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How to Care for Parking Garages

Vincent Nicoletti, Project Engineer
PVE Engineering

The Lay of the Land

Most boards place little importance on the maintenance of their covered parking garages. These may not be as pretty as lobbies, but they’re critical components to the overall building.

These parking facilities are subject to such hazards as vehicle collisions, wear and tear on surfaces, and accelerated corrosion. Collision damage to the structure is usually immediately apparent and is limited to the location of the accident. Vehicle wear and tear, on the other hand, happens over the lifetime of the structure and will typically manifest itself in displacements of the actual slab. Left unchecked, these will directly affect the structure’s drainage. As a result, we’ll see ponding, which occurs when water does not drain properly. Directly below that, we will start to see corrosion of the members supporting the structure.

The greatest concern boards should keep in mind is the introduction of salts into garages. Roadways are salted regularly during the winter, and those salts are typically washed away by rain, melting ice, or snow. However, a parking garage that’s either below grade or has a roof is protected against precipitation, and therefore salts brought into the facility will stay in the facility.

Why is that bad? Rock salts will typically be driven to a particular location by water brought in by cars or by leaks in the building. The mixture of water and chlorides from the rock salts will accelerate the corrosion of the steel framing or the rebar inside reinforced concrete, significantly reducing the useful life of garage parking slabs.

Now What?

Preventive maintenance is the most cost-effective solution for these problems. Every three or four years, boards should retain a design professional to survey their parking facilities. That way, a professional can identify deficiencies before they become long-term problems requiring emergency repair. To combat the rock salt issue, boards should retain the services of a company to come in and power-wash their garages. Doing that twice a year will help to wash the rock salts out of the garage and mitigate further corrosion. These preventive maintenance procedures allow boards to budget for the short-term and prevent costly emergency repairs.

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