers. The uppermost is the tiling, the layer immediately down to the tile is the concrete/screed (for support?), the dark gray colored layer is the water-proof membrane. The bottom-most layer is the strong scaffold/concrete supporting the bathroom unit. The blue arrows are the water-flowing to the sink/drain whereas the red arrow shows a leak when the membrane is worn out.
I was surprised (if not shocked) to know that the water-proof membrane can only last 10 to 20 years. That is a short time as compared to a 99 years leasehold for HDB home. It means that we will have to repair our bathrooms at least 5 times throughout the lease. Well, that's not actually a bad news, considering that some of us (not me yet) tend to renovate our home after some time. Having said that, please remember to ask the contractor to repair the waterproof membrane too the next time you decide to renovate your house (especially bathrooms). This is to prevent unpredictable leaking to the lower unit that will cause a revamp/redo of your newly renovated bathroom! A competent interior designer (ID) will be able to advise homeowner about this (to save future cost and headache).
Fortunately, any bathroom leak in HDB unit will be "subsidized" by HDB in their Goodwill Repair Assistance (GRA) scheme, in which HDB will co-pay 50% of the repair cost and the the remainder is shared by both vertical neighbours at 25% each. For more information, refer to HDB website pertaining to "repair of ceiling leaks".
All the following took 2-3 months time (and it depends on the speed of home owners to response to HDB because HDB is powerless to "compel" owners, and so being responsible neighbour is important):
Once you report a leak, an officer will come to your home and inspect the leak. Once the leak is confirmed to be due to ceiling leak, they will send request for GRA scheme and repair. You will receive a letter confirming that HDB will co-pay the repair and an HDB contractor/surveyor will visit to assess the bathrooms and write prescription about the repair work and they will show you the type of tiles, toilet bowl and explain the procedures. When we agreed to the repair, the surveyor will arrange a convenient time for the repair work.
For the repair, the first day will be very noisy and dusty. The contractor will provide a protective sheet for you to cover your bed (up to king size about 6.1 inch in width). You might need to prepare more protective sheets for your other items on the master bedroom (if that's the case). The first day will likely fall on a weekday, and ideally on a Friday (so that you will only need to take one day off work). Your bathroom will be demolished along with your favourite toilet bowl (you can't salvage it UNFORTUNATELY!). Any fixture at the bottom will be removed. However, anything that can be salvaged will be removed with care (that's how good the HDB contractor is; at least what I experience that day).
On the second day (ideally on Saturday), there will be two visits per day. The first visit is to paint the water-proof material (black in colour) to the slab of concrete layered on the first day. When the water-proof layer is dry, the next visit on that day would be to layer the subsequent void with concrete (or screed). That will be left to dry for two days (because Sunday is off day).
On the third day (or rather fourth day because it fell on a Monday), your chosen tile will be laid. Now, if you don't prefer to have the 20 x 20 cm tiles (and would prefer a larger 30 x 30 cm tiles or larger still), you will need to source it elsewhere. A minimal fee of SGD 80 will be charged for the tile work (if they are not from HDB specification). I don't understand why HDB is not providing a minimal 30 x 30 tiles (because that will ease the contractor's work during laying down the tiles (rather than having to repeat many times for the smaller dimension tiles). Furthermore, the price difference is not a lot for these tiles (see different types of tiles in Singapore). For those owners with concealed piping for sink or other fixture, you will not be able to conceal it once HDB contractor finish their work. If you insist on having them concealed especially those "ugly" piping, you can arrange with the contractor (but with added cost). That is because HDB only allowed basic repair work that fix the problem while preserving the function of your bathroom, rather than to "beautify" your room. HDB contractor can advise you about added work but they normally will not "hard-sell" you of their added services (due to HDB regulation I guess, which is good because you are assured to get the best of what HDB expect, while better than best would require your own insistence).
The work comes with a warranty (10 years).
A letter to therealsingapore highlighted a ceiling leak of a 20 years old building, the title was "HDB not taking responsibility for building defects" (19 May 2014). The complainant was unaware that waterproof membrane is not forever, and HDB does help owners to subsidies the repair work. Any warranty for the waterproof membrane on the new HDB unit is for 10 years and it is owners' responsibility to repair the leak thereafter (but co-paid by HDB on Goodwill scheme). The complainant was unaware of his role and blamed HDB for defect without approaching HDB for help and clarification.
Here are several responses from readers (of therealsingapore):
Khor Wee Siong · Top Commenter
"This accusation is based on assumptions which may not be accurate - namely - that the building work was defective and that the leak was caused by defective materials and/or workmanship. The normal warranty for waterproofing is only 10 years. So, if the slab remained watertight for over 10 years, it has already performed beyond the warranted period. This leak is thus fair wear and tear. The cost of repair should thus fall upon the owners, not the HDB."
Tempest Abraham · Top Commenter
"Seriously dude, your ceiling has started to leak after close to 20 years. Poor initial workmanship or not, likewise premium quality construction materials or otherwise, it is not unreasonable for them to start failing now. How often do you get life time warranties?"
Do I like my bathroom now?
Well, I preferred my previous bathroom because it was sleek and beautiful BUT I don't dislike the current fixed bathroom because the work was surely not done shoddily. The officer-in-charge, the surveyor, and down to the contractors and workers were friendly, helpful and professional. Based on all these, I would give 4 out of 5 stars, with one star left out to encourage continued effort to improve.
My hope is that the waterproof membrane will last for 10 years plus plus.
Just a thought.
- HDB ISN'T DOING ANYTHING ABOUT THE LEAKING PIPES IN MY CEILING (TRS, 2 Jan 2014) - I guess it's really difficult to expedite some repair, especially severe leakage that causes drips (if not pour), and it is important to spot the fault early so that immediate action can be taken. Fortunately, the above neighbour cooperated (as according to the contributor). We need to understand that HDB is powerless to compel people to act according to being neighbourliness and responsible because there is no law for HDB to act upon to compel owners to cooperate. It all boils down to being responsible neighbours. For example, in my case, when HDB informed me that my unit was leaking water to my neighbour at lower level, I immediately followed HDB recommendations to repair the leak. It was all done in less than 2 months time. As for my upper level neightbour unit that is causing my ceiling leak, it was difficult for HDB to contact them for several weeks but when HDB did, this neighbour followed the recommendation to fix the bathroom and the expected repair took about 3-4 months time. Considering that repairing leak (plus the paper works) takes longer time, it's always good to spot the fault before it gets bigger. However, there is also a hotline to call HDB in case of emergencies, e.g. ceiling pouring down water overnight instead of drips (e.g. 1800-225-5432 from 8.00am to 5.00pm on Weekdays). I guess we should hope that there is no emergency on weekends... All in all, we should understand that HDB is not superman (who can fix any problems immediately), the importance of being good and responsible neighbours, authorities act within bound of law (and not "common sense"), e.g. HDB don't hand-cuff people because they failed to cooperate.