New Zealand's leaky homes saga Q & A

  • Breaking
  • 19/05/2010

By Chris Whitworth

What is a leaky home?

A leaky home is essentially a house where water has infiltrated the cladding (protective layer on the exterior walls of a house) and then becomes stuck behind the wall. The inner framing of the house, walling and floor then remains moist for a long period of time, causing fungus to grow and the timber to rot.

Homes with monolithic cladding (cladding that gives the appearance of a concrete, masonry or plaster finish) have a high risk of being leaky homes. This type of cladding was popular in the 80s and 90s with the rise of Mediterranean-style housing and in some cases allowed the ingress of water through the cladding.

Not all houses are weather-tight but without proper water management systems – i.e. drainage, ventilation and/or a cavity; water can become trapped causing the many issues now faced by owners of leaky homes.

A PricewaterhouseCoopers report commissioned last year estimates between 22,000 and 89,000 houses in New Zealand are affected.

What caused leaky homes in New Zealand?

Several political factors contributed to New Zealand’s leaky home saga, but the tight economic climate of the 1990s also played a large role with builders and homeowners looking to cut costs.

The main catalyst to leaky homes was the loosening of building regulations in the early 1990s, meaning less red tape and costs for builders.

The downgrading of a building apprenticeship scheme also saw under-qualified builders flood the market. As a result, many houses suffered from shoddy construction and incorrect designs.

In 1995 it became legal for builders to use untreated timber, until then radiata pine – the predominant building material – was treated to prevent attacks from bora and fungus. Untreated timber was permitted so long as the timber was kiln dried a certain way.

Unfortunately the onset of leaky houses was not foreseen at the time, however even if the level of treatment had been retained, many builders argue it wouldn’t have avoided many of the expensive remedial repair work now being done.

What are the signs?

The problem with identifying leaky homes is many go unnoticed while serious internal damage is done to the house’s structure.

The main warning signs to look out for are:

- cracks, or holes in the wall

- gaps in sill flashings under windows

- a musty smell in the house

- discoloration of the walls

What are the health risks?

Leaky homes pose severe respiratory risks to residents – especially young children and the elderly.

Breathing disorders such as asthma and bronchitis can develop from damp houses.

Leaky homes also present an economic downfall, with rooms unable to retain heat during the winter. 

What is the new "bail out" scheme promising?

On Monday the Government announced a bail out scheme after years of indecision.

The new scheme sees the Government contribute 25 percent to homeowners with leaky homes, coupled with 25 percent from local councils. The remaining 50 percent is to be paid by the homeowner.

The catch is, upon signing up to the scheme homeowners waiver their right to sue the Government and local councils.

The estimated cost of fixing New Zealand’s leaky homes problem is $11.3 billion, according to a report commissioned by the Building and Construction Minister Maurice Williamson last year.

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source: newshub archive