Building blunders

27 February 2017

We all make mistakes. And at BUILD we thought it’d be worthwhile having a look at some common issues in new buildings and how they can be avoided. Tyrrells Property Inspections managing director Stephen Ransley caught up with Jacob Harris to highlight some common building defects he runs into on the job.

“On brand-new or near-new buildings, the number one defect we come across is water penetration. It might be leaking balconies, leaking roofs, leaking gutters or all of the above. The junction between the door sill and external and internal needs to be really thought about and correctly laid out or it’s going to leak. And if it leaks, it’s probably going to cost.”

Stephen tells me the average leaky balcony in a capital city needs to have everything removed to have the proper membranes put down and detailed around the door sill and the threshold before having everything reinstated and that can often cost between $40,000 - $60,000 dollars to repair. 

“It’s a super costly issue and hard to get right once it’s wrong – there’s no silicone fix or temporary seal you can put in. It’s really a case of removing and replacing wholesale building work.”

Water penetration is a pretty consistent theme at Tyrrells and not only on balconies and terraces. Poorly detailed roofs, box gutters without overflows fitted, box gutters with incorrect falls or no falls at all are also common defects Steven comes across. It seems keeping the weather out is still the biggest task for builders.

This applies to flashings too. Be it inside cavity walls or around windows and doors – any sort of penetration is likely going to be flashed with something to keep the moisture out. And it’s another area where, according to Steven, some builders seem to struggle to get the detail right.

“I think because it’s hidden and it’s hard to determine if it’s wrong unless you know what you’re looking at – and even then you need to look at it at exactly the right time. Once it gets closed up it’s hard to determine whether it’s been properly installed.” 

The fact that it can take a long time before it surfaces as an issue compounds the problem further. If, for example, the building has big eaves and is naturally well protected a poorly flashed penetration might not become an issue until an extreme weather event.

“You get one of those really squally rain events over a couple of days and everything gets saturated then and you realise the windows aren’t watertight. That sort of thing happens relatively often. Again it comes under the ‘keeping the weather out’ headache for builders that they don’t always get right.”

On detached construction Stephen also sees a lot of issues with buildings being straight, plumb and level. He tells me the Guide to Standards and Tolerances outlines what the tolerance is for straightness and plumbness but a lot of the time Tyrrells finds that significant parts of a property being built don’t meet the minimum requirement.

“There are a lot of bent walls out there that are getting fudged and pushed through to the final stage. Often it doesn’t affect the structural integrity too much but it certainly affects the aesthetic quality and the overall quality of the property in the eyes of the owner – so that’s a fairly big one.

“It’s a similar story with brickwork. If the builder’s not on top of the bricklaying trades then you can often get defects throughout the build that are costly to fix. Again not straight, not plumb, variable bed joints, tilted bricks, twisted piers - all the sorts of things that just look poor and are a magnet to owner’s eyes.”

While product failures are not particularly common, Stephen increasingly sees direct importation of products which is an issue Australia-wide. When people bring in building materials directly –particularly from China and other manufacturing countries – there are fewer checks in place to ensure they meet the Australian Standards. If a building has windows, doors, or any sort of hardware that doesn’t meet Australian Standards, it can be a really big issue for all parties involved.

“We see windows that have been installed and don’t block out the noise from the main road like the owner thought they would or a metal roof that has been imported directly from China that is only a fraction of the thickness of the Australian Standard steel they thought they were going to get on their roof. We’ve had clients with directly imported roof material that was rusting at all the joints within 18 months of construction and if you walked on it, it literally just creased and gave way.

“Direct importation and ignorance of the Australian Standards and the building code makes it difficult for a property’s owners. If a product has been certified by the trade as being installed correctly and having its warranty then the owner’s really left with trying to find the manufacturer and trying to prove the inferiority of the product’s performance.”