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Thank the regulators

Written By: - Date published: 9:26 am, September 4th, 2010 - 109 comments
Categories: science - Tags: , ,

I was alerted to the Christchurch earthquake this morning by comments in OpenMike. Since then I’ve been sating myself on NatRad’s excellent coverage.

But after determining the extent of the damage, I started looking at the Hawkes bay earthquake in 1931 which was the last one that hit a urban centre. From wikipedia..

The 1931 Hawke’s Bay earthquake, also known as the Napier earthquake, occurred in New Zealand at 10:47 am on Tuesday February 3, 1931, killing 256[1] and devastating the Hawke’s Bay region. Centred 15 km north of Napier, it lasted for two and a half minutes and measured about 7.8 on the Richter scale (7.9 on the moment magnitude scale). There were 525 aftershocks recorded in the following two weeks. The main shock could be felt in much of the lower half of the North Island.

Nearly all buildings in the central areas of Napier and Hastings were levelled (The Dominion noted that “Napier as a town has been wiped off the map”)[4] and the death toll included 161 people in Napier, 93 in Hastings, and two in Wairoa.[1] Thousands more were injured, with over 400 hospitalised. The local landscape changed dramatically, with the coastal areas around Napier being lifted by around two metres.[4] Some 40 km² of sea-bed became dry land, where the airport, housing and industrial property developments now exist.

Within minutes fires broke out in chemist shops in Hastings Street. The fire brigade almost had the first fire under control when the second broke out in a shop at the back of the Masonic Hotel. The hotel was quickly engulfed in flames. The wind at this point also picked up strength and began blowing from the east, pushing the fires back over the city. With water mains broken the brigade was unable to save many buildings. Pumping water from Clive Square they were able to stop the fires spreading South. Only a few buildings in the central Napier area survived. Some withstood the earthquake only to be gutted by fire. Trapped people had to be left to burn as people were unable to free them in time. By Wednesday morning the main fires were out but the ruins still smouldered for several days.

While the damage in Christchurch is significant, it pales in comparison  to what would have happened if we were still on the building codes of the 1930’s. Christchurch will be receiving aftershocks for days or weeks, and repairing itself for many months. However it appears that the structure of the city has no significant damage.

The hordes of engineers and government agencies that will descend on the city will be looking particularly at what buildings and structures suffered damage and how (especially the more modern ones) to adjust our building codes. However it appears that the work done in the last 80 years has largely done its job.

If you look at the list of major earthquakes in NZ, and click through some of the links of the effects of previous earthquakes when we had lower populations, the problems could have been far far worse.

This is probably of small comfort to the residents of Christchurch at present surveying the damage, creating ad-hoc toilets, and conserving water. However without the regulatory work done over the last century in steadily upgrading buildings and infrastructure to cope with shallow earthquakes, we would be looking at a major disaster in one happening so close to a major population centre. Kudos to that sustained effort, usually in the face of considerable opposition from developers.

As Christchurch rides through the aftershocks and cleans up, what will be interesting to see is how well the insurance and EQC systems stand up to the costs of repairs.

109 comments on “Thank the regulators ”

  1. swimmer 1

    Absolutely shocking for the residents.

    • lprent 1.1

      Sure is.

      But I’ve been looking at earthquake risks for the last 30 years – and this is the disaster scenario. A shigh magnitude shallow earthquake close to a population centre. I’m really happy that the damage is as low as it appears to be. It looks like the disaster management is working and chaos hasn’t descended.

      Compared to some of the scenarios i looked at, this is so much better

      • Lanthanide 1.1.1

        It seems a little surreal for me, as our house wasn’t affected very much at all – most places lost power and water. Water was still working for us immediately after (I filled up a couple of bottles), and is now at low pressure.

        The aftershocks were initially occurring every 5-15 minutes, but have now tapered off to about every 30-40 minutes.

        Probably the scariest thing was the noise, it was a really loud rumble as everything in the house was shaking (and trying to pick out the sounds of damage).

        Standing there in the doorway I was thinking “well if it stays this strong, we’ll be ok, but if it gets any stronger it’ll be bad”. Thankfully it didn’t get stronger.

        • lprent 1.1.1.1

          It looks like they are scaling back on the scale as they read more of the seismographs. Started at 7.4 in the early reports, dropped to 7.0, and now seems to be 7.1 on a news report.

          Napier was 7.8. That level would have caused a lot more damage and probably inflicted more injuries but nothing like Napier…

          They’re declaring a civil emergency. Thats good. It means that the army can be called in to support the other services.

          • Lanthanide 1.1.1.1.1

            Yes, the 7.4 to 7.1 downgrade is a little disappointing in some ways – it would be nice to know that this was the level of damage from a 7.4 quake, which is getting ‘up there’, while 7.1 isn’t quite into that same range.

  2. Rosy 2

    Someone I know was told to go into work – in the CBD. Bricks are still falling, for goodness sake!

    anti-spam: wrong

    • lprent 2.1

      But Rosy, I’m not a news reporter given to hysterics. I’m someone who trained in earth sciences and as part of the army. I got a pretty good idea of what kinds of scenarios that they look at. This looks as good as it gets.

      A city of hundreds of thousands of people got hit with close shallow earthquake of a good sized magnitude. That is a people and city killer scenario. It looks like older buildings took most of the damage and the infrastructure looks like it is damaged but intact.

