Leaky homes

Written By: - Date published: 1:10 pm, May 26th, 2010 - 44 comments
Categories: housing, local government, national - Tags: , ,

Unchained from my desk in The Standard writer’s dungeon for my ten minute exercise break in the courtyard this morning, I noticed (through a gap in the watchtowers) that it was raining. Raining hard. Must be the government’s fault – I just need to find the angle!*

Seriously though. Take care in the wet people. In particular, drive safe. Too many of us are driving like idiots.

National isn’t responsible for the lousy weather, but it is to blame for how vulnerable we are to it. Thousands of homes are leaky and rotting, a legacy of the stupid deregulation of the building industry by National (including current Auckland Mayor John Banks) in the 1990s:

The leaky homes crisis followed deregulation of the building industry, where a resulting lack of rules meant problems with design and products left thousands of homeowners with ongoing problems. Issues included flaws in design, product, cladding, workmanship, rules and checks.

The costs are enormous – estimated at 11 to 22 Billion dollars. Recently the current National government, including some who were partly responsible for creating this fiasco in the first place, outlined their model for funding repairs:

Owners of leaky homes will have half their repair bill paid by central and local government under a new government plan announced this afternoon. The plan will see the taxpayer kicking in 25% of the repair cost, ratepayers another 25% and the owner, through a government guaranteed loan, the remaining 50%. The deal is dependent on the affected councils signing up to it and they have been given until the end of this month to do so.

There are no good solutions. The current owners aren’t to blame, but they’re stuck with enormous bills. The lucky old taxpayer / ratepayer isn’t to blame (except for electing National governments!), but they’re picking up half the bill. It’s a mess. (Remember this whenever deregulation or “voluntary” regulation of some industry is proposed.)

So now it’s crunch time for councils. And the realities are starting to sink in:

$87m leaky homes threat to Wellington rates
By AMANDA FISHER – The Dominion Post Last updated 05:00 26/05/2010

Wellington City Council’s bill to fix leaky homes has blown out to $87 million more than three times previous estimates. And ratepayers, including those still living in rotting homes, may have to pay for it with a rise in their rates.

The city council will vote tonight on whether to support the Government’s rescue package in which the Government and council will each meet 25 per cent of repair costs. There are an estimated 2115 leaky Wellington homes eligible for the scheme.

Estimates have tripled? And that is in Wellington, far from hardest hit by the crisis. This is a vote that will be watched with great interest around the country I am sure, but really, what else can Wellington do? What alternative is there, but to pass on the cost to ratepayers? There are no good solutions to this mess.

[* That was “humour” by the way. Exercise break is only five minutes.]

44 comments on “Leaky homes”

  1. grumpy 1

    The building industry is NOT deregulated – just ask anyone trying to build a house and the red tape from local councils and the monster that the New Zealand Building Code is.

    Leaky houses is one thing but it is the resulting rot that is the most serious. The stupid Greens driven decision by Labour to allow untreated pinus radiata is the cause of the real disaster.

    interesting that similar situation in Vancouver led to the government being held liable – as it should be here.

    • Jim Nald 1.1

      Haha. What a tragic comment trying to counter Rob’s blog. Illustrates the low creepy crawly levels to which the rabid Right would descend. Creativity with the facts has been fully twisted to the limit. Remember all readers: leaky homes = National disaster. Reflects the rot of the National political house.

      For those wanting to sheet the responsibility, blame and tragedy off National, note:

      * The Building Act 1991 was passed during the Jim Bolger-led National Govt. The Act became fully operative on 1 Jan 1993.

      * Sep 1995: Standards New Zealand approved NZS 3602 Standard – this allowed use of kiln-dried untreated timber for framing

      * 1 Feb 1998, Building Industry Authority approved NZS 3602 as meeting durability requirements – allowing use of untreated timber

      • Gooner 1.1.1

        Thanks Jim for pointing out three areas of regulation.

