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BIA’s Involvement In The Leaky Building Issue

BIA’s Involvement In The Leaky Building Issue.

Sunday 24.11.02

The following is a brief clarification of the BIA’s involvement in the leaky building issue. Many other events occurred over the last four years. This statement is not intended to be a complete history.

The Building Industry Authority (BIA) media statement released late last Friday contains a convenient and shortened history commencing in August 2001. This is some three years after I first raised concerns. The BIA’s involvement began in early 1998 when it allowed the New Zealand Standard NZS3602:1995 to be an Acceptable Solution to the Building Code. This permitted the use of untreated kiln dried Radiata pine for structural framing. I have no first-hand knowledge of that decision, but no doubt it will be closely scrutinised.

My involvement began with a letter I wrote in March 1998 to the BIA and others requesting assistance with decay identification and the remediation of rotting buildings. In April 1998 I invited the BIA and others to Auckland to see the problem first hand. They did not respond. Earlier this year, some four years later, Don Hunn and his team spent just two hours with me inspecting two sites under repair. They said it changed their whole perception of the issue.

In October 1998 I again wrote to the BIA, this time suggesting a study of the problem based upon our (Prendos) prepurchase reports. I was willing to work over the Christmas break given what I considered to be the urgency of the matter. Bill Porteous was supportive of the concept, but then recommended that I find an academic institution to do the research. We eventually did so and the BIA-sponsored Unitec Study was published in May 2001. The Hunn Report acknowledges this as one of the few pieces of research evidence available as to the extent and nature of the problem, but after its findings were reported by the NZ Herald in July last year, the BIA downplayed its importance.

In December 1998 I wrote a paper on the potential risk of dry rot and circulated it to a number of parties including the BIA. There was no response. By March 1999, after discussions with Forest Research, I realised both the extent and degree of damage from leaky buildings was going to greatly escalate due to the loss of Boron-based timber treatment. The BIA failed to act, even after it was presented with scientific evidence proving the fungal efficacy of Boron.

The Claddings Institute held a forum on weathertightness in May 2000. The whole industry was represented in the room that day. Bill Porteous was the opening speaker and other BIA staff were in attendance. I provided a damage estimate for leaky buildings of $1 Billion. No-one challenged that figure. The industry accepted there was a serious problem and they wanted solutions. The fundamental causes were identified as being a lack of science, education and accountability. The same underlying causes were later identified in the Hunn Report.

The BIA did eventually respond later in 2000 by holding a one-day meeting on the issue of untreated timber. Predictably nothing resulted despite the clear and well researched warnings from Forest Research and pleadings from the former chair of the NZS3602 committee for that committee to reconvene.

I considered further dialogue with the BIA to be useless so I tried to find other ways to bring about change. The only available option at that time was industry-led change. A manufacturers group met during the later half of 2000 but it was disbanded. The BRANZ-led Weathertight Building Steering Group was formed in early 2001. The BIA was invited and joined that group. During one meeting I offered to make a presentation to the BIA Board, but Bill Porteous declined.

Nothing of consequence on this issue ever originated from the BIA until the announcement of the Hunn Report earlier this year. I was surprised, as that seemed so out of character, but I was also relieved. Industry-led change was proving to be fruitless and by that time the scale of the emerging problem was obvious with hundreds of houses and apartments leaking and rotting. The rest is summarised in the BIA media statement.

Philip O’Sullivan
PRENDOS LIMITED
phil@prendos.co.nz

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