      My perspective is longer term. I’m mostly just relieved. It means that the building regulations worked.

      • Rosy 2.1.1

        oh I completely agree with you, and here in Wellington the council should be using this as evidence to support the update of the code as there is a little bit of opposition about the effect in places like Cuba St. Unstrengthened red bricks ar so not suitable in earthquake zones and the pics in Christurch make that pretty obvious.

        I’m just angry that people are being asked to go out and about while damage is still being assessed.

    • Vicky32 2.2

      To go in to work – unbelievable! I heard on Nat Rad yesterday (Saturday) that there was a police cordon on the CBD anyway… You all have my sympathies – we left Wellington years back, to avoid earthquakes – I was seriously phobic – just shows to go you, hey?
      Deb

  3. Draco T Bastard 3

    It is most definitely a reminder of why we have standards and why those standards need to be maintained and not left to the “free-market”.

    • Lanthanide 3.1

      Very true. Standards foresee problems in the future, whereas the free-market would generally come up with something designed to appease the masses, but not really solve the problem as well as it should. There would probably also be a minor number of buildings built at an appropriate level, but only because the owners wanted it so.

  4. Armchair Critic 4

    100% agree, LP, NZ’s building standards are excellent, compared to much of the rest of the world. They need to be kept this good, and improved.

    • The same building standards and regulations that brought us leaking buildings? What an amazing memory you have. Not.

      • Armchair Critic 4.1.1

        What an amazing memory you have. Not.
        Maybe you could have a look at some of my previous comments about leaky building before you make dumb-arse comments like that. For example, this, or this, or maybe this.
        I’m well aware that parts of the Building Act and Code were inadequate in the 1990s, for a variety of reasons. You may be aware that there have been changes made subsequently, to improve the water tightness of buildings, which seem to have addressed the problem. Which is why my comment was about the current Building Act and Code, not older versions.
        I’m also hoping that you have worked out that there are other aspects of the Building Act and Code, apart from water tightness. Like structural integrity, which is a real strong point of NZ’s approach to building. vto put it quite nicely earlier on today:
        I will tell you who deserves the biggest pat on the back in Christchurch (among many many) and that is the structural engineers of Christchurch. A small group who have been responsible for the designs of all the buildings. Their designs have performed admirably. Their work deserves a medal.
        Couldn’t have said it better myself.
        And no, I haven’t forgotten the $11b bill National gave NZ in the 1990s.

        • Clunking Fist 4.1.1.1

          Maybe I would have a look at those previous comments, but why bother. You seem to be arguing that the previous shite regulation is an exception that proves the rule: central planning is awesome.

          • Armchair Critic 4.1.1.1.1

            You ignored the context of my comment and implied I had said an old version of the Building Code was excellent. I’ve provided links that show you are wrong, though you seem to have ignored the context in them too (I’ve not said “central planning is awesome”, even sarcastically).
            You have no idea how good (or otherwise) my memory is because you have no idea who I am.
            So basically, you are talking shit.
            “Why bother”, you ask. Because otherwise you risk ending up looking like a cock.
            I’m getting the idea that engaging in discussion with you will be futile. Should I visit your blog and check how much of a no-mates loser you really are?

            • Clunking Fist 4.1.1.1.1.1

              I may well be a cock and a no-mates, but at least I don’t think that our gummint pumps out, with out exception, wonderful regulations. That is the premise of this whole post “Thank the regulators”, implying that we little people should let the gummint sort all our woes. As citizens, we shouldn’t be that lazy.

              • Armchair Critic

                The various requirements around building have been developed by a wide range of experts, through many iterations, for a number of governments over many years. My initial comment was not intended to be partisan at all.
                One of the outcomes of this body of work was a total of zero deaths from structural failures when a large and reasonably shallow earthquake occurred near a large urban centre.
                I don’t know anyone who thinks the government should sort out all our woes.
                Providing building standards and ensuring they are enforced is, IMO, one of the roles of government (it’s part of the role of protecting its citizens) and in NZ it is done well.

                • So if the earthquake had not happened to occur whilst the cbd was empty, would you have considered the building regs a failure? If the quake had occured at 4.35pm on a weekday, we would have had deaths. Lady luck, more than regs, saved us.

                  • whadaya know, word verification was \”nobody\”. The interwebs knows me!

                    • Armchair Critic

                      Ha ha, I like your sense of humour, I’ve often wondered if the anti-spam is sentient.
                      I will have to reconsider the unkind implications I made about you previously.

                  • Armchair Critic

                    So if the earthquake had not happened to occur whilst the cbd was empty, would you have considered the building regs a failure?
                    No, I would have considered them to be successful. Not a complete success, but definitely successful.
                    If the quake had occured at 4.35pm on a weekday, we would have had deaths.
                    Almost certainly.
                    Lady luck, more than regs, saved us.
                    Without a doubt both played a part. IMO the regulations were the more important factor overall, because they restricted the maximum possible death toll to the hundreds. The building regulations reduce the exposure of people to the hazards created by earthquakes, by reducing the magnitude of harm and by reducing the probability of harm occurring. The timing of the earthquake helped further because so few people were in places where they were exposed to risk of harm when the earthquake occurred.

      • NickS 4.1.2

        lolwat?

