Snow, Salt and Structures. The lowdown.

While there’s a decreasing trend in urban environments and car ownership, there are still a fair amount of us that rely on cars on a daily basis. For condo dwellers, in addition to the standard responsibilities that accompany owning a car, there’s the logistic part of sometimes having to remove your car from the condo parking lot. Something that most of us deem to be a “hassle.”

Shedding a little light on this as we head into winter (I think & hope, as a self-declared ski bum) and get entrenched in snow, sleet and salt, will hopefully change your mind and help you to see this maintenance item of your condo, as more of a necessity than a nuisance.

Parking structures are often the largest common element in a condominium, and also the most frequent entrance for those living there. They’re also typically below grade, underneath the building and are exposed to moisture from the ground.  In the context of infrastructure, it’s a major structural component of the building itself.  It is unarguably a priority and its maintenance should be considered an investment, rather than an expense.  Proper, preventative maintenance is mandatory to help reduce premature deterioration. And we know that maintenance is always the better alternative to repairs.   Any progression in deterioration, particularly with concrete leads to an increase in the cost of repairs, and very seldom is it a quick and easy “catch up.”

Going back to the hassle of moving your car two times a year for a through garage cleaning, plays a large part in the longevity of your parking structure (and in maintaining the value of your property.) Here’s why.

It’s these high pressure washers and cleaners which sweep the entire parking area, removing salt, dirt and oil stains, all of which damage the surface over time, particulary the former, salt.

Salt (chloride) is the villain when it comes to structural deterioration. And as it permeates our city streets during the winter, it’s our own cars, via tires and their under-bodies that can’t help but to bring it into our own communities and even worse, into our concrete. It leads to a realm of problems such as rusting the reinforcing steel within the concrete, which leads to expansion, which in turn leads to spalling, scaling and finally cracking, which leads to further damage with water leakage.

Waterproofing and expansion joints are elements that mitigate this damage, but as with most infrastructure, it needs to be monitored. Like most things, it has a life expectancy (generally 30-40 years) and sometimes requires ongoing maintenance, particularly when exposed to harsh elements. If the effects of chloride and moisture are unchecked, corrosion-related deterioration could potentially lead to significant structural integrity concerns. This is essentially what happened in Elliot Lake. Remember, most often problems arise as a result of human failure, not material failure.

This sheds light on another important aspect when you’re purchasing a condo. Not only should you look at the parking out of concern for where your spot’s located, but also to study the performance of the parking structure itself. How does it look? Is it clean? Well lit? Are there any signs of deterioration?

And next time you’re asked the small favour of moving your car for cleaning, remember to thank your management and Board for taking an active interest in your community, your home and your own safety.  It takes a highly pro-active board to stay on top of all the maintenance responsibilities in the community. Often, their value isn’t fully recognized until something goes wrong and there isn’t a full appreciation of all of their effort.

Here are a few of the things they take care of behind the scenes that may go unnoticed.  Most of these are from the Public Works and Government Services Canada (PWGSC) Manual for the Operation & Maintenance of Parking Garages.


  • Clean up trash and debris so it isn’t an added trap for moisture and salt accelerating concrete deterioration.
  • Direct ponded water to the closest drain with a squeegee or broom so it won’t saturate on the concrete.


  • Areas of garage that accumulate dirt and debris (corners, walls, columns, ramps) should be swept clean and away from drains and pipes to prevent clogging.
  • Remove any debris from sealant area of expansion joints to prevent damage to sealing mechanism.
  • Remove oil or grease stains as soon as possible, since concrete quickly absorbs oil and salt tends to accumulate on them during the winter.


  • Mechanical sweeping and machine scrubbing of entire surface to remove dust and dirt.


  • Complete wash down of  the floor with pressure hoses, particularly in high traffic areas. Caution must be used to avoid anything being directed to drains and pipes which could potentially clog them. Often, they are covered by a material such as burlap to protect this. Ensuring continuous running of exhaust fans will also assist drying time.


  • Cleaning of garage lights and fixtures to ensure proper lighting levels and visibility in the garage.


  • Flush and clean the floor drains and drain pipes in the garage – 2x/year or more, ensuring water escapes to drainage in a timely manner.
  • Inspection of exhaust fans to ensure adequate humidity and moisture levels within garage.
  • Ongoing documentation of wear in coating, sealants, standing water etc. to assess deterioration.
  • Promotion and endorsement of chloride-free materials for  de-icing and snow melting where possible.
  • Hiring of contractor and/or engineer to assess/repair any defects in waterproofing and structure. A word of advice – Review and repair timelines should not be based on your reserve fund study. They should be scheduled on a regular basis. Remember that simply because concrete damage appears to be minimal upon a visual inspection, it does not imply that replacement isn’t necessary. Ideally, you want to replace moisture-protection systems before erosion starts. Remember, like everything else, membranes have a lifespan.

Remember – all of these tasks ensure the safety, viability and value of your community and your home.

Happy Winter! Here’s to crossing my fingers for more snow (& less salt).

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