Cladding firms in the gun at last

Policy Parrot says:

Finally the wheels start trundling around in the lead up to proceedings against the big cladding manufacturers.

This case is a test case and will utterly redefine the leaking building saga. Until now it has been a case of slippery avoidance by product manufacturers who have fingered all in sundry for applying the materials incorrectly or inspecting shoddy work.

This Parrot however has always thought it odd that products appeared to be dodging the bullet. Surely if universally houses and buildings that leaked were clad in similar products – and in a large portion the same products – an issue exists with the cladding systems.

Surely not every single builder, developer and Council can have shortcut procurement methodology, conducted inappropriate inspections and or cocked it up?

It’s simply too fanciful to have everyone – the good and bad – at fault. Particularly when using the same product.

Because the common denominator is actually the product.  

When the ministry announced it was about to crack Hardies and others for systemic failure of their products this Parrot was gleefully excited.

This Parrot never much liked the shitty stucco houses and developments in any case. They looked cheap and nasty and we know they were.

Most of those proprietary sheet materials are a blight on our built form and quite frankly the sooner we get rid of them the sooner the quality of our housing stock will improve.

This case has a long way to go yet. Much of this year will be about defining what must be the test to be had in Court proceedings – the questions that must be answered and why.

It’s long overdue. But it’s also at high risk of not happening. If it appears to Counsel for the plaintiffs that try will lose to can sure as hell bet an out of Court settlement will take place. No company selling materials in NZ will want case law to say they and their materials are implicit and at fault.

This Parrot hopes for a savaging of the manufacturers but mostly because this Parrot wants to see their materials pulled from the market due to bad taste. There is no accounting for the cringe factor of cheap imitation stucco houses and bland commercial buildings using express joints as ‘architectural’ features and a coat of paint. Cheap is just cheap and it looks it.

Sure not everyone can afford more sexy claddings but there is brick and it does work well and it at least looks better than the blight that is monolithic proprietary sheet cladding systems.

What we need is to rely on cladding systems that work. And if that means chucking out systems that are a bag of oozing puss then we should do so.

Besides is cost everyone so far except the manufacturers of products who – despite supplying the materials and systems – have to do date got off Scott free.

Big ups to the Ministry for trying and may the force be with you.

  • Quintin Hogg

    This case will take a lot of effort.
    Hardies will use a scorched earth approach and then when the court door starts looming a settlement will be reached.

  • Jester

    As a long time builder, the unsuitability of the products in question was consistently highlighted by the continued deleting, updating or recalling of their product manuals and installation guidelines. The compressed sheet cladding was just not fit for purpose when they initially rolled out the product.
    When a product is introduced to the market and requires installation updates/flashing and fixing changes on a regular basis it really did indicate that they rushed the product out and tested its longevity on the market.

    • blueballs

      100% “nailed” it Jester, as a builder with decades of experience in the industry myself i never trusted or used the harditext system as right from the start i could see the potential for failure of the system as a whole.
      Essentially you had a monolithic sheet cladding direct fixed to the framing where the only protection of water ingress through the sheet joint was a paper thin textured coating. As soon as any movement occured in the sheet joints a crack would appear forming an appeture whereby water could gain ingress to the framing beneath.
      What most people don’t understand is that water will not only ingress through these appetures by the effects of gravity or wind pressure alone. The water is phsically sucked inwards by the pressure differential between the interior and exterior of the building.
      The system is still in use by the way, only it has been rebranded as the James Hardie “Monotek” cladding system. When used in conjunction with a drained vented cavity the water ingress issue has been resolved as the cavity equalises the air pressure and any water that does enter the cavity will freely drain to the bottom and run out.
      However the cracking of the sheet joints will still occur unless a fit for purpose textured plaster system is applied, there are some reputable plaster systems being specified and used.
      I’m glad to see the finger finally being pointed squarly where it should have been in the first place, and by an organisation with deep enough pockets to get the job done.

      • Hazards001

        Well said. In 15 years this is probably the most intelligent comment I have ever seen on this subject. Short salient and to the point!
        I’ve always maintained that far to much of the finger pointing was at the builders and not at:

        1) BRANZ for taking all the corporate backhanders from Hardies and Carters and
        2) Not looking into the councils and developers that were trying to scab an extra 500mm of land at the boundary’s and

        3) Not looking closely enough at the architects that were so happy to incorporate the crap materials and Mediterranean building styles in an inappropriate environment.