        You seem to have ironically missed the fact that building standards change over time, like when standards were idiotically relaxed to allow untreated timber to be used. But that was more of an exception, rather than the norm, as damage to buildings in Christchurch is due to major earth deformations occurring under a property + unreinforced masonry and brick. As large modern structures, such as multi-level car parks, tilt-slab concrete buildings and modern houses have otherwise come out of it with minor, non structural cracks and other damage.

        Interestingly enough, many of the suburbs in Northern Christchurch that were built on swampy ground have seemingly come out with either no damage or minor sand-blows, (excepting Bexley), despite the issues seen in LA with using poured concrete slabs for foundations. Which is likely indicative of teh RMA and regulations (controlling for other effects) mitigating the usual issues with the natural state of those areas. i.e. good drainage systems have prevented or reduced the threat of damaging ground liquefaction.

        There are other factors though, as I’ve observed biking around the northern suburbs, in which sand-blows seem to be restricted to old channels of the Avon. and the more major streams. If I could be bothered trying to map it with a GIS program, and looking at topography this would probably be evident, but I’d also need data on the volumes of silt and sand, which likely map to localised intensities and water levels caused by the heterogeneity of the soil structure. Though a short cut would be looking at the report linked to in the “What Happened?” comments thread…
        /science

        • Armchair Critic 4.1.2.1

          The final reports on the causes of the damage will be fascinating, NickS. I’m picking that the old bogeyman – unreinforced masonry (and under-reinforcement in general) – will cop a lot of the blame.
          What I reckon will be really interesting will be the relationship between soil strength and damage. From what I can see (from the rural North Island, with coarse geological maps, childhood memories of Chch and the ubiquitous Google Earth), the damage in newer buildings has occurred on soils that are very poorly consolidated and fine Holocene sediments. Hindsight may show that these soils should not have been built on.

  5. Searlo 5

    Yep. That was scary. No damage to my place thankfully but… Thank God this didn’t happen 12 hours earlier during rush hour on Friday. Central Christchurch is a bit of a mess… Heaps of damaged chimneys around my place.

    Those people who put building standards in place saved lives today. No exaggeration.

    At least the construction industry will stay busy for a while down here…

    For people who have damage to yours house – stay safe. Secure your hazards and if you’re leaving turn the power off at the mains. If your power is off your fridge/freezer should keep ok for a couple of days if you leave the door closed. If you’ve got domestic insurance the EQC will cover you up to $100,000 plus GST – and then your insurance company will kick in. BUT there is a cut off point for lodging claims with the EQC of 3 months. So check for cracks in the wall/ceiling that may suggest structural damage. Let your insurance company for commercial insurance/the EQC for domestic know as soon as you can but be aware that there may be some delays due to the large volumes of claims and limited number of assessors out there. Main thing is to keep safe and secure your property from further damage.

    Fingers crossed the power comes on before the cold front whips up from down south.

    catchca: Dangers.

    • Lanthanide 5.1

      Yes, now we can have the broken window fallacy of increased GDP, employment and ‘growth’ due to the earthquake.

      • Pascal's bookie 5.1.1

        Not convinced about the strength of this in this particular case.

        Firstly, the broken window here is going to be paid for, mostly, out of EQC and insurance co funds set aside for the purpose. So the alternate use of the money absent the broken window is in whatever investments they are holding those funds in. Most likely off shore? The return on those investments is also just sitting there explicilty waiting to be spent on something like this.

        Secondly, much of the damage will have been to older building stock which will be replaced with better stock, so there is a gain there.

        Thirdly, there is a shortage of demand out there. When an economy is in paradox of thrift territory, the alternate uses of money that the fallacy relies on, aren’t there. That’s what a depression is.

        • felix 5.1.1.1

          “Secondly, much of the damage will have been to older building stock which will be replaced with better stock…”

          How very optimistic of you.

        • Clunking Fist 5.1.1.2

          “Firstly, the broken window here is going to be paid for, mostly, out of EQC and insurance co funds set aside for the purpose.”
          When those funds were set aside (via premiums), current consumption and future consumption (savings) were lost: the broken windows fallacy was held.

  6. Jenny 6

    This is good news. I agree with you lynne. As bad as it is, this disaster could have been much worse.

    If you compare the damaged suffered in Christchurch to less regulated societies hit by similar sized earthquakes.

    Of course this is no excuse to be complacent and I am sure that we will learn from this disaster to tighten building codes even further.

    Now If we only could only find the political will to impose this level of regulation on the banksters New Zealand would be the best country in the world to live, despite the naturally occurring risks of living here on our very shaky Isle.

    • Jenny 6.1

      A quick comparison of the Haiti earthquake which seemed to be of similar strength with an epicentre a similar distance from Port au Prince as this earthquake’s epicentre is from Christ Church, the death toll was approximately a quarter of a million souls with 300,000 wounded and a million people made homeless. (Latest figures seems to show that the Christchurch earthquake was relatively shallow making it in theory more potentially dangerous.)

      Magnitude:
      Port au Prince -7
      Christchurch – 7.1

      Distance from epicentre:
      Port au Prince – 25km
      Christchurch – 33km

      Death toll:
      Port au Prince – 230,000
      Christchurch – 0

      • Jenny 6.1.1

        The similarities keep growing.

        The depth of both the Haiti earthquake and the Christchurch were measured at 10km.

        However disparities in outcome could not be more different.

        Truely the term “class-quake” is very apt description of what happened in Haiti.

        The terrible disaster that befell Haiti barely qualifies as natural.

        • Lanthanide 6.1.1.1

          Depends if you count modern civilization and it’s resource-pillaging way as “natural” doesn’t it?

