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Here we go again – from leaky homes to porous pipes

Written By: - Date published: 12:32 pm, March 21st, 2016 - 24 comments
Categories: housing, national, same old national - Tags:

Key blighted future

It seems inconceivable so soon after the leaky buildings debacle that we are slithering down a similar slippery pipe thanks to this government’s neo-liberal deregulation ideology that states just about anything goes in the building industry and buyer beware.

The leaky homes fiasco cost the country by various estimates between $11 billion and $22 billion – not counting considerable health costs and untold mental anguish.

National Plumbing and Pipelaying Standards Committee chairman Darren Waith​ said this month that up to half of the country’s homes could have unregulated plumbing products installed.

Like the use of low grade cladding and untreated timber, that caused leaky homes, shonky pipes are pretty hard to detect when you buy a house, but can have dire consequences years later.

Waith called for compulsory performance requirements in New Zealand to match the Australia’s WaterMark system, where products have to comply with a standard. New Zealand has voluntary system thanks to our neo-liberal ideology.

Installation of poor pipes is “very widespread especially in Auckland and most likely in Christchurch now, because there is a lot of pressure to drive down the price of the products and there are some big contracts,” Waith said.

A minimum performance standard for plumbing should be enforced in New Zealand rather than rely on consumer laws which were the “ambulance is at the bottom of the cliff”, he said.​

Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, which in 2012 incorporated the Department of Building and Housing, said it is aware importers were bringing in shonky plumbing fittings.

But Housing Minister Nick Smith dismissed claims the country could be heading towards another “leaky homes”-type crisis.

He said the ministry had made inquiries but found no major problems. He said plumbers were responsible for deciding whether the products they installed met New Zealand standards.

Every single piece of plumbing work has been certified by a plumber, and if that work is found – two, three or five years hence – to be substandard, that plumber is in the gun and potentially has his registration up for loss if he has not met those Building Code requirements,” Smith said.

The public should be wary of claims about substandard foreign products, because it could just be local companies trying to reduce competition from overseas, he added.

When you find out several years after buying a house that all the pipes are shot, I can just see you getting restitution paid by the plumber who installed the product.

Whether this turns out to be on the scale of the leaky homes fiasco or not, this is a repetition of the same issue – deregulation in the name of cost cutting and slashing red tape.

It also lay behind the Pike River tragedy, where 29 men lost their lives. The genesis of that was the  National government’s decision in 1992 to water down health and safety rules in the Department of Labour in the name of cutting bureaucracy and costs.

The PSA-v fiasco in the Kiwifruit industry, that cost the industry over $1 billion, was essentially the result of lax biosecurity where deregulation allowed pollen to be imported against the government’s own policies and procedures.

A class action claim against the government by 212 kiwifruit farmers, had a “smoking gun” of evidence of negligence by the government in its $375 million claim, according to Auckland University legal expert, Professor Bill Hodge.

Then last week, we had the extraordinary case of Steel and Tube admitting that for four years it had produced steel reinforcing mesh installed in thousands of buildings, falsely signed off as being certified to standard by top accredited lab, Holmes Solutions.

Chief executive of the publicly-listed company, Dave Taylor, said Holmes Solutions’ logo was left on the test certificates inadvertently four years ago, in a mistake that was only revealed this month.

The mesh was developed as a direct result of the Christchurch quakes. It is put in load-bearing walls and floors of high-rise buildings to hold the concrete together during an earthquake. Taylor tried to give assurances the mesh was okay but how do we know?

Greg Wallace, chief executive of Master Plumbers said New Zealand was fast becoming the Wild West of building products.

He has called for urgent talks with the government to address the burgeoning “grey market” in non-regulated building products.

“It’s impossible to say how many residential, commercial, industrial and public buildings contain these ‘dodgy’ products, ranging from plumbing pipes and fittings, to electrical items and lights, where we simply don’t have any idea of their quality, safety or longevity … New Zealand’s a bit like the Wild West when it comes to building products, because we do not have a mandatory product quality certification standard as they do in Australia.”

He called Housing Minister’s Nick Smith’s response as “ill-informed” and refuted Smith’s claim that a licensed plumber had to sign off  a job and a local authority inspector had to sign for the plumber’s work.

That’s incorrect. The plumber has no way of knowing if piping products are of sufficient quality without an external regulation certification of manufacturing quality.”

He said his organisation has been urging the government to act on this for years.

The government can simply no longer ignore industry concerns.”

Wallace accused Smith of “disingenuously implying”’ that plumbers were protecting their patch. He said non-regulation of the building industry was a cross sector issue.

Ultimately, it’s much cheaper to invest in a product that lasts 50 years than buy cheap non-regulated products that fail and lead to significant early replacement costs,” Wallace said.