        • Draco T Bastard

          Ah, the catchcry of the really stupid – “See, it wos the rugulation that did done it”.

          The first act by the then National government was the removal of regulation. The second two were really stupid standards passed with encouragement from industry. Industry wanted to decrease prices to increase profits and not treating the timber reduced costs.

          • grumpy

            but Draco – R0B’s post was about it being caused by “deregulation” – make your mind up.

            • Daveosaurus

              “but Draco R0B’s post was about it being caused by “deregulation’ make your mind up.”

              “The first act by the then National government was the removal of regulation.”

              I don’t think Draco is the confused one here.

        • Jim Nald

          Seems like more needs to be pointed out, including to you.
          That will have to wait when I have a mo.

  2. ianmac 2

    Treated timber is not a cause of rotting. A water-tight house or boat does not rot! The newish requirement to have only highly treated timber on exterior framing is a bit pointless.
    In the 90’s when the then National Government relaxed the Building Code, probably saying that Market Forces will weed out shoddy planning and workmanship, all hell let loose. Those who were in the Govt then like Bill English, Smith and Smith, and others should at least put their hands up and say ssssssorry and offer to pay for their damage!

    • lprent 2.1

      Treated timber is not a cause of rotting.

      It is irrelevant. The only difference between a leaking building with treated timber compared to untreated timber is the time taken for the rot to become irrevocable. The difference in time isn’t that great if the moisture is persistent. The problem is having structures that hold moisture in walls for longer thereby assisting with the rotting.

      The real issue with the style of building that went on in the 90’s was that it was far too susceptible to retaining water when water got inside walls. You got water in through a crack in a monolithic coating and it would sit in the insulation and wood providing a nice moist environment for bacteria and mould virtually forever. Older weatherboard houses didn’t have that issue because they were too draughty – they tended to dry out.

      That is why all buildings must now have a cavity wall system with drainage. I always remember drilling into a structural column with a 9mm drill – we got a stream of water coming out that took 15 minutes to stop. There was no egress for any water that got into the structure.

      The second and probably bigger problem is that pretty basic mistakes and violations of building codes were not picked up by inspection. In my apartment block there was insufficient underside water proofing on the balconies that didn’t conform to the code, and the bathroom waste pipe for the shower were not supported sufficiently for the code. Both leaked water into the structure and rotted them out. Both were inadequately inspected.

      Fortunately we were inspected by the city council. Meant that we got a settlement for the work we’d done just before it went to court. But I’d love to plonk the bill for the aggravation, frustration, and near bankruptcy on the pillocks in National who screwed up the building code. Since I can’t get them – I’ll concentrate on John Banks who was one of them.

      • prism 2.1.1

        “You got water in through a crack in a monolithic coating and it would sit in the insulation and wood providing a nice moist environment for bacteria and mould virtually forever. Older weatherboard houses didn’t have that issue because they were too draughty they tended to dry out.

        I understand there were two main problems, apart from some untreated timbers used as joists and decking. One was the monolithic cladding which appealed to the Living in Tuscany afficionados but unwise because NZ is not known for hot, dry year-long settled weather. There was no or very small eaves so numerous entry points for rain – at top of wall and along joins.

        Then there was the airtight nature of the design. It was decided that it would be more energy efficient not to have draughty houses and so walls and studs etc were sealed. But the moisture got in and then remained, couldn’t escape further down and couldn’t dry out as no moving air. What’s that called – anaerobic? Result nasty moulds. A health hazard that could have been predicted if the process had been thought through.

        But the old regulations were made by those civil servants who wore cardigans, scorned by Bob Jones in the 1980s, they lacked the smart, sharpness and uniform of the modern man with new ideas. Like copies of ‘The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit’ which was a book about the army of new men in business who had been demobbed after WW2 and their conformity to the hegemony of their time

        • lprent

          Yeah, when I brought in 97, I was quite careful to buy a place with good eaves and seals on the apartment block.