        Disclaimer: I’m not a builder and may not have the whole process correct but it’s my personal opinion based on observation and chat on and around developments.

    • Mr Sackunkrak

      And it was marketed as low-maintenance when it was anything but. Some systems relied on the paint to keep them waterproof, but because they were said to be low maintenance no one bothered repainting every third year or so, especially in coastal marine environments where it should have been annually.

    • rouppe

      And when I built the house, the building company did not mention to me that the product had been through this cycle. So builders still can take some responsibility here, as if you felt that stongly about it you would have advised the client against using it and either refused the job if they insisted, or required a disclaimer in the contract.

      I was considering asking to switch to weatherboard but was also aware of the recent problems with pine weatherboard warping due to being made of 15 year old pine rather than 25 year old pine.

      Not being a builder I don’t know the ins and outs of the industry, and rely on the professionalism of the tradespeople – not only builders but plumbers, roofers, electricians, engineers, architects, quantity surveyors – to provide appropriate guidance and information.

      • Hazards001

        I agree…but how come of your list so far in the last 10 years or so the only ones being hounded are the actual builders?

  • rouppe

    I have a house built 13 years ago with that cladding system. Doesn’t leak…. Never has… The weaknesses of the cladding were exacerbated by the propensity to build as if living in Santorini with no eaves…

    In any case what I’m here to say is that the house was also built with framing timer that was mis-categorised. It was sold as top-grade framing timber but it was in fact 1 or 2 grades lower. Again there haven’t been any problems with it, but the point I’m getting to is that the Commerce Commission took Carters to court over the matter on behalf of several thousand homeowners.

    Years and years and years later, the Commerce Commission gave up, settled out of court with Carters, and each household basically got a couple of thousand dollars.

    • Patrick

      Just a question – when the issue first arose about the incorrectly categorised timber there were all sorts of concerns raised about the structural integrity of buildings constructed out of this timber. Does the Commerce Commission settlement suggest that those concerns were exaggerated or do we now have a number of houses that are below structural integrity & would perform poorly in an earthquake or other similar event?

      • rouppe

        I don’t know. Though the house is in the Wellington region and has not suffered anything I can see in the recent earthquakes.

        I think the matter was more about charging a premium price for non-premium product. I don’t think (though I don’t know for certain) the structural integrity fell below minimum standards as a result of the timber being non-premium

  • Claris

    It’s incredibly sad that the Government hasn’t the balls to take on these big companies. Whilst I support big business it is obvious that the cost implication on ordinary New Zealanders and business operators due to these products has been massive.
    Given the choice between protecting business and the people of one’s country we’d do well to have a government who takes on these businesses and makes them remove their product whilst enforcing compensation. Doing nothing says they are a bit mincy

    • rouppe

      I sympathise with the sentiment but the government still has to work within the law. If they just came out and said “Hardy’s pay” then we might as well be living in somewhere like Egypt. Hardy’s work the law like a stripper works a pole

  • Francis E

    I know of a developer who when concerned about the products got Hardies tech reps out inspecting and signing off plans and construction inspections. Years later building leaked and developer joined owners to help.
    Hardies got out of by claiming their product is specified only upto 2 levels but that the building was 3 levels. Therefore owners paid for repairs.
    Hardies are snakes. Developer did the right thing. Reps signed it off despite knowing it wasn’t specified. Wankers!
    Go DOE.

    • Dr Wang

      Francis E – don’t for a minute think that the Ministry of Education are totally innocent parties in all of this though. They were ruthless in forcing costs down and often went too far, and when failures occur they have been quick to bully the little guys involved. The one-man-band builder who worked on our house faced a $4million claim from MOE for work done on our local school (as instructed, using materials specified, installed in accordance with the manufacturer’s specifications…etc) and it cost him $50K in legal fees before MOE walked away without so much as an apology.

      • blueballs

        The leaky building issue in MOE contracts cannot be attributed to cost cutting measures as the harditext cladding system is more expensive than other traditional cladding types. The blame lies squarly with James Hardie and BRANZ who dumped on the industry a cladding system that was not tested properly and not fit for purpose.

