The Eye of the Fish

November 20, 2009

Rotten, rotting, leaking

The whole issue of “Leaky Buildings” seems to be a far more important topic up in Auckland than it is in Wellington, but there’s no reason to be smug. Outside the Auckland cities, Wellington is high on the list:
Auckland City Council………….2021
North Shore City Council………..445
Waitakere City Council…………..352
Manukau City Council……………125
Wellington City Council………….361
Christchurch City Council……….229
Dunedin City Council………………..2

Obviously there’s just quality building and architecture in Dunedin! The question over who has to pay is important for the whole country – you can see why perhaps people in Dunedin can well think that the issue should be paid for by Councils rather than by the Government (ie the average taxpayer). I’m always amazed when newspaper articles say that the rebuild cost is $300,000 for some Auckland apartment – when surely that must be more than the cost to completely tear down and rebuild that apartment. Arguably we should just put a bulldozer through vast swathes of Auckland, especially up round the Newton Gully / Kyber Pass / Newmarket area, where acres and indeed hectares of unmitigated crap apartments exist cheek by jowel (or buttock by buttock may be a more apt simile).

If you are interested in finding out more about the subject of Why Buildings Leak, there is an excellent article on the Not-PC blogsite. In fact, it’s a series of three articles – and we’re still waiting for the third one. But at this stage, here is the first and here is the second. If your building is leaking, this article gives a very good summary, and has some excellent and lively commentary after – read the comments. The PC in question is an Auckland architect called Peter Cresswell, and his blog is the 4th most popular in New Zealand, with about 1650 visits per day (we’re a long way behind, at about the 78th most popular). I have no idea how he manages to run an architectural practice as well as be a prolific blogger – anyhow, the articles are very well written.

Paraphrasing the articles, PC heaps the blame squarely on the shoulders of the former head of the former BIA – Bill Porteous, and goes on to note:

“Everybody was happy Ė or at least was prepared to be happy because the process set up by Mr Porteous was working and all these materials had all the necessary ticks from all the nice bureaucrats who had your best interests at heart. And so everyone set off in complete confidence to build the slums of tomorrow.

* Registered architects designed Harditex buildings with dryframe using details supplied by James Hardie and approved by BRANZ.
* Master builders built Harditex buildings with dryframe using details supplied by James Hardie and approved by BRANZ.
* Building suppliers were told by both Carters and Fletchers to substitute dryframe for treated timber Ė and everybody was happy, because Mr Porteousís regime had declared it to be safe.
* Building inspectors inspected Harditex buildings built with dryframe using details supplied by James Hardie, and were happy with the work Ė and delighted that all the details were approved by BRANZ.
* And home-owners bought Harditex buildings built with dryframe using details supplied by James Hardie and approved by BRANZ.

And everybody was happy. But theyíre not so happy nowadays.

The problem wasnít cowboys or lack of registered or qualified professionals. Cowboys built a few of the buildings that failed, but cowboys will always be with use, and they werenít the cause of the 7,571 failures, or of the systemic problems that caused them. Good builders and good architects relied on the process and in good faith they built and designed buildings that failed. In fact master builders and registered architects built and designed buildings all over the country that failed Ė one Iím trying to fix now was designed by a president of the New Zealand Institute of Architects, drawn up the son of a former architecture school Dean and built in good faith by registered master builders.

It still failed.”


Part Two gets stuck in even more, noting more excellent discussion under the headings:

1. Working from the neck up?
We share the stud-frame technology Iíve described here only with North America and with parts of Scandinavia, and our own methods are largely unique to us. So itís moderately unusual, and for the most part the skills for it need to be learned here. Thatís one point…

2. Timber not worth the name
The studs inside your wall changed. Since the fifties your studs have mostly been built from plantation radiata pine, but two things changed recently to change what that meant….

3. Silicone
Silicone isnít just popular in Hollywood, itís been all the rage on New Zealand building sites for the last twenty years…..

4. Stuff the wall cavities
Live in an older New Zealand house in winter, and pretty soon youíll complain about the draughts. Newer New Zealand houses donít have the draughts because they have insulation in the walls…..

5. Those aftermarket add-ons
Increasing wealth means increasing add-ons to the outside of your home. Fancy installing Sky TV? An awning or two? A new pergola? …..

6. Those dedicated followers of fashion
ĎTuscanyí is in. At least, it was. Tastes have changed very quickly now, but for a while there faux Tuscan was de rigeur. But Tuscany itself has a very different climate and totally different construction methods…..