        • Clunking Fist 6.1.1.2

          “The similarities keep growing.”

          And another similarilty, the Haiti earthquake was at 4:53. The Chch quake was at 4:35!

          Mind you, Haiti was at 4:53 PM, so just about the busiest time of a day, the streets would have been filled with folk going about their bsuiness. If the Chch quake had been a a similar time, all that falling masonary and glass would have claimed the lives of a few pedestrians.

          But keep on comparing apples with oranges, we still have free speech in NZ.

          • Armchair Critic 6.1.1.2.1

            If the Chch quake had been a a similar time, all that falling masonary and glass would have claimed the lives of a few pedestrians
            True. The fact that the earthquake in Christchurch happened early in the morning avoided the premature deaths of a few pedestrians, motorists etc.
            In Haiti the estimates of death-toll are usually given to the nearest thousand. If the Haiti earthquake had happened at 4:35 in the morning the death-toll would still have been estimated to the nearest thousand.
            An important difference is the regulation around building, or lack of it. Haiti has no building code. As a result, important buildings like hospitals, schools and government buildings collapsed, and could not be used to treat the injured or house the homeless. I’m astounded by people who advocate for complete deregulation of building.
            http://edition.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/americas/01/13/haiti.construction/index.html?iref=allsearch

    • Bill 6.2

      “If you compare the damaged suffered in Christchurch to less regulated societies hit by similar sized earthquakes.”

      How do you propose that building standards be enforced in the case of shanty towns Jenny? Is the lack of building regs really the problem?

      Even in a NZ context, we have to ask why it was ever necessary to bring in all the regulations in the first place. And then maybe go to the root of the problem? Why ever would a builder seek to knowingly construct inadequate structures? Or a food manufacturer seek to adulterate their own produce?

      • Lanthanide 6.2.1

        Depends on your definition of “inadequate structure”, doesn’t it? If the house lasts for 50+ years without major issues, it probably is adequate. If an earthquake comes along and knocks it down, do you then say the house was “inadequate”? It did manage to provide shelter for people for all that time after all. If the builder never promised that the house wouldn’t fall down to a 5.0 earthquake, and then it does so, I don’t think the builder really provided an ‘inadequate’ structure.

        The other point is, that by having regulations, experts can determine the best way to build houses to protect against earthquakes and then write it all down in a way that is more about what and how you need to build things, rather than why. Surely you don’t expect that, without regulation, all private construction companies would produce earthquake-safe houses to the same standard?

        • Bill 6.2.1.1

          Hmm. Regulation as a norm; a set of agreed upon and recognisable standards predicacted on accumulating knowledge is one thing.

          Regulation as enforcible lawful or legal requirements is something else that only becomes necessary under certain conditions.

          If I’m constructing a particular fence to withstand some given conditions, I might reasonably determine that every upright should be sunk into a concrete foundation. But if I’m building the same fence for some-one else to withstand the same conditions, then maximising my financial return becomes more important than constructing a sound fence. So now only every second upright is sunk in concrete or the distance between the uprights is increased or whatever I reckon I might be able to get away with

          So would I expect private construction companies to build earthquake-safe houses to a given standard? No. Not if they could get away with not doing so.

          But what forces them to skimp and short-cut is the competitive environment they operate in where you are either a) undercut competition, rip off customers and beat down suppliers in all manner of ways to succeed, or b) fail

          • Clunking Fist 6.2.1.1.1

            So Bill, all those folk with new houses that were damaged in the quake, why didn’t the wonderful regulations save them? Do you even think there is such a a thing as a quake proof house? I suspect there is, but I suspect that few of us could afford to have it built. Don’t give the regs a mantel of invicibilty they dn’t deserve.

            • r0b 6.2.1.1.1.1

              all those folk with new houses that were damaged in the quake, why didn’t the wonderful regulations save them?

              In many cases because the houses were built on new subdivisions – reclaimed land – that liquified. That’s a new matter that’s going to have to be considered re future regulation.

            • Armchair Critic 6.2.1.1.1.2

              Time will tell, CF.
              In the interim I will guess that, as r0b said, the soils were not suitable for residential use and should have been restricted to other uses.
              The assessment of land for conversion to residential use is a planning function, which is undertaken mostly under the guises of the Resource Management Act, rather than the Building Act.
              It could also be that the planning decision to use the land for residential development was reasonable, based on a risk assessment of the susceptibility of the soils to liquifaction (among other things). The people responsible may have decided the risk was low enough to be acceptable (without being zero, and based on expert advice) and as a result they may have been unfortunate enough to have had the land subjected to an event outside the risk envelope. Or maybe someone just got it wrong.
              We’ll just have to wait and see. Meanwhile you’ve still not disproved the basic premise of the post.

            • vto 6.2.1.1.1.3

              In actual fact clunker, the regulations did save them. It may pay for you to get an understanding of matters before commenting on them.. Regulations around safety in buildings during earthquake and fire and the like centre around preservation of human life, not saving the building (in an event of this scale and rarity).

              The intention is to keep the buildings standing and provide an escape route for the inhabitants. That is the regs purpose. It is entirely expected that bits may fall of them, or they may crack and require demolition after the event. That is how they are designed. e.g. some are designed to actually crack to relieve tensions and stay standing, as a ‘brick shithouse’ would simply explode under such forces. As an analogy clunker, imagine yourself getting an instant and ferocious bout of the shits and your asshole is concreted up… what’s going to happen? thinking, thinking … Better to have a relief valve and clean up the mess later yes?

