We Are Not Just Leaky Building Consultants

December 17, 2013

By Greg O’Sullivan

Prendos New Zealand Limited, as Valuers, Building Surveyors, Acousticians, Quantity Surveyors and Dispute Resolution consultants have a far broader range to their work output than just leaking buildings, as reported in the current press.

General defect investigation as building surveyors includes tile failure, corrosion issues and paint failures, to name but a few.

At times, our consultants are relieved to be involved in some of these other defect areas, free from the conveyor belt of leaky buildings.

However, leaky buildings are a huge part of our work load. We are hard pressed, at present, to provide the high standard of service that we wish to give owing to an ever increasing workload.

Claddings and Their Problems
For the record, we were noting problems with external cladding dating back to 1994. In the mid 1990’s we saw improvements starting to occur with claddings. Improvements that are continuing today, none of which can provide absolute perfection in watertightness required to prevent decay in untreated timber.

It would be fair to say that in the 1990’s our predominant concern was with monolithic claddings. However, problems were not exclusive to the cladding. Enclosed decks with weatherboard or brick homes often lead to problems. Poorly finished roofs were always an issue regardless of the cladding type.

Rot? What Rot?
What led us to become very concerned was the increasing incidence of brown rots. These were different to what we were used to finding and they were being found in buildings six months to eighteen months old.

In late 1999, Dr Mick Hedley of Forest Research advised us that boron was a fungicide. Its absence in modern framing timbers explained this huge difference from local decays we were used to seeing, to these very widespread decays now being found.

At first we found this with only a few homes but it was the very early discovery, one year to eighteen months after completion, and the severity of the decay that led us to start ringing the alarm bells even louder. In simple terms, we looked at the leak related failures we were seeing and we knew it was going to magnify because of this lack of background durability with these untreated framing timbers.

Events followed, the incidence of discovering decay increased. No-one wanted to listen including the Building Industry Authority, who we saw as having prime responsibility. The forestry companies disagreed with our point of view and widely publicised their own views, that untreated timber was essentially durable and it was not the timber’s fault if water got in.

Hope for Change Diminished
Philip O’Sullivan, in late 2000, visited Vancouver and saw their issues of a prolonged leak crisis. In May 2000 the Claddings’ Institute held their first forum on weathertightness issues in Auckland. The industry was well represented including the Building Industry Authority and concerns were well established at that forum. However no real action followed. We became disillusioned with the effectiveness of the Building Industry Authority on this matter. We started working directly with industry groups to gain some support and understanding of this serious issue.

Things were Getting Worse
In the meantime, the problem has got worse and incidence of discovering these problems in homes has increased. It is now common to find buildings that are decaying when built with certain types of modern claddings. Owners rang us simply wanting confirmation that they have no problems. Often it was a shock for them to learn that they did have severe decay problems. Frequently there were no obvious signs of problems. Many seemingly well built buildings were found to have decay. There, of course, were also the badly built buildings which were going to decay regardless of timber treatment. Why? Because they were so wet nothing could prevent decay. Investigations by the news media commenced. They started finding some of the problem properties. Andrew Laxon at the Herald became ‘expert’ in tracking down leaky building owners. As a result public concern grew to current levels.

Trying to Fix the Problem
As well as continually dealing with decay, Philip and I are involved in specific training of other consultants in weathertightness surveys, along with Adrian Bennett, Mark Bassett and Malcolm Cunningham of BRANZ, Niall Hamilton and Nigel Copas of Biodet Services and Dr Mick Hedley of Forest Research. Nearly thirty building surveyors have passed this course and are considered competent in weathertightness surveying.Our knowledge is growing all the time. However, we will never be satisfied. It is this thirst for knowledge and desire to find how to do things better, more economically and achieve successful results for our clients that has been the backbone of everything we do.

There is one thing certain, problems never go away of their own accord. There is an urgent need for increased building science in areas of claddings and roofs.

Finally, the housing stock built over the last six years will always remain high risk in comparison with previous housing stock. It is something we all will have to deal with over the coming years.

Greg Greg O’Sullivan is the founding director of Prendos Limited and an expert in the area of building failure and in particular, weathertight issues and has, in the past, highlighted to the industry many of the material failures occurring with products used to clad buildings. He is a Registered Building Surveyor, Immediate Past President of the Institute of Building Surveyors and a Founding Member of that Institute, BRANZ Accredited Adviser, Fellow of the Arbitrators’ and Mediators’ Institute of New Zealand and sits on both Mediation and Arbitration Panels and is on the Advanced Panel for Mediation with LEADR.

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