        • David

          And a lot of the schools were not built with Hardiex, but with Shadowclad which they are now saying is failing or well due to it only being LOSP treatment and not H3 treatment.

          • blueballs

            Agreed as I said the Shadowclad is not a great product either due to delamination around the laps etc. But the fact remains that 92% of all buildings with water ingress issues have been clad in monolithic claddings.

  • kevin

    Wasn’t this building system outlawed in Canada decades ago? Same with the Dux water piping? NZ seemed a dumping ground.

    • Never in the dark…..

      Perhaps. But so often we have to repeat the errors made elsewhere, hoping and praying we can do it better. Then act surprised when the wheels fall off.

    • Mr Sackunkrak

      Yes it happened there a decade before we had our problems, then to a lesser extent in NSW. I’ve heard that James Hardie knew of the problems with their Harditex product, but rather than face a disastrous product recall and all the cost involved, they kept selling the stuff and sent reps out to sites where it was being used to check it was being installed properly. And even those buildings failed.

  • Muffin

    I’ve always beleived the problem lay with untreated timber framing? I mean its not the end of the world if the house leaks a little but the framing is treated as the rot doesnt spread. Cladding system doesnt help but the biggest problem is the timber used.

    • peterwn

      Agreed, but untreated timber can be used if materials/ workmanship are right up to scratch or if eaves are used. The problem with treated timber is the treatment system is environmentally messy (former treatment sites have required contamination clean-ups), and the undesirability of treatment chemicals being part of a house structure (can be blamed for health issues especially by ‘alternative’ therapists). So it seemed a good idea to do away for treatment for framing timbers, but it left the timber vulnerable if other things went wrong.

      • Muffin

        Framing timber has always been treated up to 1990 when the leaking house thing started. We always specify treated and did right through, and no problems with rotting houses.

    • blueballs

      Not true Muffin, the cladding system of a building is the first and only line of defence against water ingress. I have worked on many an old villa constructed from untreated framing and traditional claddings like weatherboard. These buildings have stood the test of time because they are constructed using tried and proving materials and design. Had they been clad with the monolitihic cladding systems now found to be defective they would have been long gone.

      • David

        The introduction of untreated timber was part of the problem, as was the increased in the amount of insulation required around the early 1990′s which pushed everyone to use batts and this great big sponge in the walls. Yep, the old villas leaked and survived, but they were not insulated so had air movement in the cavity. The treated timber had as an unintended side effect being also helping stop it from rotting, but they did not fully understand that when they did away with it, or if they did, then the big companies who wanted it gone certainly pushed there own case better. We really needed to realise earlier that all buildings leaked and it was how the material behind the cladding worked that was the solution.

        • blueballs

          The untreated timber was only a problem when used in conjunction with failed cladding systems like Harditext. And yes weatherboard clad villas certainly had airflow issues, but would only leak when the weatherboards themselves were compromised by rot from not having been maintained properly.
          I have worked on countless villas where when the external cladding has been removed you could see piles of dust that had built up on the bottom plates over the years, tinder dry and untouched by moisture, even on the south walls which are of course the coldest wettest elevations of a house.

          • David

            I don’t dispute what you are saying bluebells about he untreated timber being a problem with the cladding system when it failed, and not a problem if the cladding did not fail, but really the problem was that we accepted that it would not fail. It was a good system if installed in a lab to exacting tolerances and no movement or weather. The reality is its installed on a site, where tolerances and conditions mean it will never be installed exactly to the exacting stds required by the manufacturer, therefore we should have accepted it would fail and made sure the system behind it would cope.
            I have also worked on villas where there are no flashings, the window blows thru around the windows and they are built like a sieve. but they have stood for 100yrs and will continue to stand. Again they were all different and some not built as well as others, but the framing had the resilience to withstand it.
            I have worked on sites in wgton where the rusticated cedar actually bows from the window pressure and forced the boards apart at the top edge. The buildings are still standing as the building paper and the framing do there job as added protection.