              It is not feasibly possible to design and construct a building which would survive every type of disaster, of such a size, perfectly intact.

      • Rhinocrates 6.2.2

        Why ever would a builder seek to knowingly construct inadequate structures?

        You faith is touchingly naive. Never underestimate the power of denial. “We’re over schedule and over budget and competitors are breathing down my neck” is good enough. You don’t even have go as far as the moustache-twirling and cackling “No-one will ever know!” These people are gamblers. They gamble that they’ll never be tested later, because they have the big cash incentive hanging in front of their noses right now. There are countless studies by psychologists showing how poor humans are at estimating risks, and how much we mistake wishful thinking for common sense.

        Or a food manufacturer seek to adulterate their own produce?

        And nobody sells tobacco, right?

        Oh let’s see, wasn’t there a case or several in China recently? Fonterra had some connection I remember… A few fatalities, I recall… Then in Spain, a modern member of the EU, in the eighties, some mineral oil was sold as vegetable cooking oil. More metabolically-challenged persons resulted. Couldn’t happen here, right? Sorry about the sarcasm, but really!

        • felix 6.2.2.1

          I think that was precisely what Bill was getting at. It’s the profit motive.

          • Rhinocrates 6.2.2.1.1

            Yes, correct, I was responding to the earlier post, and in a rather facile way. I have rather a bee in my bonnet over people who (appear to) complain that regulations are a reprehensible and unnecessary imposition on their liberty to maximise profits. My apologies, Bill is right.

  7. Jum 7

    The sad thing with the Napier earthquake was the fires, racing unchecked through the streets and no water to stop it. There exists a poignant photograph of a fireman holding a hose and nothing coming from it.

  8. Name 8

    Radio NZ was reporting that with mains power off the area’s cellphone service was expected to start going down about 9.00am as the battery backup on the towers failed.

    IMO five hours battery backup of the cellphone service is not enough. It needs to be 24 hours. That’s going to be a lot more expensive and the service providers are not going to foot the bill pro bono publico, so the Government should require it.

  9. Name 9

    Just four days ago:-

    “The non-residential construction sector is at “the precipice of a collapse”, the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research (NZIER) warns.” (http://www.nbr.co.nz/article/fears-raised-over-construction-sector-129182)

    What was that about ill winds?

  10. Name 10

    Looks as though NZ is going to get its anti-recessionary kick-start courtesy of the EQC, insurance companies and an Act of God. And no doubt Key, English et al will in due course claim credit for it .

  11. Jum 11

    Speaking of using bad news to one’s advantage – it will be interesting to see if Bob Parker’s election chances go up. Has Jim Anderton been given air time. This is supposed to be his electorate to be. Parker was on the radio this morning spreading loving prose.

    • nilats 11.1

      Typical lefty, worry about electing a left wing trougher hours after the disaster.
      Good to see Civil Defence working well.

      to all in Chc, hope all goes well.

      • Jum 11.1.1

        Pot kettle black – your conservative extremist posturing posts damaging the future of our country and you have the gall to call me to account.

        Yes – Civil Defence running well under Labour courtesy of my relatives – of course it will go well.

        And, in spite of your right wing trinity of evil put down there by Key and Smith – Jenny Shipley, Don Brash, Ruth Richardson – carving up Canterbury for your rich mates.

    • Kevyn 11.2

      Good point. Where is Jim? He’s the electorate MP for Wigram, he doesn’t seem to have been spotted by any i-reporters.

  12. James 12

    Name 10
    4 September 2010 at 12:32 pm
    “Looks as though NZ is going to get its anti-recessionary kick-start courtesy of the EQC, insurance companies and an Act of God. And no doubt Key, English et al will in due course claim credit for it”

    And there it is….the fallacy writ large.

    Well predicted Lanthanide….if not inevertible.

  13. James 13

    Draco T Bastard 3
    4 September 2010 at 10:04 am
    “It is most definitely a reminder of why we have standards and why those standards need to be maintained and not left to the “free-market”.

    And yet in Auckland their are houses built over a hundred years ago in a far freer time that are still standing and are highly valued because they don’t leak,,,,unlike many of those built in more regulated times.

    And of course theres the little matter of the market creating and improving materials and building techniques over time while Government contributed just what exactly…? More red tape and compliance costs for bugger all return..

    Funny eh?

    • Searlo 13.1

      Leaky buildings are (by general consent) caused by the loosening of the Building Act and building standards to create a more free market approach.

    • Name 13.2

      Auckland et al’s houses leak precisely because regulations – those requiring the use of treated timber – were dispensed with.

      I was newly-arrived from the UK in the early ’90s and having a house built. When the builder wanted to use untreated timber and said it was allowed I didn’t believe him at first. I certainly didn’t let him, despite the extra cost, and I have a nice sound house now.

      Allowing the use of untreated timber in building was as patently stupid as was lowering the drinking age to 18. In fact both propositions are so obvioiusly and inanely stupid that only a politician would vote for them.

    • NickS 13.3

      The Stupid, It Burns.

      And yet in Auckland their are houses built over a hundred years ago in a far freer time that are still standing and are highly valued because they don’t leak,,,,unlike many of those built in more regulated times.

