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Weather may be one of several factors behind ‘popping’ tiles, say experts

SINGAPORE — Poor workmanship, tiles laid too closely to one another, low-quality adhesives and the cool, wet weather could be reasons behind the dislodgement of floor tiles in Housing and Development Board (HDB) flats from Bukit Panjang to Punggol in recent days.

Weather may be one of several factors behind ‘popping’ tiles, say experts

Woodlands Drive 75 resident Muhammad Hafiz Abdul Wahid, 35, heard a “cracking sound” when his family was having lunch in the living room. Photos: Muhammad Hafiz Abdul Wahid

SINGAPORE — Poor workmanship, tiles laid too closely to one another, low-quality adhesives and the cool, wet weather could be reasons behind the dislodgement of floor tiles in Housing and Development Board (HDB) flats from Bukit Panjang to Punggol in recent days.

Tile-popping incidents are fairly common, said renovation contractors and a civil engineer, who were not surprised by multiple reports of cracked tiles in estates including Jurong West and Woodlands.

It would be difficult to single out the colder weather – which dipped below 22°C in the past week – as the only cause of the tiles popping, said Mr Andy Lim, managing director of tiles supplier GF+A Global.

“The tiles used here are also used in countries with temperate climate. It’s a combination of factors including poor workmanship,” said Mr Lim.

The tiles could have been placed too closely together, leading to insufficient space to accommodate the movement of buildings and the expansion and contraction of the floor components, experts said.

Tiles should be spaced at least two millimetres apart but some home owners may prefer them to be closer together to reduce the hassle of cleaning the grout in between, said Mr Lim, who added that poor-quality adhesives could be another factor.

Civil engineer David Ng said it is “not the first time such an incident has taken place in the local climate and environment”. Tiles may pop when the concrete surface and cement mortar beneath them shrink. “For example, if you try to compress a stack of playing cards horizontally, the top-most card will bend and fly out,” said Mr Ng, a member of The Institution of Engineers, Singapore.

“Persistent rain could cause leakage problems…and cause cavities to form in the tiles,” added Nan Guan Construction managing director Akbar Kader.

Woodlands Drive 75 resident Muhammad Hafiz Abdul Wahid, 35, heard a “cracking sound” at about 1pm on Sunday (Jan 14) when his family was having lunch in the living room.

“It became louder and louder, then suddenly the tiles came out…I told my family to run to the kitchen,” said the civil servant, who has four children and has lived in Block 689F for a decade.

An HDB officer went to his home on Monday (Jan 15) evening to check the tiles and took some photos, and Mr Muhd Hafiz said he would be informed by Wednesday if he is “eligible for the full repairs”.

The HDB said in a Facebook post on Monday that it is aware of the incidents and advised affected residents to move the dislodged tiles to a safe area and cover the affected spots with cardboard for safety.

According to Mr Lim, tiles on the entire floor should be replaced instead of only the affected area, to avoid “compatibility issues” that could cause future tile-popping incidents.

The HDB said homeowners who need advice on repair work may call its branch hotline at 1800 225 5432 on weekdays from 8am to 5pm, or the essential maintenance services units (contact details on the lifts of HDB blocks). HDB officers will make an appointment to visit the flats and provide a list of contractors able to carry out the repair work.

Last year, Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong had said in response to Member of Parliament Liang Eng Hwa’s question that HDB received about 2,000 cases of dislodged floor tiles per year in the past two years.

Reasons could include differential thermal expansion and contraction of tiles, or the natural deterioration of the bond between the tiles and the screed surface.

While flat owners are responsible for the maintenance of their flats, Mr Wong said HDB’s practice has been to help flat owners repair dislodged tiles originally provided by the HDB during the one-year Defect Liability Period. It also offers goodwill repairs for dislodged tiles for up to 15 years.

For flats that are older than that, the HDB will help carry out inspections and remove and dispose of the affected tiles. It will provide owners with a list of registered repair contractors they can engage on a private basis.

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