Repairs, Maintenance and Renovations
Are Your Garage Ramps Ready For Winter?
From the Summer 2023 issue of CCI Toronto Condovoice Magazine.
It's Time To Review If Your Garage Ramps Are Ready For Winter
Spring has sprung and now it’s summer! Flowers are blooming, birds are chirping, and the maple syrup is flowing. The last thing on anyone’s mind is next winter, but with the limited construction season in Canada, now is the best time to review if your garage ramps are winter ready.
In many condominiums, the garage entrance ramp is the first common element residents and guests will see when arriving at the property. Similarly, the exit ramp is the last common element residents and guests will see when departing. A well-maintained, safe and clean parking facility will create a positive first impression of your condominium.
Garage slabs are typically conventionally reinforced (i.e., with rebar). Different toppings/coatings may be applied over top to protect the concrete slabs. A ramp waterproofing system plays an important role in extending the service life of the structure and avoiding premature repairs. If your ramp is a suspended slab, it should be water-proofed for protection, otherwise chlorides (i.e., salts) in the water tracked onto the ramps can cause structural deterioration.
Routine Maintenance of Ramps
Garage entry and exit ramps provide vehicular access into and out of a parking garage and it is essential that they be maintained in serviceable condition to avoid extended garage closures. Property Management should develop regular maintenance procedures for their parking garages, including ramps. These should include:
Regular Visual Reviews: A regular garage walk-through is the best way to ensure small items are caught before they become larger and more expensive problems. These reviews should include the ramps and exit stairwells. Don’t fall trap to the “out of sight, out of mind” philosophy.
Due to typically low headroom below ramps, sometimes these spaces are made into make-shift storage and equipment rooms for building staff. Generally locked off to general resident access, these rooms are not commonly entered and may not be seen during a general garage walk-through. It is important to check these service rooms during your routine inspections, so you have seen the full underside of the ramp.
Loose concrete? Notify Consultant and Remove: When the rebar in a slab rusts, it can spall off sections of concrete. If loose concrete is observed at the underside of the ramp, it should be carefully removed to prevent damage to vehicles or personal injury. You should also notify a qualified consultant to evaluate the structural risk and consider repairing.
Leakage? Avoid injection sealing at slabs: Injection sealing is a great way to deal with leakage at foundation walls, but it should never be used on the underside of slab exposed to de-icing salts. Injection can cause water to become trapped in the concrete – accelerating concrete deterioration. Always repair the waterproofing from above.
If your ramp does not have a snow melting system, a contractor can simply repair any observed leaks. If your ramp is heated with an embedded snow melt system, repairs can be difficult without damaging/ cutting the heating cables. In this case, further review by a qualified consultant may be required.
Spring Cleaning: At least once a year, preferably in the spring, a thorough power wash of the entire garage including the entrance and exit ramps should be performed. This allows for the removal of crystallized salts which can accelerate corrosion induced concrete deterioration.
Review the Trench Drain: Ramps commonly have long trench drains at the bottom. It is important to clean the trench bases regularly (at least twice a year) and before each winter to remove debris such as garbage, leaf litter, soil, etc., which can block the drain inside of the trench from functioning. If there is heat-tracing in the drain, then its operation should be checked. If leakage is noted below the trench drain, re waterproofing may be needed. Noise complaints related to loose grates in the trench drain can also be a problem requiring new fasteners to hold the grates in place.
Test Snow Melt System Before Its Needed: Operation of the snow-melting system should be checked well before the snow flies. Depending on the system, this may need to be done by a qualified electrician (for an electric system) or other ramp specialist technician (glycol systems).
The technician can also check the positioning and operation of the embedded and aerial snow sensors which control the activation of the ramp heating based on weather conditions.
Site personnel should be trained so they can properly turn off the snow-melting system for the summer months. They can also be trained to manually override the system when large snowstorms are expected. The ramp surface requires time to warm up, and so turning on your system preemptively will increase effectiveness upon snowfall.
Hire qualified consultants to conduct a detailed condition assessment: In addition to your own regular visual reviews, about every five or ten years, a detailed assessment from a qualified consultant is advisable to assess the overall condition of the garage (including the ramp) and develop repair/ renewal strategies with recommended timing. This garage condition survey can be provided to the person conducting your reserve fund study and will allow the board to consider various repair options, with the selected approach reflected in the reserve fund study.
Major Repair of Ramps
Garage slabs can be suspended or on grade, straight or curved, one-way or two-way. These are all important factors that impact the cost and duration of ramp repairs. Here are a few important considerations if undertaking a ramp repair/ replacement project:
Topping Selection: Topping materials are essential when completing a ramp restoration. Garage entry ramp toppings include concrete, mastic, asphalt, and paver stones. Most condominiums elect to go back with the same topping when completing garage ramp topping replacements but in some cases a change may be desired. This may trigger a need to confirm the structural capacity of the slab. Different toppings can also impact energy usage. Toppings that are a different thickness can also cause transition problems to adjacent surfaces.
Drainage Cants: Cants/curbs can be added at the sides of ramps to promote water drainage away from the ramp walls, as these joints are prone to leakage.
Trench Drain Heating: If the ramp has snow-melting capabilities, there should also be heating cables installed in the trench drain. Otherwise, the warm water may drain down the ramp and freeze within the trench drain, blocking the drain.
Power Output: Running electric heating cables at their maximum output level will reduce their service life. A system with insufficient capacity will take longer to melt snow and may not always keep up during heavy storms. It is important to engineer the system to have adequate capacity.
Phasing and Coordination: Traffic flow during ramp repairs requires careful planning. In some cases, it is possible to complete a ramp repair project in two phases, maintaining one half for vehicular traffic while the other is replaced. This requires the ramp to have sufficient width, and even then will require traffic control measures and may result in some scratches and dents. In the best cases, there may be two separate garage ramps (typically one entrance and the other exit) at the property. In this case one ramp can be closed for repairs while the other is left open for two way vehicular access. The third scenario is where only one ramp exists at the garage and is too narrow or has insufficient turning radius at the entrance to repair half at a time. In this case, access to the garage will be cut off during the repairs. This involves coordinating alternate parking and then using fast-curing materials to minimize the duration of the shut-down.
The cost of ramp repairs typically drops significantly if completed as part of a larger garage repair, so it is best to coordinate the ramp work as part of a full garage repair program. The engineer completing your garage evaluation and your reserve fund study can help coordinate these programs to minimize repair costs.
Patrick Cutten P.Eng. Synergy Partners Consulting Ltd.
Maciej Lysiak-Janiek B. Eng. Synergy Partners Consulting Ltd.
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