That is the nub of the issue.

Smith, John Key and their mates taut themselves as good financial managers, but their ideological adherence to deregulation has cost the country tens of billions of dollars.

No matter what your view is of Key and Co, the one value – probably their only bottom line value – is that money matters.

So you have to ask yourselves why do they persist with these absurd policies? The only semi-plausible answer I can arrive at, is that deregulation helps those inNat’s constituency, whether they be developers in the building industry, importers or wide boys in a deregulated finance industry, wanting to make a fast buck.

When the mess is exposed, the companies that created it have disappeared, the fast buck banked, and the taxpayer, is left to pay the bill.

(Simon Louisson is a former journalist who reported for The Wall Street Journal, AP Dow Jones Newswires, the New Zealand Press Association and Reuters and was a political and media adviser to the Green Party.)

24 comments on “Here we go again – from leaky homes to porous pipes ”

  1. esoteric pineapples 1

    “The only semi-plausible answer I can arrive at, is that deregulation helps those inNat’s constituency, whether they be developers in the building industry, importers or wide boys in a deregulated finance industry, wanting to make a fast buck.”

    Yep, this government is the feral child of previous Monetarist governments with no real ideology except making a profit for its supporters. It is in essence a government version of the asset stripping companies of the 1980s like Brierley Investments. Its aim is to plunder what’s left of assets still in New Zealand ie what is owned by public. It is no coincidence that we have a Prime Minister who came out of that era.

    • aerobubble 1.1

      Today Key admitted that he was wrong to conclude the teapot tape was deliberately taped,though obviously that was why it was there, that his staff were managing the event, and the owner of the device agreed Key did wrongly conclude.

      What strikes me about neolibs is really they are just Muldoonists. Muldoon classic tv clip of a drunken repeating of the question asked. Key is likewise drunk on profits, incapable of questiinng what he has believed his whole career, publuc and private. That people are rational, that free is better than managed, that Key did not embrace Ambroses entrepreneurism and move to accept free discourse, rather he ran to the oppressiveness of law, to effect a victim stance now we’re all told there was nothing in them. Key people managed the op, trapped a device in the PM vicinity and then manufacture the politucal victim event of the election. Killing off the bad polling from meeting Banks for tea. Key isn’t about substance especially substance that alters the status quo. Neolibs isn’t about deal with crisis, its about looking at the forest a remarking about the color in a way to provoke sustantive consideration.

      For thirty years torys have claimed the benefits of cheap oil come from their handling of the economy, this is contradicting their own free market belief, that its the market, like cheap oil had nothing to do with growth. Butat it would have happened anyway by better management and regulation building sustainable outcomes we’d not have lost billions in SCF, or leaky homes, or Dairy collapse, etc. Removing bad givernance frees markets and is good, removing good governance however creates a free for all for short term exploitation and long term hidden costs.

      Key is a professional at half heartedly dealing with the merits and leaving off the detail.

  2. TC 2

    Building in this country is a wild west of sfa regulation, unproven materials poorly installed and alot of badly executed if any inspection and compliance activities.

    Councils run by nactiods play their part as one inspector is known as ‘drive by dave’ doesnt even leave his council vehicle and rubber stamps the compliance.

    • JonL 2.1

      Bullshit! As an ex- inspector I’ d refute that claim. Yes, there are fucktards amongst the inspectorate, as in all organisations. In Auckland City when I was there, out of 20 inspectors, there were 17 who were knowlegable and pretty diligent in their work without being too heavy handed – the other 3 were………not so….but we knew who they were and tried to work around them. There are always going to be the tales of the ” drive by Daves”, but they are not the norm!

      • McFlock 2.1.1


        It’s the old story – someone who does a good job passes unnoticed, if someone does a bad job then the tale is told to 20 people

      • RedLogix 2.1.2

        I tend to agree. After a 40 year career in both the private and public sector, I don’t hold one to be superior to the other. They are different, with different drivers and values underlying their business models … but fundamentally the people are pretty much the same and there is no evidence to suggest one is innately more efficient or better than the other.

        They’re just good at different things.

  3. saveNZ 3

    The scary thing is the cost of plumbing materials which are about 7x the cost price retail, now allegedly sub standard. The commerce commission does not seem to care about this overcharging, even though the government seems to be desperately concerned about the less than 1% of resource consents not going through in the RMA and making SHA areas which now house million dollar mansions in some sort of cruel blow for the first home buyers.

    As to the incredible cost of building as well as the lack of regulation which led to leaky buildings which protect the public – the government is not interested.

    Plumbing costs impact on house costs and rent costs for repairs.

    I was told by a plumber that the pipe had to have some sort of brand on them to be used or the council will not pass it. (This was to justify the level of cost of the plumbing work).

