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Ageing structures: Old buildings need new solutions

Ageing structures: Old buildings need new solutions

The recent collapse of a part of a building in Connaught Place has once again highlighted that day-to-day maintenance becomes necessary as a building gets older.

 building, building collapse, maintenance, preservation of buildings, infrastructure, Connaught Place building collapse, Indian building, india news, indian express
Illustration by C R Sasikumar

As Indian cities grow older, the passage of time takes its toll on the infrastructure including its buildings. Over time, buildings start showing signs of deterioration and need constant repair. While proper maintenance can prolong the life of buildings, negligence often leads to causalities. Timely detection of deterioration and preservation of buildings can go a long way in making our urban landscape more habitable and safer.

The initial years of a building are the best years as very little maintenance is needed. However, over a period of time, deterioration slowly sets in. Therefore, while technical intervention is needed before, for designing and constructing a building, technical intervention is also needed after, for maintaining a building during its life cycle.

Day-to-day maintenance

This is the most crucial area of maintenance. In the absence of daily cleaning of floors, they tend to accumulate dirt which leads to bad odour and unhygienic conditions. Over a period of time, cleaning stubborn stains becomes difficult. Also, regular dusting and cleaning of cobwebs is needed to keep the indoor air free from particulate matter. This has a major impact on the health of the occupants. Day-to-day maintenance using appropriate chemicals for cleaning sanitary ware in toilets is also necessary to maintain proper hygiene.


Internal walls need periodic upkeep in terms of painting at regular intervals. Paint acts as a protective cover on the plaster. Paint is more crucial on exterior walls as they are constantly exposed to the natural elements like heat, cold and rain. Often one may find small cracks on walls which could lead to chipping of plaster over a period of time. One needs to regularly take care of these by appropriate filler materials and surface preparation before applying the final coat of exterior paint. A good quality weather-resistant paint goes a long way in extending the life of a building. Sometimes, there could be patches of seepage, particularly around areas where there are pipes. This, coupled with growth of vegetation could lead to a lot of damage. If not attended to immediately, the damage could spread further and create more harm. Regular inspections and repairs where needed are necessary.

Wood work


Doors and windows are the openings in a building that allow for movement, air circulation, light and ventilation. The use of glass has increased exponentially in recent years. Glass window panes need regular cleaning. Doors and windows, if made of timber, need regular painting/polishing so that the timber does not get damaged. Timber is also prone to attacks by termites which can cause damage. Wooden cupboards and wardrobes are also susceptible to termite attacks. Termite and pest control treatment at regular intervals is very necessary under such conditions.

Electrical wiring and outlets

Electric wiring and outlets are one of the most important areas where maintenance is very important as it is related to fire accidents which could be dangerous and fatal. Periodic checking for loose and hanging wires, sparking, etc. needs to be carried out. At times, with increase in the number of appliances, the load needs to be increased so that there is no strain on the system. Further, change in control boxes and wiring may also be warranted to ensure smooth and safe electrical functioning.

Roofs and waterproofing

Roofs need regular maintenance, particularly before the rainy season. Damaged roofs during rainy season could lead to leakage and weakening of the roof structure. It could also lead to corrosion of the steel bars in the roof. Blockage of drain pipes/rain water pipes and leaking overhead tanks are also potential areas for the structure to get weakened.

Coastal areas

Buildings in coastal areas are often subjected to higher corrosion due to high humidity and higher salinity of water. Exterior building cracks, plaster damage, rain seepage, corrosion of bars and grills, etc. are more dangerous in buildings located in coastal areas. Such buildings are invariably also subjected to heavy rainfall
due to coastal cyclones.

Maintenance-free products

Nowadays, many conventional materials and products which are high on maintenance are being replaced by modern materials which are low on maintenance, easy to install and have better durability. It is better to replace conventional products in the building with such materials so that the life of the building is enhanced. Often, old flooring is replaced by new tiles, timber windows are replaced by UPVC (unplasticised polyvinyl chloride) windows, old wiring and switches are replaced with modern technology, etc.

Electro mechanical devices

In the case of large public buildings and residential complexes, there are additional factors such as lifts, elevators, vehicular parking, security, closed-circuit television (CCTV) camera and so on, which require specialised and periodic management. Fire safety is another highly specialised area which has several mandatory provisions which need to be taken care of at regular intervals.


Building maintenance also includes the maintenance of the surrounding grounds in terms of landscaping of the area. The aesthetics of a building are enhanced by the lan scaping around the building. This requires specialised care and attention on a day-to-day basis.

Water and waste management

Drinking water, waste water, building refuse, sewage, water harvesting, recycling, etc. are all specialised works in a building complex which require regular maintenance.

Building inspections and cycles of maintenance

Building maintenance requires trained professionals both at the worker level as well as at the supervisory level. Buildings have cycles of maintenance and these can be daily, weekly, monthly, seasonal, annual, emergency and so on. Professional building maintenance companies have now started making their presence felt in our country. Large building complexes have many mechanical, electrical and specialised components which need trained and skilled persons to carry out the maintenance. With buildings becoming more and more complex, it is not possible to do maintenance with the traditional maali, bijli and naali wala.

Deterioration of old buildings and safety concerns

Indian cities have many buildings which are quite old. These are buildings which could potentially be unsafe for habitation and require urgent repairs. When buildings fall in disrepair for a long time, they tend to deteriorate faster and become dangerous. Any collapse could lead to injuries and even be fatal to life. The frequent collapse of chawls in Mumbai is a classic example of building neglect. In almost all Indian cities, the old areas usually have derelict buildings. While the erstwhile Bombay had a Repair and Reconstruction Board to prop up select di lapidated buildings, other cities do not have any institutional mechanisms to support such repairs. The recent collapse of a part of a building in Connaught Place has once again brought this issue into focus. The situation becomes more complex when ageing buildings are in the heritage category where maintenance requires more sensitive attention.


While private owners of aged buildings may either get their buildings repaired or pull them down to redevelop, public buildings have a hard time putting comprehensive maintenance in place. The need of the hour is therefore for public building complexes to migrate to newer technologies, maintenance-free materials and systems and to engage professionals in periodic estate and facility management so that the buildings are safer.