      That, is literally one of the worst, moronic, over generalised analysis I’ve read in some, heck if it was about evolution it would be almost worthy of the golden age of Fundies Say the Darndest Things. And I have this habit of reading bs from creationists, anti-vaccination boozos, and climate change denialists, so I know very well teh stupid.

      But to the point, basically you’re ignoring changes in building materials, methodology and economics, such as the change in using dense NZ native timbers, to using crappy radiata timber, the development of home building into a major business. As well as ignoring all the lovely “quirks” people who renovate and repair these places have to deal with, such as lack of insulation, rot, rot and rot (I _love_ old windows /grumble), lead based paint, poor roof construction/guttering which leads to water flowing onto the wood and causing significant, and sometimes structural timber rot. And then there’s fun with piles, and rot in the floor supports. Though I deal with the external stuff when I come across it doing paint prep.

      Not to forget either that the leaky home problem was the result of a lack of regulation that allowed untreated timber to be used in building designs which are quite difficult to make weatherproof, and thus ended up with significant moisture issues. Where as the old-style of “slap a roof + large eves on everything used on NZ villas doesn’t have anywhere as many weatherproofing issues.

      or tl:dr; old houses are a whole different kettle of fucking fish compared to leaky homes.

    • Draco T Bastard 13.4

      And yet in Auckland their are houses built over a hundred years ago in a far freer time that are still standing and are highly valued because they don’t leak,,,,unlike many of those built in more regulated times.

      But was the decrease in build quality due to the regulations or the chasing of profit? And then there’s the question: For every house built ~1900 how many are still standing and how many would you have wanted to live in even if they were brand new? As Lanthanide said:

      There would probably also be a minor number of buildings built at an appropriate level, but only because the owners wanted it so.

      Just pointing to a couple of 100+ year old houses doesn’t prove that having no regulations produced better housing.

      Actually, if the market had been left to itself the materials used today would be a lot worse (not that regulations are doing all that well either as there are materials on the market that shouldn’t be there but it’s better than not having them). Thirty years ago pine was 30 years old when cut. Today? 18 years old. Guess which is better for building and which returns more profit. Leaky homes are a case of the market chasing profit and cutting corners and quite often not building to standard.

      • Luxated 13.4.1

        For every house built ~1900 how many are still standing and how many would you have wanted to live in even if they were brand new?

        This point bears repeating. The old houses that are standing today are standing because:

        a) They were the better houses of the era.
        b) They’ve had a lot of money spent on them.

        Basically the houses you see are the top 2% + a further lucky 2% and even then they still have a myriad of inherent issues you wouldn’t find acceptable in a modern design.

    • Daveosaurus 13.5

      “because they don’t leak,,,,unlike many of those built in more regulated times.”

      Actually those built in more regulated times don’t leak that much either. It’s those built after the building standards were massively relaxed in the early 1990s that leak badly.

    • Armchair Critic 13.6

      And yet in Auckland their are houses built over a hundred years ago in a far freer time that are still standing and are highly valued because they don’t leak.
      Usually most of the value is in the land, due to the proximity to the sea, good views and the CBD. The value in the house is heavily dependent on when and how well it was renovated.
      In short, your argument is crap.

  14. James 14

    Haven’t seen anything to disprove my previous point….and much that confirms it.

    Try again comrades.

    [lprent: I take a very dim view of that particular debating tactic of “implied assent”. Do it again and you’re likely to get a bad behavior ban. Learn to argue your point and do not claim to own the debate – it is the mark of a idiot troll who can’t learn. Around here that is dangerous. Also read the policy. ]

    • NickS 14.1

      Ah, I see, we have here a troll who exhibits selective blindness and/or has significant issues with basic logic /smirk

    • Rhinocrates 14.2

      The regulations are there, but they’re often poorly enforced. I’ve had connections in various capacities with the architectural profession and academia in Wellington since the late eighties and I’ve observed that during boom times, developers will get consent for a design… but then routinely claw back costs when it comes to building – and the contractors will do the same too. Building inspectors are often unqualified, untrained and intimidated by developers, further degrading the effect of regulation.

      This applies as much to leak-proofing as it does to structural engineering.

      A friend of mine, who is a partner in a major non-residential architectural firm has told me horror stories about what he’s seen when they’ve been refitting office buildings on Wellington’s Terrace that were put up by Chase Corp and the like before the 1987 crash. So many corners have been cut, and such bad quality of work executed that you do NOT want to be in one of those towers if a similar quake were to hit Wellington.

      Another problem is “innovation” – there are a lot of new materials and techniques on the market, but because they’re relatively new, they haven’t been tested for the decades or centuries that have given us those rugged older buildings (or those ones that have survived and have been upgraded and maintained). Brick (not a good idea in a quake-prone land as the settlers soon found), stone and wood all have centuries of trial and error and long-term testing by use to validate the best techniques of construction. Flat roofs, fake stucco sprayed over polystyrene and whatnot, which are all very fashionable, are a really dumb idea – puddles and leaks from the former, cracks and more leaks from the latter are inevitable.

      The regulations are there, they’re good, but there are too many greedy developers and fashion-driven architects and clients. We’ve been lucky in Christchurch, but enforcement of building regulations has been lacking and that needs attention too.

      The troll is… well, a typical troll.

    • felix 14.3

      Haven’t seen anything to disprove my previous point…

      At the time you wrote that I count 4. Now I count 7. Going by my own experience in the field they all provided valid rebuttals to your spurious claim.