          The problem for us was that the inadequate underside water proofing on balconies was allowing water to walk backwards on the wood in the balconies into the wall. Once it was in the wall then it was all over.

          We could have removed the balconies, but the beams that supported them went right back into the wall of the building. To fix the balconies we had go all of the way into the wall. Since there were 60 balconies that wouldn’t have left a lot of wall untouched. So the whole front wall got replaced.

          The problem at the rear was that the bathrooms leaked because of inadequate fixing of the pipes, and did so into the back wall (which was otherwise completely protected from the weather).

          The walkways at the rear were also getting water in them from the downpipes in the supporting columns. That was because there were no compression joints in a 3 storey downpipe. When the roof settled a few centimetres it broke the top seals, and water went down the columns – which rotted them out, and the walkways that were attached to them.

          The underlying problem was that all of the building systems would have worked if the implementation was good. If anything was wrong, then you got systemic failures because there wasn’t any ‘failure’ systems to minimise how far the problems spread.

          Most of the leaky buildings I’ve had a look at have similar failure issues. They weren’t structurally built to deal with failures in any single part.

  3. big bruv 3

    Hang on Rob;

    According to Helen Clark there is no such thing as a leaky home, she said that it was a ‘beat up’.

    • Armchair Critic 3.1

      That’s the weakest “Labour did it too” argument I’ve ever seen.

      • big bruv 3.1.1

        Did I hit a raw nerve Armchair?

        It is a bit rich for the increasingly desperate Labour government to attack the Nat’s for this.

        Clark ignored the leaky homes issue for nine years because she could not see a lot of votes in it, the owners of these houses were not from the demographic that votes Labour.

        I do not agree with the solution as proposed by the Nat’s, but at least they are doing something.

        • Armchair Critic

          Did I hit a raw nerve Armchair?
          No, not at all, Labour’s failure to correct National’s fuck up over leaky buildings does Labour no credit at all.
          But it also doesn’t mean that it isn’t National’s fuck up. I’d love to see National to put their “personal responsibility” theory into practice and stump up with some of the cash themselves. Bet they are all words and no action, though.

          • big bruv


            On this subject (and sadly on many others under the gutless leadership of Neville Key) the Nat’s have forgotten all about personal responsibility.

            It is unforgivable that the tax payer is being forced to bail out the people who own leaky homes, my house does not leak, my neighbours house does not leak yet we are the ones who are going to have to pay a truck load of money to those who do have leakey homes.

            That is socialism at its worst, other peoples leaky homes are not my problem.

            • Armchair Critic

              Indeed, National’s solution appears to be to put the cost on someone else’s tab.
              My house leaks, and I’m pretty sure it’s made out of untreated timber. But it’s about 100, so the timber is matai and the leaks let water in and out pretty quick.
              Wouldn’t it be nice if the poor old taxpayer had some of their burden relieved, by a government who actually recovered costs from the responsible parties, like an insurance company would?

            • prism

              “we are the ones who are going to have to pay a truck load of money to those who do have leakey homes. That is socialism at its worst, other peoples leaky homes are not my problem.

              Other people’s leaky homes are everyone’s problem. The stock of homes from which we choose when wanting to move and change house, is now tainted with some having house ‘Aids’. They are diseased and if not cleaned up some unwitting buyer or renter will suffer ill health that may become chronic along with the house’s ill health. Yet it is beyond many owners purse to remedy this problem.

              Also in society our actions impinge on others, and when there is a big stuff up we are all affected by the individual’s tragedy. Failures in regulation like this also cause a loss of respect for government showing that they lack a duty of care to the citizens, and to carry out their duties in a responsible manner.

    • r0b 3.2

      I know HC is you hero BB, and you take every word she spoke as law. But you need to get over her. She was human, and she made mistakes. That was one of them. BB, you need to be strong, and find someone else to tell you what to think…

      • big bruv 3.2.1

        So Rob, are you admitting that Labour let down the people of NZ by ignoring the problem for nine years?

