Many home owners have found themselves in the unfortunate position of owning a leaky home. So what is the problem all about?
New Zealand’s building industry has thrived throughout the last few decades, and new houses and subdivisions are now a common site in most residential areas. However, many of these buildings are affected by “Leaky Building Syndrome”, otherwise known as weathertightness issues. Leaky Building Syndrome is the term given to a building that has not been designed or constructed to perform suitably under normal weather conditions for New Zealand.
This problem has affected homeowners from right across the country, arising in many different property types, including apartments, townhouses, stand alone houses, high spec homes and commercial buildings.
WHAT CAUSES THE PROBLEM?
There are many different problems that cause a building to leak. Some of these problems include:
Improper design techniques may cause a building to leak, including those that involve flat roofs, solid balustrades and other common earmarks of a leaky home. The trend towards Mediterranian style homes was a major player in design flaws that caused leaky buildings.
The use of inappropriate materials, incorrect installation of these or improper design involving some materials may cause weathertightness issues.
In particular, cladding (especially monolithic cladding) has caused a lot of problems in leaky homes; for example, the absence of required cladding cavities may let moisture into the home and trap it in, causing deterioration of the building.
Secondly, the use of untreated timber has also contributed widely to the problem. Until recently, this use was acceptable by New Zealand building requirements. However if untreated timber is exposed to moisture, it rots and deteriorates. As many homes in New Zealand are constructed of timber framing, this damage can affect the actual structure of the home.
In some cases, buildings have not been constructed using correct building practices, or the actual building, when finished, may have differed from the design. Again, the incorrect installation of materials also plays a role in construction issues.
HOW DOES IT AFFECT HOME OWNERS?
A home that leaks poses a multitude of problems to the home owner.
First and foremost, the building may be, or may become unsafe. Rotting balconies and deteriorating timber structures can make a leaky building a dangerous place. Leaky home owners should refer to a building inspector to determine the safety of their home.
Secondly, leaky homes can also be hazardous to the occupant’s health. Rot and moisture damage can result in the growth of mould and bacteria, which poses a risk to many people, especially young children, the elderly or those prone to allergic reactions or respiratory problems such as asthma.
Thirdly, leaky homes require remedial work. Many home owners find themselves in a situation where they cannot afford to commence remedial work, and will need to seekcompensation from elsewhere. In most cases, the property’s value will also be directly affected, and the sale of the property may prove difficult.
It all started during the 1990s when considerable number of houses were built using methods that haven’t withstood the weather conditions in New Zealand. Because of the problems involving design, and installation of materials, these houses leak when it rains. In some cases the materials themselves were used inappropriately.
Once water or moisture gets behind certain cladding types, if there is no cavity between the cladding and the framework, the water becomes trapped and cannot easily escape or evaporate.
In 1998, a change in the New Zealand standard for Timber Treatment (as referenced in Acceptable Solution B2/AS1) allowed the use of untreated kiln-dried timber in wall framing. If this untreated timber framing gets wet, the timber starts to rot. Likewise, steel framed buildings and treated timber can also be affected if they remain wet long enough. This causes, in some cases, extensive damage to the fabric and structure of the house.
A side effect of leaking buildings is the risk to human health. Some moulds that grow on damp timber and other materials can cause respiratory and skin problems.
But there seems to be a repite in the wings for the thousands affected by this. This article is from the NZ Hearald
A much-anticipated leaky homes bailout could be in place by the end of the year – but only if owners cough up more than a third of the $11 billion repair costs.
It is understood that part of the package would see taxpayers underwrite an interest-free loan scheme for homeowners in financial difficulty.
Councils would pay a matching 35 per cent – bringing the funding package to 70 per cent. It is unclear whether the Government will fund the remaining 30 per cent, although it is understood to be reluctant to commit taxpayer money beyond the loan scheme.
It is hoped that the plan will cut out lengthy delays and hefty legal bills facing those taking claims through the courts or Weathertight Homes Tribunal. But it has already been slammed by leaky home owners’ advocates as putting too much of the cost on to those who are already suffering.