      My guess is that you just didn’t understand any of them.

  15. BLiP 15

    Kia kaha Christchurch – my thoughts are with you.

    I’d better go check my own survival kit, haven’t looked at it in a couple of years. Anyone know how to ensure stored water stays safe for a long time? I suppose it would be better to boil it before drinking or using for cooking. And batteries, how long to they last?

    Off to google I go.

    • Rhinocrates 15.1

      Water becomes unsafe after a few months at best. Bacterial soup: yum yum. Change it every three months or less is the rule I’ve heard. Boiling: about 30 minutes minimum is what has been said on Nat Rad, but someone will know for sure… Not sure about batteries – it depends… It probably makes sense to buy batteries, put them in a row and when you use one off one end, add a new one to the other end so that you’re using up the old ones and keeping the average age of the stock low.

      • Lanthanide 15.1.1

        Your battery idea is basically how you should manage all stockpiles of perishables, including water.

        If you want to keep water fresh, have a system where you empty a container and re-fill it each week, and keep x containers (where x is whatever is required for your needs for 3-5 days). Then, when a disaster strikes and you need to use the water, use the freshest stuff first. My parents use a bunch of 2L milk bottles that’ve been thoroughly cleaned for this.

        • Daveosaurus 15.1.1.1

          “have a system where you empty a container and re-fill it each week, and keep x containers (where x is whatever is required for your needs for 3-5 days)”

          Most households already have such a system, and just don’t recognise it as such: their hot water cylinder.

          Anti-spam word: “FRESH”. Well, only two or three days old, anyway…

          • Lanthanide 15.1.1.1.1

            Hot water cylinders aren’t very portable if you have to leave your house quickly, or indeed if your hot water cylinder/pipes have ruptured.

            • Jenny 15.1.1.1.1.1

              Hot water cylinders aren’t very portable if you have to leave your house quickly

              All the hot water cylinders in a housing development here in Auckland were all carried off in one night.

              (they weren’t full of water at the time though)

              -I just thought you might need a laugh-

      • Draco T Bastard 15.1.2

        Boiling for about a minute will generally kill all bacteria in water. There’s very little that will survive in temperatures above 75 degrees.

        • Lanthanide 15.1.2.1

          Yeah, but better to preserve any fuel source for cooking, rather than boiling water. Point accepted, though.

      • Rhinocrates 15.1.3

        Whoops, shave a zero off that thirty-minute figure…

        And by the way, James is even thicker than he seems, talking about how superior older buildings are. Those older structures have – as required by those dratted socialist regulations – been upgraded to meet modern standards, so the claim that modern standards are worthless is false. Structurally, those older buildings aren’t old at all. Generally, upgrades have been done well, but as I mentioned, the stock of new buildings in cities that experienced building booms in the mid eighties worries me.

  16. Steve 16

    LPRENT,
    How about explaining how the Ricter Scale works? I thought that the 7.4 measurement was 3 times more powerful than the now reported 7.1?
    Do people panic because a worst case scenario is put out by the CD.
    Sure it is bad, but by supplying MEDIA with false info to make NEWS ……

  17. Jenny 17

    Ringing my cousin in Christchurch he assured me that they had got off very lightly. Their power was still on (I could here the TV in the background). But his neighbour had no power. He had run a lead from his house to the neighbour’s.

    The water was off but his son had told him that the local supermarket had a sign outside about free bottled water. He told me there was no obvious damage to the properties in his street though he didn’t have to walk much further from his street to see cracked and damaged roads.

    The worst damage he said was down by the river.

    He also said that by the coast when the tide came in a lot of houses had flooded. It seems that in some places the land has dropped by up to half a metre.

    Another fortunate thing, someone knew that there was an old unused artesian well in the grounds of the local school that had been there for generations.

    When the plug in the pipe was unscrewed the water immediately began flowing out under quite reasonable natural pressure.
    Lots of local people are filling plastic containers. My cousin thought it was advisable to boil it though.

    • Lanthanide 17.1

      Free bottled water eh? What supermarket was that? Flatmate went out and bought water about 11am or so, and said only petrol stations had it. Got back from Countdown about 7pm and they were completely empty, with signs up saying “2 bottles per person”.

      • Bill 17.1.1

        Thought there was rain forecast?

        Saw through the down pipe and collect the rain water coming off the roof.

        • Lanthanide 17.1.1.1

          And get all the crap blown onto the roof from the winds? Let alone all the particulate pollution built up over winter.

          No, safer to boil the running water from the tap, as they’ve been advising.

          • Bill 17.1.1.1.1

            There are many people in this country whose drinking water is rainwater collected from the roof. If you’re concerned about ‘muck’, then throw away the first 10 minutes worth of collection or whatever.

            Most bird shit will have been sterilized by the sun or dried up and blown away and moss and or grass in the guttering offers a natural filtration system.

            Barring lead paint or such like, it’s a pretty close approximation of any potable and natural water course.

            Or drink water contaminated with faecal matter. Boiled.

          • Draco T Bastard 17.1.1.1.2

            Put it through a carbon filter and most that stuff is gone. Boil it if you’re really concerned. Hell, one of those and a hand pump should be part of the emergency kit.

  18. Kahikatea 18

    We can’t judge whether regulation has helped by comparing with dirt-poor countries like Haiti with poor education. The fair comparison is between Christchurch and the Japanese city of Kobe. I think the conclusion is going to be that Christchurch has come off better due to better regulation, but let’s wait and see.