7. From building paper to no building paper!
None of the changes mentioned so far would have been fatal on their own. If water got in, it should have been protected by the building paper. If the building paper was badly installed in some few places, it still would have protected the home-owner in every other place…..

Go there and read it now. And then read the comments underneath. They don’t hold back…. who said that architects won’t comment on blogs!

20 - 11 - 09

Peter Cresswell can equivocate and mumble that that it was all the faults of minor petty bureaucrats and their flowing signatures that signed things off but responsibility has to lie with those that direct those bureaucrats – governments. They are ultimately responsible for standards.

The National party deregulated those standards to the point that mushrooms grew on the indoor upstairs balcony of a ‘Tuscany’ home worth north of $700k in Grafton, Auckland. Mushrooms. Not daisy’s. Or a marijuana crop to help ease the pain. Mushrooms. At least they could use them for a funghi risotto on occasion.

The National party is a major guilty party. It is shameful that it has never owned up to its role in this sorry $11billion affair, nor has it put its hand in its pockets and attempted to repay a token sum of that cost. There’s a collective shiver looking for a National party spine.

20 - 11 - 09

Maybe there have been only 2 houses built in Dunedin in the last decade or so?

20 - 11 - 09

I think the question has to be asked, why does Auckland city council have so many apparently “leaky buildings”?
I find it hard to believe that auckland’s total is proportional to the number of buildings constructed over the period.

If it was a pure national policy issue, you would expect the results to be roughly nationally distributed, the fact that they are clustered in Ak City, makes me think that there are some significant local issues ( read councils) at play…

20 - 11 - 09

could it at all be related to a over inflated ego and sense of entitlement?… hmmm?… a large community of uni students who live in what i’ve heard to be the least hospitable housing imaginable and there are only 2 cases. Then there is a wanna be L.A. with expensive cars, fake personalities, and excessive consumption, and the problem is widespread.
I’m sure that has nothing to do with it.

20 - 11 - 09

Llew, I’m shocked that you could suggest such a thing. Shocked, I tell you. Bit dammitall, you may be right. Actually I think the answer to your query is the same answer as jayseatee – the reason Auckland has more leaks is at least partially / in a huge way attributable to the ‘Tuscan’ style. At least Dunediners know their not in Tuscany.

20 - 11 - 09

Chris>The National party deregulated those standards

Did you read the links (that were quite interesting, thanks Max)? Cresswell specifically contrasted the 40 pages of standards that existed before the leaky building era with the multiple ring-binders of government-mandated standards that existed during the leaky building era. His point was that there was a huge increase in regulation, rather than deregulation.

20 - 11 - 09

Oh, and isn’t Dunedin the only city in NZ that is reducing in population? I’d taken the numbers of leaky homes to be about in proportion to population growth.

Ex Wellingtonian
20 - 11 - 09

Greenwelly, the reason it became so prevalent here in Auckland, apart from the greater number of houses built up here is also parly due to the dramatically different climate here in Auckland. I moved up here about 8 years ago and immediately saw the difference. Auckland is basically a tropical climate at times with very high humidity, something Wgton does not have. Add the drying effect of a southerly gale in Wgton, and the houses down there have more opportunity to dry out. In Auckland there is basically no wind and thus no drying process from it. the year i came up it seemed to rain everyday, and i don’t think i have had to wear a coat in the 8 years i’ve been up here, except to keep the rain off. No cold days, high humidty and immediately you have a great sauna in your wall framing. Perfect for rot!

21 - 11 - 09

There’s an even simpler explanation for the rot in Auckland.

No flashings.

Yes, those little bits of bent metal that direct water out from within, are a bugger to install, and evidently were omitted from a number of buildings in the 90s. There was a school of thought for some time that if a building had EIFS (Externally Insulated Facade System) ie polystyrene nailed to the outside of the timber frame – then all it needed was plaster over the top and a coat of paint and you’d be fine. EIFS is used extensively in Europe with no problems – but with one crucial difference – they don’t use it over timber. Just over concrete / brick / block. Hence no movement in the substrate.

Here, in Auckland in the 80s, 90s, and 00s, when the Tuscan Villa style was in, Aucklanders used EIFS, over building paper straight over untreated timber, and then omitted flashings as well. Total disaster.