Mayors from the six worst-affected cities – Auckland, Waitakere, North Shore, Wellington, Christchurch and Tauranga – have been asked to consider the proposal after a new report is believed to put the nationwide bill at up to $11.5 billion, from the previously estimated $3.6b.
Details of the report and the proposed bailout remain a secret: all Building and Construction Minister Maurice Williamson would say was that the focus was on fixing homes, rather than litigation.
Williamson is to meet mayors next week. It is not clear whether mayors will be amenable to paying one-third of the bill when the Government is committing so little.
The Government has long signalled it wants to see money going into repairs, rather than the costly Weathertight Homes Resolution Service.
The deal would also see lawyers cut out of the process, with homeowners waiving their right to take action against councils in return for a payout. They could still seek to recover costs from other parties, including builders or developers.
It’s understood the Government would guarantee loans and pay the interest. Elderly homeowners could opt to pay the money from their estate after they died.
Mayors wouldn’t confirm details yesterday, but said they were pleased the Government was tackling the problem.
“We’ve got an opportunity to work with this Government and, at the end of the day, taxpayers and ratepayers have got to work together with homeowners to fund a solution,” Wellington’s Kerry Prendergast said.
Auckland Mayor John Banks said the liability for his city, which faces the most claims, was now “north of $1 billion”. “My best estimate is that the Supercity council’s is probably $2 billion or $3 billion. We’re going to be funding these settlements for the next 20 years.”
Banks said the matter had been left to drift for too long. “Lawyers have had far too much benefit and progress has been far too little.”
The new Supercity council will take on the liabilities of the existing Auckland councils after amalgamation. With just over 500,000 commercial and residential ratepayers, the debt works out at $6000 each.
North Shore Mayor Andrew Williams said that meant the region’s ratepayers would be chipping in to cover Auckland City’s settlements. “That’s going to be a bitter pill for manypeople to swallow.”
He said councils would be unlikely to agree to a scheme without a Government contribution. “Much of this came out because of building standards and standards set by the Government, so the Government has a role to play here.”
John Gray, president of the Home Owners and Buyers Association, said the scheme was unfair to owners who were not at fault.
“It is abhorrent that the innocent victims of this sorry saga are being asked to pay a third of the repair costs themselves.”
Gray also slammed the Government for keeping details of the deal secret. “There are just so many questions that remain unanswered about this proposal,” he said.
Leaky home owner Jill Sterling asked who would determine the cost of and quality of repairs under a no-fault settlement system. “I think this is still ambulance at the bottom of the cliff stuff – they’re not getting in and sorting out the cause.”
Leaky homes lawyer Paul Grimshaw said the proposal sounded like “a very bad deal” for homeowners, who could potentially win 100 per cent of costs through the courts. “From the councils’ point of view it’s great because they get out of it for a third.”
Grimshaw said he advocated setting up a building division of the district court, which could fast-track leaky homes cases.
There has been no one factor identified as a single cause of leaky buildings, but a number of causes have been identified:
- Modern cladding systems. ‘Mediterranean’ style buildings using monolithic cladding systems, such as textured wall surfaces made out of plaster on polystyrene or fibre cement sheet, are promoted as providing a sealed and waterproof outer skin and being low maintenance. But often, they have been used outside their specifications or have been installed incorrectly.
- Inadequate construction that did not allow for deflection, drying and drainage or had insufficient durability and included features such as:
– recessed windows.
– flat roofs with narrow or no eaves.
– two or more stories.
– design features such as solid balustrades, complex roof design and envelope shapes where roofs frequently intersect with walls on upper floors.
– balconies that jut out from the walls.
– penetrations through the claddings.
- Insufficient details in the Approved Documents (these contain Acceptable Solutions), which are produced to help people meet the requirements of the New Zealand Building Code. A number of inadequacies were identified, particularly in Acceptable Solution B2/AS1 (about timber durability) and E2/AS1 External Moisture (keeping the weather out). These have since been amended. Problems with the administration of the Building Code by councils and building certifiers have also been identified.
- Lack of technical knowledge and skills when houses are designed, detailed and built – modern systems require a greater level of care and skill which has not always been applied.
- Untreated kiln-dried framing timber is susceptible to rot when moisture penetrates the building envelope.