          • blueballs

            Exactly my point, thats why i identified it from the start as a defective cladding system and never used it. I even turned down million dollar jobs that had it specified, flat out refused to touch them. Those buildings have since proved to have water ingress issues and are before the courts. Builders need to trust their own instincts and experience a little more when deciding wether to use some of the materials that are available on the market.

          • David

            You were lucky. I worked with a spec builder and we had clients wanting that sort of system because it was the latest trend so while we still did some brick, cedar was considered out and timber weatherboard was prohibitive, so we were very much market driven and had little option but to give the client what they wanted or go out of business. The fact that councils were approving it and BRANZ has signed it off and hardies was a big cladding supplier and thought safe by clients meant it was hard to argue against them. At the same time experience counted for a lot and most of Builders thought that a BRANZ apprasel was worth something. Only hindsight really showed otherwise although I had figured it out earlier over another bit of advice from BRANZ which they would not stand when councils queried it. If any good has come out of this it is that everyone in the industry is more prepared to question things now.
            Coming back to the Education issue, the problem there is that many of these schools are not failing, but we are being told they are or will do by a company prepared to write a report, and then undertake the remediation work. In reality that company is as bad as many others and is not the same company that undertook rememdiation on projects a few years ago. I know of one house they repaired with their details which is still leaking now, despite having a cavity system installed. They no longer take responsibility as like the shady developers they target they have liquidated their old company and opened a new 20?? one to undertake the education stuff. Will they be opening a new and improved 20?? version if the reports are challenged successfully?

          • blueballs

            Hopefully the lbp scheme has addressed the issue of directors being able to hide behind the wall of Ltd liability. The license holder can now be held personally and directly liable for any defective work carried out.

          • David

            And just to clarify blueballs, I had a house leak even though it had no hardies on it at all. It was clad in Shadowclad with overlapping joints and corrugated cladding with over flashings to all the joinery where it met the cladding, all as per BRANZ details at the time. It still leaked and the timber rotted behind it. Part of it was the builder on site stuffed it up and part was that due to it being exposed on a hill the rain was being driven up under and behind the flashings with the extreme winds at times, so the std details BRANZ suggested and still do did not work well enough.

          • blueballs

            Thanks for reinforcing my comments about builders needing to trust their instincts and experience more, as “shadowclad” has a vertical shiplap joint with a minimal 10-12mm of effective cover, and the laps are prone to opening up and delaminating ( especially when painted in dark pigments ) i would also deem that cladding to be open to ingress issues. As in the case of the high wind exposure of the site you mention, why would you adopt a one size fits all mentality with the flashing design solely because BRANZ say it will work. More thought must also go into design based on effects of exposure on a site to site basis.

          • David

            The laps did not fail in the Shadowclad and in fact most of it did not fail, but the ground clearance was lost by the builder and the owner and the slab overhang was less than it should have been, hence the system failed. It was painted a stain, but again the issue of dark colours only was really explained later and at that time everyone was staining it black. We didn’t, but not thru good information. I notice still alto of houses now stained black without realising they are invalidating the warranty!.
            As for the flashings, again, hindsight and all, but the site was not zoned as extreme on council wind charts. that became apparent after so we had no reason to question the flashings and we thought it was a pretty robust system, council checked it and thought the same and BRANZ had likewise said it was ok, as did the cladding manufacturer, so five groups had all looked at it and said the flashings would be fine, no problem.
            Totally agree over designing for the site, but that also goes to land topography. Why start by building all these retaining walls on sloping sites as they do in Ackland, when you don’t need to. All it does is increase the land cost, when good design would get around it.

          • blueballs

            So was there ground water entering the building aswell, or was it capilliary action from the cladding being in contact with the slab.

          • David

            A bit of capillary work, but also the location meant that water was actually get driven up the cladding by the wind in high wind. It’s not an uncommon issue in Wgton and it happens to windows a bit with the 20mm extrusion cover on the bottom where rain actually falls up. Its fair to say that in wgton there are some extreme locations on the south coast and not just the direct coastal locations. There is probably no where in Auckland that gets the wind like parts of Wgton, except possibly the west coast, but even that would not be as bad as the worst Wgton can offer.

          • blueballs

            That raises another good issue around the effective cover or lack thereof of the aluminium window extrusions.
            Even though the extrusion width is 20mm it only provides 10-12mm of coverage over the cladding, i think this issue needs to be raised with WANZ and some new directives be given there.