        If so there may well be hope for you yet.

        Keep going, keep opening your mind, soon you will come to realise that the left are always wrong and that the only way to really improve this nation is a strong right wing government.

        • vto

          ha ha, you two are like little kids at either end of the see-saw, which is always entertaining..

        • Clarke

          I love the way “keep opening your mind” is juxtaposed with “the left are always wrong” in the same sentence with no notable sense of irony … when it comes to keeping an open mind, should we do what you say rather than what you do, BB?

      • r0b 3.2.2

        So Rob, are you admitting that Labour let down the people of NZ by ignoring the problem for nine years?

        No BB, I’m admitting that when HC said, in 2002: “Having said that, the seriousness of the situation appears to be a fraction of what the beat-up in the New Zealand Herald implies”, she was premature, and that events proved her wrong.

        Labour didn’t ignore the problem at all. Labour fixed the building regulations, and was moving to deal with the financial mess that Nationals cock up created too, but they lost the 2008 election. So now National have to deal with their own mess (for a change).

      • Draco T Bastard 3.2.3

        BB thinks? :O

  4. vto 4

    11 to 22 billion dollars across 4 million people equals $2,750 to $5,500 per person.

    That means for the average household of say 3 people $8,250 to $16,500.

    for fucks sake that is unseemingly unfair if you had absolutely nothing to do with new homes during that time.

    Rather than tax every person to pay for this the govt should tax all those who were active in the govt, local councils and building industry during that time. That would be far fairer fanks..

  5. stevo 5

    After building a rot proof and highly insulated concrete house at additional expense, which does sometimes leak (well the shoddy colorsteel roof does but with little consequence), eschewing the whole inadequate standard of homes that we generally build here…I initially resented any thought that I should be spending any part of MY tax and rates to fix a problem caused MOSTLY by the large building materials companies and their shoddy products and stupid systems based methods of using them, and to a lesser extent the councils, approving authorities and builders saddled with this nonsense.

    But, after further thought on this, if we cannot sue the arse off those companies mainly responsible for this mess, the only real recourse is to spread the burden of those most unfortunate enough to have this problem as thinly as possible across the whole population.

    The tax payer and the government must shoulder all the responsibility..period.

    And from now on, have a requirement for insurance cover for leaks based on the risk factors of the building method used in construction. The market can then decide if building out of polystyrene and no eaves is a good idea.

    • Armchair Critic 5.1

      There is less incentive to build houses with a life of more than 50 years after National removed the ability to claim depreciation on them. With every loophole reportedly closed, another opens.

      • stevo 5.1.1

        Well, after the last QV valuation done on our home with the associated letter explaining things like how permanent the materials used in construction affects the value, we’ll take that little win, along with low heating bills, low maintenance and a life exceeding 100years.

        • vto

          ya concrete is the one. Plenty of materials for it in South Island. In fact, with all the rain at the moment in Canterbury all you would have to do is drop cement all over the plains and the rain and gravel would turn the entire province into one large concrete pad. I’m sure nobody would mind – similar effect as all dem moo cows sprouting everywhere…

          • stevo

            so you are serious and want a discussion the relative merits of various construction methods in the various environments we have in NZ and you have something to offer on the way out of this mess?

            • vto


            • vto

              oh go on then. Having recently used about 60,000 tonnes of concrete I am quite a fan of it.

              thing is.. there aint no way out of this mess. It will drag on and on and on and on… Some homes will be repaired, but many will not and eventually die a sad death at the blade of Barry Bulldozer.

              • felix

                And for many of them that’d be the best thing, sooner rather than later.

              • RedLogix

                concrete I am quite a fan of it

                Same here vto. Built twice using Reid’s Nirvana system with great success.

                But where the hell did you put 60k tonnes of it???