Not a style that was ever really very popular in the deep south…. and they would never, ever, leave out a flashing down there.

Ex Wellingtonian
21 - 11 - 09

Actually Garibaldi i working with several building companies in wgton in the 90’s that used these products with untreated timber. We were told at the time they were the best thing since sliced bread. Off course it turned out they were as much use as sliced bread at keeping moisture out.

I know Building Inspectors in the greater Wgton are who were telling contractors the same thigns about head flashings. Side flashing and sill flashings had not been around for a long time, nor building wraps as they are now.

22 - 11 - 09

Ex-Welly – yes, I know they did the same bad things here….. That’ll be where the 361 claims come in.

24 - 11 - 09

I’m suprised Tauranga isn’t more highly represented. Not that I know anything in particualr about the quality of building in Tauranga, but I do know there has been a heck of a lot of it in the last 15 years.

24 - 11 - 09

Tauranga = 156 claims.

2 - 12 - 09

Promises come and go but the suffering caused by leaky homes continues. North Shore City Mayor Andrew Williams urges the Government to do the right thing. As the country moves towards Christmas and the shopping malls load Jingle Bells into their sound systems, about 44,000 Kiwi families prepare for another festive season camped in their rotting, toxic homes fearful of what another year may bring, and wondering why their Government has abandoned them to their fate.

The weeping sore of the leaky homes disaster that has caused misery to so many hard-working families throughout the country is now too hot for the Government to handle. Despite all manner of soothing promises before the election, the reality of an $11 billion repair bill and advice that doing the right thing by these people may affect the country’s credit rating signals the end of half- hearted attempts to reach a workable solution. In a sad and worrying irony, the Government’s tough and unbending take-it-or-leave-it stance on its derisory offer to local councils and owners of leaky homes of a $37 million a year rescue package came around the same time as legislation was being rammed through Parliament under urgency that the Treasury says will rack up a $110 billion debt to give big polluters a free pass on their carbon emissions.

It would seem that suffering families are easily trumped by corporate heavyweights, many of whom made millions from selling the very building products and systems used in the very leaky homes the Government is now washing its hands of, and are strangely silent on their own contribution to the rescue package. Hope for leaky-homes owners was rekindled this year when Building and Construction Minister Maurice Williamson called the mayors of the six cities most affected by the disaster to a meeting in his Beehive office to sketch out a possible rescue plan. This was later revealed to be the infamous 64-26-10 deal, whereby the homeowners would sign away their legal rights in return for a 64 per cent contribution from themselves, 26 per cent from local councils and 10 per cent from the Government, toward fixing their decaying homes.

Unsurprisingly, the homeowners rejected the deal, with long-time leaky homes campaigner John Gray saying the deal was bitterly disappointing, would not solve anything and treated the victims as the country’s dirty little secret. It is not rocket science to work out the Government would make a profit on the deal, raking in more from GST on the building materials and services, and labour payroll taxes necessary to fix these homes, than it was prepared to put in. In July last year, as Opposition building and construction spokesman, Nick Smith told Parliament that an Otago University report estimated more than $474 million would be spent on health costs associated with leaky homes.

Adding insult to injury, it is now revealed that settlements out of the Government’s much-lauded faster and cheaper Weather-tight Homes Tribunal are short-changing victims by hundreds of thousands of dollars, forcing them to head off to the High Court and spend even more money they do not have on lawyers and experts, and adding years of anguish to the process. Councils are comfortable with their 26 per cent contribution, which roughly aligns with their liability under agreed settlements. North Shore City Council resolved last month, reiterating its position, that central government needed to make a significant contribution to the resolution of weather-tightness issues at a level that was at least equal to the contribution from local government, and to work to progress this matter with central government.

It may not be legally liable in the strictest sense, but the moral responsibility on central government to come up with a genuine rescue package is overwhelming. So we are now in a stalemate. The homes are still rotting. The councils are still willing. But the prime minister seems reluctant to meet mayors to thrash out a meaningful deal to allow leaky home owners to repair their homes and their shattered lives. Perhaps he missed his own former associate building and construction spokesman, Bob Clarkson, when he revealed on Newstalk ZB a few weeks ago that National in opposition had a policy which bound the Government to meeting 25 per cent of the repair costs for leaky homes, matching the council contribution dollar for dollar, and offering owners 10-year interest-free loans to make up the balance.

