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UFNZ: leaky buildings issue due to lax standards

UFNZ MP: leaky buildings issue due to lax standards

“The problems that have arisen with ‘leaky’ buildings will be shown to be due to lax standards,” predicts United Future MP and lawyer Murray Smith.

With 26 years as a lawyer acting for building companies and homeowners, Mr Smith has a lot of experience of the building industry and has seen first hand the effect of the freeing up of the building code that occurred a decade ago.

Mr Smith is a member of the Government Administration Select Committee that will begin hearing submissions on the inquiry next week. Although he has not yet read the more than 200 submissions received, he predicts that the cause of the problem will be found in three areas.

“Firstly,” he says “there has been faulty analysis of the reliability of new cladding systems by industry organizations and territorial authorities, particularly by failing to take into account the degree of expertise and high standards required to properly install them.

“Secondly, the training and experience of many of the builders who are using the new products is inadequate and a lack of apprenticeship or certification requirements for builders means that anyone can pick up a hammer and call themselves a builder.

“Thirdly,” Mr Smith states “the level of inspection of workmanship by territorial authorities and building certifiers is too casual, too infrequent and too general, leading to potential problems not being picked up prior to the issue of Code Compliance Certificates.”

Mr Smith said that 4 years ago he acted for a building company who was building cheap buildings using a modern cladding technique. He became concerned when a building consultant’s report revealed that his client was using silicone in place of window flashings. The consultant predicted that the silicone would fail within 10 years leading to water penetration and rotting timber.

Despite obtaining expert reports which confirmed the totally unsatisfactory nature of this process, his client was unmoved because building consents had been obtained and Code Compliance Certificates were effectively guaranteed. Mr Smith subsequently lost the client as a result of the pressure he placed on the company to change its construction methods.

Mr Smith suggests that the remedy lies in tightening up the performance in each of the three areas mentioned.

Firstly, territorial authorities need to be far more cautious in approving the use of new cladding systems and should insist that the builder proposing to use them can demonstrate not only that the system is up to standard but that he/she has the necessary knowledge and experience to properly install it.

Secondly, builders ought to have to go through a certification process in the same way that plumbers, electricians and other tradespeople do. At the very least they should have to have certification before they can use sophisticated cladding techniques.

Thirdly, recognising the limitations on territorial authorities to be able to adequately inspect work, all work should require an IQP’s certification as to its satisfactory completion. This would require them to undertake regular inspections of work in the manner that Clerks of Works used to regularly perform.

Whilst these steps would undoubtedly impact on the cost of buildings, that extra cost had to be weighed against the need for innocent consumers to be able to trust the building industry and not be confronted with the tragic consequences that failed buildings were currently exposing them to.

New Zealanders have been fooled by many years of having a high standard, although prescriptive, building code to think that the maxim ‘safe as houses’ still applied to their houses. They are now beginning to realize that, like many contemporary products, that maxim has been well and truly replaced by another: ‘you get what you pay for’.

“Unfortunately the lure of cheap housing construction costs has lead them to purchase ‘cheap’ houses,” says Mr Smith.

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