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Grad Researches Method Of Finding Leaky Buildings

Auck Uni Grad Researches Method Of Finding Leaky Buildings

Media information: May 2, 2005

The inside story on what is going on behind the walls of NZ homes is no secret to University of Auckland engineering graduate Bryan Holyoake.

Two years ago Bryan carried out research into moisture measurement in walls as part of his final year project, completing the first year of what has gone on to become an extended wall moisture engineering research project within the university.

His supervisor, Engineering School's Prof. Geoff Duffy says the issue of leaky buildings is one of interest within the university, with on-going research looking at moisture transport and other factors affecting wood rot.

Bryan says the project initially arose from cladding company Hitex's interest in ensuring their cladding was weathertight. "We were looking at different angles and variables on moisture movement and measurement and we quickly realised that it was fine to look at something in a lab situation but that it might not have any similarity in a real life scenario. For instance, the finishing and flashings might not be installed correctly every time - it can depend on a number of variables from the installer to the weather or time constraints."

From Bryan's initial work a wiring system was created wiring that would be installed as a house was built. During the research, Bryan installed this into 30 homes, but found that the solution had made itself almost more complex than the problem. The answer was a series of probes inserted at skirting level throughout a house and easily retrofitted.

"We spent quite a bit of time trying to work out how to get on-going accurate readings from different sites in houses, both in new homes and existing ones," he says. "What we did find was that the probes were much more accurate and reliable and in using them, we were able to measure the moisture at the most likely positions in the wall to show moisture ingress."

Bryan's expertise was snapped up by newly-formed Moisture Detection Company, who have commercialised the research out of the university. To date over 130 homes have been fitted with the moisture detection probes and readings on moisture levels within buildings have created what is believed to be NZ's largest database.

"We are concerned at what we are finding and it is likely to be the tip of the iceberg," says Bryan. "So far, around 25% of the readings indicate that moisture levels are higher than they should be. We see the probes as being a good diagnostic tool to look at what is going on behind walls without destruction."

A symposium on leaky buildings will be held in concjunction with the University of Auckland in July, with international speakers including experts from Canada. Prof. Duffy says moisture is a significant problem in many buildings nationwide, exacerbated by the lack of wood treatment. "There are a number of issues, such as the lack of airspace in cavities as well as the use of untreated or dimensionally unstable timber," he says.

"We are hoping that a symposium can look at what is an emotive and hugely costly issue and find some sensible and workable answers that helps thousands of homeowners."


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