On a Sunday afternoon (21 March), a Singaporean woman and her mother encountered a rather peculiar mess after the floor tiles of their 16-year-old Housing and Development Board (HDB) flat in Toa Payoh started making popping sounds. Just within minutes after that, the tiles cracked open.

The woman, Jessica Thian, who co-owns the Block 146 Lorong 2 Toa Payoh unit with her mother, said to Mothership that they never had issues with the flooring before, and it was the original flooring that was installed by HDB.

She also noted that their unit is located on the 22nd floor of the block.

Ms Thian explained that sometime between noon and 2pm on Sunday, her mother heard some strange sounds, which sounded like someone making popcorn, coming from the kitchen. During that time, she was in the living room watching television.

Upon hearing the sounds, she alerted her daughter, who then grabbed her phone and began recording the incident.

In the video, one can clearly hear the cracking sounds coming from the flooring. In fact, the tiles also seemed to be pushing against each other, and became slightly elevated in the middle.

Suddenly, the two tiles near the cabinet cracked and shattered, resulting in tiles pieces flying a few centimetres into the air.

Ms Thian added that after a few hours from the initial crack, more tiles began cracking several other times, leaving the kitchen in a mess with broken pieces all over the place with uneven flooring.

According to experts, some of the reasons that could contribute to such an incident include cold weather, poor workmanship and wear and tear of the flooring.

They said this in a report by Channel News Asia in 2018 after a series of “explosions” occurred at HDB flats that year.

“The moisture may be trapped underneath the tiles and if there is any sudden change in temperature, for example, if the flat below has its ceiling light turned on for long hours, generating heat, it could cause the cement to lose its bonding capability,” said Vice-President of the Singapore Renovation Contractors and Material Suppliers Association (RCMA) Dean Lim.


HDB will not be covering the repair works

Following the incident, Ms Thian got in touch with HDB via their online feedback form and commented on their Facebook page seeking for help.

In response to her enquiry, HDB staff noted in an email reply that her unit’s 15-year warranty coverage for the floor tiles had expired on 3 February 2020. As such, HDB would not be able to help them cover the repair cost.

The staff also informed her that flat owners are responsible for the internal maintenance of their flats, which includes repairing dislodged tiles. The email also pointed out that Ms Thian would need to engage a contractor to replace the tiles.

She told Mothership that she plans to continue asking HDB for support on the matter, and will bring this issue to their Member of Parliament if necessary.

The MPs for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC are Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, Senior Minister of State Chee Hong Tat, Saktiandi Supaat and Chong Kee Hiong.

“Of course, I’m hoping that HDB [will] do something about it, otherwise we’ll definitely have to seek help. Because we just feel that it’s so unfortunate and unfair that the flat is relatively new, and we’re experiencing this already,” she said.

Minister for National Development Desmond Lee also addressed the issue of cracking HDB floor tiles on 1 February this year in a written Parliamentary reply.

He reiterated HDB’s policy that the onus is on the flat owners for maintenance of their flats, adding that HDB will help flat owners to repair dislodged tiles originally provided by HDB for up to 15 years.

For units older than 15 years, owners need to hire their own contracts to carry out the repair works.

Mr Lee also said that residents who require financial assistance with the cost of repairing dislodged tiles can seek help from grassroots organisations and the Community Development Councils (CDCs).

“Over the past three years, CDCs have provided funding support to 146 households for repairs to dislodged tiles,” he said.

Not the first time this has happened

The incident of HDB floor tiles cracking and becoming dislodged is not a new one. In fact, it is not an uncommon one either.

In 2018, multiple HDB flats islandwide had floor tiles that popped and cracked opened all of a sudden over the course of a few days.

Then-Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong said in a written Parliamentary reply in January last year that there were an average of 247 monthly cases of dislodged floor tiles in HDB units in 2019.

In December 2019, 580 similar cases were reported, most likely due to colder weather and temperature fluctuations that month.

Mr Wong explained that this could cause floor tiles and the substrate to contact and expand at different rates. This then could lead to loss of adhesion between the tiles and the substrate.


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