    Who knows what to believe!

  4. Draco T Bastard 4

    He said plumbers were responsible for deciding whether the products they installed met New Zealand standards.

    And how the fuck would they know?
    Can’t say that I know of many plumbers that have a full scale laboratory for testing plastic pipes in the garage at home.

    So you have to ask yourselves why do they persist with these absurd policies? The only semi-plausible answer I can arrive at, is that deregulation helps those inNat’s constituency, whether they be developers in the building industry, importers or wide boys in a deregulated finance industry, wanting to make a fast buck.

    And it also means that when the brown stuff hits the whirly thing they’re not held responsible. They get to pass the buck while keeping their ill-gotten profits.

    Nick Smith says that the plumber signs stuff off? Well, plumbers are usually sub contractors using supplied materials and they don’t actually get the choice of using other materials. It’s the main contractor (which has probably closed by then anyway) that buys the cheap shit but it will be the plumber that installed it that will take the heat.

  5. saveNZ 5

    Basically we are turning into the USA, where there is zero regulation and a litigateous society where the little public and little guy carry all the risks. Big players can do whatever they want and get away with it.

    In response to Pike River, the National government have now got principals and non profits able to be sued for safety issues.

    They really are masters of confused legislation!!

    Not sure how having a dangerous mine which should never have been built and killed so many people can somehow make a school principal liable for injury.

    Bit like the builders being blamed for leaky building and now liable under law, but Fletchers got that sweet deal from the government and still producing similar products.

    • Expat 5.1


      And what about the recent Health & Safety reforms, where “worm farming” is considered more dangerous than “Beef and Dairy” farming, and on the day the reforms were approved, another farmer lost his life in quad bike incident, and weeks later, another one, all this to save the farmers a few bucks on compliance, I would suggest the Lives of these farmers is worth far more than a few bucks, and what about the families, that’s the worst thing of all.

      With regard to the Pike River mine, any govt worth anything at all would have chased down the “principles” and held them accountable for their irresponsibility, instead, they get away scot free, didn’t Key say he would do that?

  6. crashcart 6

    We had this issue. We were getting some work done on our driveway and when they ripped it up we got a plumber to check the pipe work from the meter to the house. What he found was that when the house was built they used internal piping for this job and it was falling to pieces. God knows how much it had cost us on our water rates over the years.

    We didn’t build the house and wouldn’t have a clue how to track down who did the work. I doubt they are even an operating business any more. It cost us a lot of money to get it repaired and we were just lucky we were ripping the driveway up any way. I would hate to think how much it would have cost to just get the job done.

    How can the minister say with a straight face that the plumbers will be held responsible after what happened with leaky homes. How hard would it be for the same tactic of winding up a business and starting another one to cut off liability for all this sort of crap.

    • Draco T Bastard 6.1

      How can the minister say with a straight face that the plumbers will be held responsible after what happened with leaky homes.

      A practised liar?

  7. Expat 7

    Australia is having a similar problem right now over imported electrical cable for use in residential homes, the Aus standard is very high for local manufactured cables, but because Abbott reduced the number of staff at the border to check products meet the Au standard, they now have a problem with imported cable, the insulation is cracking and breaking off after only a few years, there is a recall, but the cable is already installed in thousands of homes, and the problem is a serious fire risk.

    You would think NZ had learnt it’s lesson after the “leaky homes saga” but it looks like de ja vou, all imported products should be tested to ASNZ standard before approval for use, allowing substandard products in the “back”door only benefits the importer.

    • Gristle 7.1

      Don’t think that this problem is restricted to Australia. I have seen containers of TPS cable coming in to New Zealand.

      IMO the mode of failure is insulation breakdown as the chlorine migrates out of the plastic. And the result is fire at worst, or re-wiring the whole house. This process is accelerated by the presence of heat, sunlight, some building products.

      A standard house will have 600m to 1,000m of cable in it, so the cost saving per house was around $500 (but it is more likely to be put in the contractors pocket.). Re-wiring a house will cost around $5,000.

      The Smith resolution route is rubbish as often the signing electrician is not the person specifying the cheap Chinese product.

      Standards give you the minimum performance level. Talk to experienced tradespeople and find out what they would use on their house and what way they would use it.

      • Expat 7.1.1


        It’s sad to hear that the same products have made it to NZ, thorough testing of the products to ensure they conform to the required standard before being released into the market place is the common sense approach.

        I didn’t like to identify the country of origin, as many here don’t like the identification of the offending culprits.

        The raw materials used in the manufacture of cabling (extrusion process), the outer insulation is a PVC (poly vinyl chloride) material, but the actual wire insulation is nylon, this is the insulation that is failing, due to the low quality of the raw materials, hardening with time, and unable to sustain any bending without fracture, unusual for nylon, as it’s a hydroscopic material (absorbs moisture after processing) which actually provides the flexibility in the finished product, recycled nylon and the addition of plastisizers can often lead to a much lower structural integrity and may be part of the problem as well.