    • blueballs

      It is a big deal if the house leaks, and even though the timber may be treated and therefore not rot, there is the much bigger issue of mould growth inside the wall cavity. A very serious health issue for the occupants of the dwelling.

      • Muffin

        I dont mean leak like a shower, but a small leak can be fixed and any directly affected timber cut and replaced. Houses have always leaked, but it is only the untreated ones in that 10 year period that are causing ongoing problems. The move away from the cavity based cladding systems is also a problem regarding mould from a leak. Using treated timber and traditional claddings with cavities like the 40 years before 1990 worked fine.

        • blueballs

          Not sure where you are coming from there muffin, can you give me an example of a cavity system that was used in that 40 year period other than brick veneer.

          • Muffin

            Ok sorry, cavity or airflow, I.e. Brick or WB.

            Leaky houses arent the problem, rotting ones are.

          • blueballs

            It is no happy accident that the ten year period you refer to coincides with the introduction of the harditext product into the industry. Also the timber “treatment” of internal framework you refer to in the 40 year period pre 1990 was almost always only a boric treatment as the pinus radiata framing that began to be more prevalent from the fifties onwards is succeptable to borer attack being a sap wood.

          • Muffin

            Im not denying that the hardies product is crap, they have been found out before and will again. That said the problem of crap cladding has been drastically coumpounded by the use of totally untreated timber. how many of these leaky buildiings would have a much quicker and cheaper fix if the framing hadnt all gone rotten the first time it got wet.

          • blueballs

            The facts are there is no “cheap fix” for this type of cladding failure, as not only do you have the issue of framing removal and replacement, but internal lining replacement & redecorating, insulation replacement, floorcoverings, the list goes on and on.The only way to have stopped the framing from rotting like it has would have been to use timber with a high cca treatment, H3.2 exterior treatment as a minimum. Specifying this level of treatment for internal framing would be extremly cost prohibitive as the framing costs would more than quadruple.

  • David

    Yep, its about time this happened but where are BRANZ and their apprasel certificates in all this. They are still avoiding the limelight despite telling everyone for years that these products were great.
    I also understand that there is more at play in this one as its to do with the leaky school issue. They are also going after a lot of plywood cladding which I understand when it is being removed is turning out to be fine as is the framing under it. Serious questions need to be asked of the people involved in this especially when the company doing the reports is also scoping and doing the repairs for all schools. I understand that many professionals who have looked at the supposed leaky plywood buildings have serious questions as to the need to do the work when there is no evidence of leaks under the plywood and it seems to be a rort on the part of the people righting the reports and then doing the repairs. most are keeping their heads down though waiting for the enevitable court room battles.

  • Graeme

    I’d like to see an explanation from BRANZ. These products all had BRANZ Appraisals saying they were tested and approved for construction in New Zealand. Agents like BRANZ charge an arm and a leg for product testing and should have foreseen the construction problems with these leaky products. They could have insisted as part of the appraisal that they must be used only on a drained cavity system.

    • David

      You said what was the problem with BRANZ right there Graeme. The companies pay for the product appraisals from BRANZ so they are certainly not independent. The appraisals side of it was reliant on repeat work form the likes of Hardies to stay afloat and was confused for the other side of BRANZ which was paid for by the consent fees and produced the BUILD Magazine for the industry and carried out research.

    • blueballs

      When the Harditext cladding system was introduced to the industry the drained cavity system did not exist.

  • peterwn

    So the problem seems to be with the ‘system’ or more explicitly how adjacent sheets are sealed together and edges are dealt with (and even how they are fastened), as distinct from the sheets themselves. If a reasonably competent person cannot successfully install the product in accordance with the instructions and using the recommended accessories, then the ‘system’ is at fault and the ‘blame’ then properly falls back on the maker. The maker would like to think he is selling sheets, but if he has no ‘system’ he cannot readily sell his sheets.

    • kevin

      I’ve seen this crap be put up. A thin but rigid large sheet cladding…. I wonder how that would go on a timber frame that is still drying and thus moving? CRACKS in the cladding. maybe? FFS, simple. Forget the Med look with no eaves as well.

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