                For my next project I really want to try Timbercrete.

      • Draco T Bastard 5.1.2

        With every loophole reportedly closed, another opens.

        Especially when the NACT+MP government seems to go to great length to open them.

  6. tc 6

    There’s no winners here, we taxpayers/ratepayers cop it either way so I’m relaxed with the Nat proposal as at least 50% stays with the homeowner which I’m sorry to say is the loser here….someone has to sadly and it will not be the pricks who caused it that’s for sure.

    It’s the same old same old…..quick bucks, development at any cost and that moronic ‘market forces’ argument when the reality is you get what you pay for with those cheap apartments/units etc and to quote an experienced drainlayer the other day…” degregulation and the loss of experienced council inspectors allowed the cowboys out to rule the range ….you should see the crap I deal with these days it’s criminal”.

    the nat’s did this whilst killing off apprenticeships…..we now have a critical lack of skilled traedespeople to deal with it…..bravo banksie/williamson the masters of no vision and foresight.

    • Draco T Bastard 6.1

      ‘ degregulation and the loss of experienced council inspectors allowed the cowboys out to rule the range .you should see the crap I deal with these days it’s criminal’

      That’s pretty much what my nephew, a builder, says. He’s sure that we’ll be having another leaky homes episode in about 10 years.

      we now have a critical lack of skilled traedespeople to deal with it…

      And the tradespeople we do have aren’t being adequately paid because the “market” has decided that they cost too much so even more cowboys are playing the field. One stop shop type guys doing building, plumbing and tiling that don’t have training in any of them.

  7. RedLogix 7

    A few weeks ago I was listening to one ex-builder telling me how his boss had him set out and tie down all the floor mesh for the inspector’s visit, then rip the uncut sheets up that evening, lay the concrete next morning…and re-use the same sheets over and again. Same for all the straight lengths of reo.

    Downright scary.

    • B 7.1

      Even worse, there seems to be an assumption that the inspection problem was confined to residential timber structures. Not the case! Structural concrete and steel in Auckland’s high rise apartments were subject to the same ‘de-regulated’ inspection regime. Some of these will be death traps in the event of an earthquake.

      • Armchair Critic 7.1.1

        Yeah, now there’s something you don’t see discussed much – what was the role of private building inspectors in certifying leaky buildings? IIRC the whole idea of private building inspectors didn’t last that long.
        Did they get legislated out of existence or did their insurers hike their professional indemnity insurance levies so high they became unsustainable?

        • lprent

          They got legislated out of existence in the first term of the last government. However that was after there were essentially none of them left. They were unable to get insurance.

          In my case we were lucky enough to have been inspected by the council. That meant we were able to claim a large part against the council and therefore were able to get paid for the all of the basic costs of reconstructing our building. The settlement effectively ignored the hardship and suffering by the people who owned those apartments in paying for the reconstruction while the council and other parties diddled around delaying as long as possible in getting a settlement.
          They were hoping that the money would run out…

          People who got inspected by private building inspectors are pretty well dead in the water. You might get a judgement. However they don’t have insurance and essentially no assets – that is if you can find them at all.

          Whoever the National moron minister was that thought private building inspectors was a good idea – that is a person that was dead from the neck up.

    • grumpy 7.2

      Seems true to me. A mate was building a house and the inspector put a hammer through the gib to find no insulation. Seems the builder was putting it in for the inspection, then taking it out. The electrician potted him,.

  8. jaymam 8

    The problems of leaking monolithic cladding were well known before the year 2000.
    Anyone who had such a house built after that date was a cheapskate and should not be entitled to compensation.
    Before spending a lot of money on something it makes sense to do a bit of research.

    • lprent 8.1

      Incorrect. The issue was that the architecture of the buildings was not able to cope with a single failure in any part of the building system. They required more inspection and checks.

      However the deregulation gave them less inspection and checks.

      See my comment above

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