    • Lanthanide 18.1

      Also there is a geographic difference with Port Au Prince. The city is built in a steepish bay, so the earthquake would result in landslides with earth moving downwards, and no matter your regulations that sort of foundation movement is going to cause more damage than a city like CHCH that is flat.

      • Clunking Fist 18.1.1

        So watch out Wellington. Luckily, I’m on the top of a cliff, so I will ride down and squash all before me.
        Hopefully. Unless I’m at work, in which case I’m propably fecked.

  19. Lanthanide 19

    The earthquake may’ve been 3 separate quakes occurring very close together:
    http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/4096802/Canterbury-earthquake-really

    Quote from there definitely matches up with my experience:
    “He said there was an initial foreshock of about a 5.8 magnitude, about five seconds before the main impact, and possibly from a slightly different location. “I think a lot of people were woken up by that, without knowing why, then … whammo!” Prof Furlong said.”

    Open mike 04/09/2010

  20. Kleefer 20

    What a load of garbage. Regulation, in the form of heritage laws that prevent people taking down old “historic” buildings, caused much unnecessary damage and could have cost lives as these dangerous buildings fell apart. In some ways it’s nature over-ruling the central planners.

    Christchurch survived the quake better than Haiti because New Zealand is wealthier and can afford to build better quality buildings, not because we have some bureaucrats telling us how to build. The much-vaunted “code” wasn’t enough to stop the leaky building debacle was it?

    • Draco T Bastard 20.1

      The much-vaunted “code” wasn’t enough to stop the leaky building debacle was it?

      That’s because National, in their infinite stupidity, pretty much deregulated the building industry in the 1990s.

    • Armchair Critic 20.2

      Christchurch survived the quake better than Haiti because New Zealand is wealthier and can afford to build better quality buildings, not because we have some bureaucrats telling us how to build
      The main place where you are told how to build is on a course or in an apprenticeship. Bureaucrats don’t tell us how to build. The Building Code sets performance standards on what is to be achieved, but does not say how to achieve these standards. A set of separate documents called Acceptable Solutions describe methods for achieving the standards. Following the Acceptable Solution generally results in compliance with the Building Code, but it is not compulsory to follow the Acceptable Solution, because there are usually other solutions that meet the standard. Anyone is welcome to ignore the Acceptable Solution, as long as their building meets the performance requirements. Personally I like light and low profile roofs and don’t use the traditional methods for framing roofs, much to the horror of my local building inspectors.
      The whole “bureaucrats telling us how to build” is a bit of a myth, or an over-simplification.

  21. ghostwhowalksnz 21

    San Francisco actually relaxed its building codes after its earthquake and it wasnt till the 1950s that they were bought back to the pre 1906 standard. This seems unbelievable until you realize that developers/builders will be trying the same thing here.
    A lot of the damage in SF was caused by fire, since insurance covered this but didnt cover earthquakes, so owners burnt their damaged buildings
    Similar things happened in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, they wanted to delay the issuing of new flood levels so that home owners could rebuild on their old site.

    • vto 21.1

      ghost.. “This seems unbelievable until you realize that developers/builders will be trying the same thing here.”

      What a load of utter bullshit.

      For your information those various codes and regulations have been developed by the building/development and construction industry. Do you think builders and developers want to build buildlings that will collapse and kill people just to make extra money? Like doctors who don’t medicate people correctly and let them die or get ill just to make extra money? Or politicians who have only their own personal vested interests at stake and care not a jot for the public? Or farmers who produce poisonous food just to make extra money? What a fool you are..

      • Draco T Bastard 21.1.1

        Do you think builders and developers want to build buildlings that will collapse and kill people just to make extra money?

        Well, the builders don’t but, from what I’ve seen and heard, the developers do.

        • vto 21.1.1.1

          And all men are rapists.

          All I see in these threads about building codes and the regulations and cause and effect in this whole matter is a lot of uninformed hogwash that deserves its very own talkback show.

          • felix 21.1.1.1.1

            Who said all, v? Just because it doesn’t include all builders and developers doesn’t make it untrue.

        • felix 21.1.1.2

          There are plenty of people working in the industry who simply aren’t paid enough to give fuck. Sad but true.

      • ghostwhowalksnz 21.1.2

        Sadly you are talking from zero experience.
        I work in this area and the pressure to cut costs, especially on out of sight foundations is very strong.
        Earthquakes are very infrequent and damage can be blamed on acts of god not the developer.
        As well we see houses built 25 years ago which undergo slow settlement and isnt apparent for the first 10-15 years (and isnt covered by insurance). Investigation shows corners were cut during the building ( which at that time had lax inspection as well).

      • RedLogix 21.1.3

        @vto,

        I’m sure everyone’s experiences in the industry are pretty diverse. I’m 100% confident someone of your integrity vto wouldn’t be caught dead deliberately cutting corners.

        But sadly this ain’t so everywhere.

        Just a few months back a credible source told me of how he quit working for one developer because he was fed up being ordered to remove uncut mesh sheets and straight sections of reo after inspection and before the concrete was poured… and then re-used on the next job to fool the inspectors over and over.

        Never underestimate the cupidity of some bastards.

        • ghostwhowalksnz 21.1.3.1

          Luckily its only a very small number who do these extreme measures, but that forces others to do the same to compete.

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