Leaky Homes


The Government has just announced that it is prepared to partly assist those who are effected with homes that come within the scope of what today is known as, a ‘Leaky Home’ syndrome. In New Zealand today it’s an enormous problem, it only manifests itself some years after homes have been built, and those constructed in a certain mode. In many cases the builders have moved on, or are unable to be contacted. The luckless owners suddenly finds that, they have now been saddled with a relatively new home, that’s slowly rotting from within. Unfortunately they are faced with a mammoth repair bill, which when coupled with mortgage repayments, in many times this is beyond their financial resources. As well, nobody in their right mind would want to purchase any one of these infected homes. As well these homes are not just an odd random cases, in fact, there are thousands of homes similarly effected.


There is more than one cause of this building aberration. It was really made possible when the building code was altered some 10 years ago to allow untreated timber to be used in framing. This is the nub of the problem when coupled with a change of architect practices to allow the use of chicken wire and plaster. What we used to call ‘Rough Cast’. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very much in favour of this method of construction. It’s cheap, and practical. I witnessed something when I was very young, that made on me an lasting impression. It concerned an old home that had it’s life extended by this method. It had caught fire, and the only thing left standing after the home was destroyed, was the chicken wire and cement.


Architects even after some six years training deserve some blame. In spite of hundreds of years of building homes, our forefathers were savvy enough to know, if you didn’t have a reasonable roof overhang protecting the walls of the home, they would leak. I know that in many parts of the world many were built with none, but surprise, most of these homes that were built this way were in the Sahara, or some other place where it didn’t rain very much. Unfortunately, our Architects full of book learning, and in many cases very little common sense, went on a crusade to produce ‘clean cut’ homes with no overhang. And the result was they leaked, coupled with untreated timber rotted away internally.


However all this being said, coupled with some sloppy building practices and a modern adaptation of this style of building which gave the Architects free reign to express themselves, and to produce homes that looked stylish, modern, and relatively cheap.


These homes were not built of chicken wire and cement, as we did in the past, but a modern equivalent. Slabs of cement board. Great care had to be observed with this method of construction, in that all capping, and flashing, were up to the manufacturers specifications. Herein lies the root of the problem. If water was allowed to leak onto the untreated timber interior framing through poor building practises, ‘Dry Rot’ found an easy target. Relatively new homes were now being destroyed from within. The unsuspecting owners were unaware what was happening until it was too late. Remedial action, without specialist assistance was next to impossible. This method of construction also allowed into the building trade, what are loosely called cowboys. It was surprising what a couple coats of paint could conceal. If the builders had traded under the guise of a limited liability company, they could go into receivership, or liquidate the company virtually disappear overnight avoiding any legal redress. Enter the lawyers ready to sue, and in the process garner fat fees. The Government’s move of paying 25% of the repair costs plus a further 25% from by Local Bodies, was to deal lawyers right out of the equation. These grants haven’t pleased many of the Home Owners either. But it’s a much better deal than going down the legal path where they could fail more often than not in their claims, yet still be stuck with legal costs.


Of course, ‘It’s not enough’, cry the home owners. But it’s the only deal in town. Further, the Government will extend to the owner a long term loan which is more than fair. The only looser on this sad scenario is the rate payer, who will have to pay for the councils 25% in the end.



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