So what went wrong? For a decade, an army of Wellington bureaucrats in an alphabet soup of agencies have spent thousands of hours and millions of dollars advising successive governments to regulate, then deregulate, then re-regulate or set up this inquiry or the next, or set up this resolution service or that tribunal. We cannot be certain what they are now telling ministers as they refuse to release the papers, but insiders suggest it is an all-care-and- no-responsibility approach, and not so heavy on the care.

I guess they can get away with such an approach as they do not have to stand for election. But the Government does. Currently riding high in the polls, it can afford to cut leaky-homes victims adrift and wear the backlash by playing the grinch. But as rough- and-tumble former Australian treasurer and prime minister Paul Keating once said, government is not just about doing what is popular, it is also about doing what is right.

2 - 12 - 09

I just posted that Opinion piece in there, mostly because I disagree with it and it has several fundamental illogicalities. For a start, the thought that tax-payers all over this country, including those in the deep south, should have to pay for the North Shore Council’s slackness in inspection of building code compliance, would really piss most people off. Just because North Shore screwed up, why should we all have to pay?

It seems to assume that Government money does not cost anyone anything. Wrong. Collectively, it all comes out of our taxes. If the Council was to pay for the repairs, then the cost would come out of North Shore City ratepayers pockets, which would seem much more fair. At least the residents there can then vote people in or out of power to punish them.

But of course the people who should really be paying for this are the developers and the builders. They created the problem. They should have to pay to fix it.

The real problem is therefore revealed: the lack of mandatory Project insurance.
The government does need to institute this now. As in, Now.

23 - 12 - 09

So: the cost was “known” to be around $11 billion on the 2nd December – however, despite this, the Government has just received a “shock report” which puts the cost at – wait for it – $11.3 billion. ie same as before. Therefore not a shock. Therefore: spin.

If spinning, therefore – for what purpose? I suspect that the key point is in the middle – that currently “Too much money has been spent on lawyers and not enough on actually fixing the rotten homes.” If you get rid of the WTHRS, and spend the money on fixing, rather than lawyers, then you’ll save a lot of money.

11.3 billion divided by 42,000 suspected failures gives a total of $270,000 each, which in most cases would be enough to rebuild the entire house, replacing every single stick of wood.
“The government is promising to help people repair leaky homes after a shock report revealed nearly 90,000 properties could be affected and said the estimated cost of fixing them was a staggering $11.3 billion. Building and Construction Minister Maurice Williamson released the report today and said the damage was much greater than anyone had previously wanted to acknowledge. “This leaves thousands of New Zealanders in a terrible position,” he said. “They may not be able to borrow the money to repair their homes, or to sell them, so their single most important asset is decaying in front of their eyes.”

The previous government struggled with the problem, and Mr Williamson said the blame game had been played for too long. “Now it’s time to act. That’s why the government is bringing together a package as a priority to help affected homeowners repair their homes and move on.”

Mr Williamson commissioned the PricewaterhouseCoopers report, which estimates that between 22,000 and 89,000 homes could be affected. Only about 3500 had been repaired to date and about 9000 were now beyond the 10-year legal liability limit. Basing its cost estimate on 42,000 “failures” the report says the total cost of fixing them is $11.3b. The previous government held an inquiry into leaky homes, which concluded the problems were caused by shoddy materials, poor building and inadequate inspection procedures.

It set up a resolution process, which became bogged down in litigation and delays. Many homeowners gave up hope of ever being able to recoup their losses. Mr Williamson said he would take an assistance package to Cabinet early next year. “Our priority is getting leaky homes repaired,” he said.

“Too much money has been spent on lawyers and not enough on actually fixing the rotten homes.”

Mr Williamson said he had hoped the package would include a contribution from local authorities, but they told him today that wasn’t possible. “The previous Labour government refused to get involved during the years of very large financial surpluses,” he said. “Compare that to the current economic climate, when the National-led government is running a significant deficit and borrowing $240 million a week. “Despite this, we are not prepared to wait any longer.”

Mr Williamson said central government had no legal liability. “Nevertheless, we will act.”

The report focused on homes built between 1992 and 2008. It said failure rates since 2006, when regulations were changed, appeared to be much lower than in previous years. The report said that under current policy, repair costs were distributed on the basis of 69 percent to the owner, 25 percent to councils, 4 percent to third parties and 2 percent to the Government. Mr Williamson said he commissioned the report because he wanted to know the real extent of the problem so the Government knew how to respond to it.