        If the problem has been identified, then all imported cabling product should be quarantined till thorough testing has been carried out and approved by the standards watchdog before being released into the market place.

      • kendoll 7.1.2

        Huge amounts of electrical fittings and cable have been imported into NZ by the big boys which apparently meet Aus standards but have not been tested and are sub standard. So the rort continues on and the consumer is the bearer of the cost of faulty product. Please check with your sparky when having work done he can verify quality of product, if not tell him to fuck off, same with plumbers and sub quality copper pipe, be ruthless about what you are being sold or told….

  8. Tautuhi 8

    Substandard plumbing products from Asia are going to cause a number of homeowners a big problem in the future.

    We really have a bunch of turkeys in positions of power who make the regulations in NZ, we used to have the best tradesmen in the world now we have cowboys and hammer hands?

  9. Keith 9

    To this very day there are plastic wrapped buildings everywhere, a tribute to Nationals sheer stupidity and probably that of the voters.

    “Wallace accused Smith of “disingenuously implying” “. That sums up Nick Smith nicely, the imbecile who is supposed to be doing something about Auckland’s housing crisis. Disingenuously of course, doing something to fix the problem, not so much.

    This fool was around in the last National government that gave us the Leaky Home, the disgrace that never stops giving. The bullshit given to us at the time was there was no need for regulation as builders reputations were on the line and no one would build substandard buildings. Yeah right! Builders and their companies went out and back into business like yoyo’s and few if any have been held accountable. Just the poor bastards left owning the rotting shit holes and the long suffering rate payers. National haven’t paid a cent for their dumbness.

    And the savings in so called unnecessary costs like treated timber would be reflected in savings in the buildings cost. Yet all that happened with the use of inferior materials was that it got absorbed into their profits.

    How is the innocent buyer supposed to know what rubbish has been used in plumbing, hidden deep in the walls and under a building until the day it leaks and potentially destroys their asset? Who will know what plumber installed it and even then how will you prove that plumber knew the product was rubbish because of lazy short term profit driven government can’t be arsed regulating, instead taking a hands off approach that will guarantee problems in the future.

    How did we not learn from history on this subject? The answer for the Leaky Homes was that no one from the era was ever held accountable and put on public display for their brain dead decisions to “leave it to the market” rather than regulating, so they got away with it and when crooks get away with things, well they keep doing it don’t they?

    • Expat 9.1


      It was McCully who was the minister for housing at the time that approved the building standard changes which lead to the “leaky home syndrome”, as recent as two years ago he was still denying culpability and blaming the “consultants” for their phony advice, as you can expect, there was a correction to the building standards, but it was a knee jerk correction, it went from ridiculously low standards to ridiculously high standards, over compensation, but I suppose the latter is preferable to the former.

      The govt should have compensated the affected owners from a fund raised from the manufactures of the faulty products (who lobbied the govt in the first place), at least this would help the owners for the financial trauma, but that still leaves the mental trauma, which is often more devastating than the costs.

  10. dave 10

    you cant trust the new Zealand building industry if there going to be a government backed building program then i would sud-jest we work to a strict set of standard designs off the shelf and as much work as possible done in a factory environment where quality control is handled by process and repetition .our current building industry model is hopeless and needs a radical re think it attracts bad actors where the quick buck and cheapest possible price are the driving force plus our home designs consume far to much labor are high maintenance no way will alot of the new homes last 50 years there lucky if you get 10 years with no big bills

  11. Visubversa 11

    Lots of the new houses in Auckland are being built by gangs of Chinese builders. You go to a building site and it you are lucky, one person will have some English. The materials arrive by the container load from China. Good luck finding anyone to make a claim against in 5 years time.

  12. Smilin 12

    Its bad enough having a shortage of good well grown pine which has been the crux of the problem with leaky homes rotting and the expensive price of oil causing a huge increase in the price of tanalising for the best part of 30 yrs
    I know of many small tanalising operations who just couldnt compete with the cost of production and the result being excessive price of transporting timber around the country hence the exorbitant costs of building to standard and the use of the so called new technologies that we were all were assured that the use of untreated timber would be ok
    Yeah greed and lies as we all know now

  13. That’s so true that many tend to take advantage of the technology by selling services that doesn’t last long. Not only it hurts the pocket of a user but also there are hassles involved in transporting the material again.
    Hamilton Gasfitter

  14. That’s so true that many tend to take advantage of the technology by selling services that doesn’t last long. Not only it hurts the pocket of a user but also there are hassles involved in transporting the material again.

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