Weathertight remediation: A quick introduction for builders

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Welcome to the first in a series of articles based on a series of workshops on weathertight remediation for builders which the Department of Building and Housing has been running at centres all over New Zealand.

As the presenter of this course, I have been able to share some of my experiences from a decade of remediating leaky buildings with fellow builders.
Whilst it would be impractical to cover all of the content of this full-day workshop in this series, I aim to cover some key points that may assist any builder who is considering getting into this line of work to perform quality remediation and manage any project risks.

So what actually is a leaky building? At some point in its life a building is highly likely to allow some water past its cladding. It is how the building deals with that moisture that is the key.
If moisture can’t quickly drain out and/or if air can’t circulate to promote drying behind the cladding, extensive damage can result. By far the majority of the hundreds of buildings I have been involved with showed few, if any, visible signs of water penetration and resultant damage.

You don’t need to have cracked exterior plaster or have interior linings falling from a ceiling to have trapped moisture-related damage. A gradual and occasional introduction of moisture is all that may be required to create an environment suitable for decay to be present and flourish.
This can be relatively rapid where little or no treatment is present in the affected framing.

We don’t actually know exactly how many buildings have been, are, or will be affected. A 2009 Price Waterhouse report estimates between 22,000 and 88,000 homes, with the industry consensus being around 40,000.

A truly staggering number of families have been, are, and will be impacted by this estimated $11 billion phenomenon. Whilst a majority of current cases are appearing in Auckland, many experts believe it is a New Zealand-wide problem. Those residing in dryer geographical areas just may not have discovered it yet.
So how did we end up here? There is much conjecture and controversy about what has caused this problem, but it is my view in short, that it is a systematic failure of the industry as a whole.

Complex, incomplete and questionable suitability of building design, poor use and suitability of some products, incomplete technical knowledge and skill, as well as too little ongoing training for many involved in the building process, have all contributed.
Why get involved? Clearly there are a large number of leaky buildings needing repairs. This presents an opportunity for builders at a time when new builds are at historic low levels.

There is a perception that getting involved in leaky home repair work is risky and best avoided. While, arguably, there are more risks and unknowns associated with these projects, if a builder goes in with eyes open and is aware of these risks and ways that they can be managed, a successful outcome is more likely to result. This will be of benefit not only to the builder, but also the client and all those involved in the project.

In this series of articles, I will be talking about a range of things that are important for the builder to be aware of including:
• Assessing the project’s risks
• Working with the right team
• Tendering
• Health and Safety
• What happens on site
• The 4 “D”s

• The second in this series of articles, to be published in the September issue of Building Today, will discuss how you, as a builder, may get involved in a leaky building project, and the things you’ll need to know.