Home repairs

This Issue This is a part of the Lessons from Canterbury feature

By - , Build 134

From setting up local hubs to establishing an information-rich database of damaged homes, Fletcher EQR has implemented a comprehensive system to manage the thousands of residential repairs in Christchurch.

Moving a home back onto its concrete footings.
A hammerhand removes floor tiles.

A HUGE TASK that will produce many learnings for the physical repair of homes and the management of massive projects, the Cantebury Home Repair Programme aims to fix 90,000 earthquake-damaged houses by 2016 at a cost of over $3 billion.

Scoping the job

The Earthquake Commission (EQC) appointed Fletcher Construction by competitive tender to manage the Canterbury Home Repair Programme. The delivery organisation is called Fletcher EQR.

The programme covers homes requiring repairs funded by EQC costing between $10,000 and $100,000. It covers all urgent works, all replacement of chimney heat sources and all general repairs. Around 80% of homes needing general repairs have less than $50,000 worth of damage.

A hammerhand removes floor tiles.

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The most common repairs

Following all earthquakes over the last 2 years, urgent repair work to 47,000 homes has been given top priority. This has ranged from repairing broken windows to rehanging doors to fixing holes in external decks.

The most frequent general repair work at the 27,000 completed homes has been repairing cracks in interior and exterior walls. This has meant a big demand for bricklayers, plasterers, painters and general carpentry trades.

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Major repairs slower

Home repairs costing more than $100,000 are outside the programme and are less advanced – these are organised by homeowners using insurance payouts. There are an estimated 35,000 homes in this category, with a few thousand repaired so far.

Many major repairs are in areas of weak soils, and soil testing and drilling is occurring to ensure ground conditions are understood. One emerging trend is a change in house piling – where shallow footings used to be deemed suitable for a home, deeper footings and piles are becoming much more common.

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Focus on home heating a priority

Going into winter 2011, the programme focused on ensuring homes could be heated and kept warm by prioritising the chimney replacement programme. Chimneys were repaired or heat pumps were installed, but often holes in the roof or external walls then had to be repaired. This kept carpentry and roofing trades busy.

Heating in 18,000 houses has been addressed, with 8,000 solid fuel heaters repaired and 10,000 heat pumps installed. A target for getting all chimneys replaced by winter 2011 was met, although subsequent earthquakes have continually added to this volume of work.

Trades often encountered contractors working on behalf of the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA) commissioned under a separate programme to install clean heating across city homes. Rather than try to fit in next to each other, Fletcher EQR teams often took responsibility for the EECA work – a rationalisation possible through a partnership between EECA, Fletcher EQR and EQC.

Moving a home back onto its concrete footings.

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Hubs and community liaison smooth the way

To organise the massive workload, the programme has established 20 hubs across Christchurch, organised into three operations areas. Each hub oversees work within its area, with satellite street sheds dotted around streets where work is taking place. Street by street, contractors meet with homeowners, do the work and move on.

Progressive set-up of the residential hubs has been efficient, and their replication has allowed consistency in managing residential areas.

The presence of a Fletcher EQR community liaison officer at each hub has worked well. This person works with all homeowners, particularly those who need greater assistance or direction to get through the repair process. Elderly homeowners, for example, can benefit from having an officer sit down in their homes with the time to answer questions. The presence of these officers often results in fewer hold-ups caused by homeowners.

This multi-billion dollar business was built in less than 18 months, and now Fletcher EQR has 500 permanent staff engaged to perform all management, administration, IT, financial, health and safety and quality assurance roles.

A customised database was built to deal with the masses of data that is generated for approximately 90,000 homes. This database needs to hold information from EQC assessments, claim details, revisits after further earthquakes and Fletcher EQR contractor assessments, and then turn it into consistent and understandable plans for action.

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Quality and safety are prime

The rate of work is larger than anything seen before in New Zealand – around 1,500 homes are repaired each month, resulting in $60–$70 million injected monthly into the local economy via payment to contracting companies.

Having a single organisation project manage the whole job allows coordination and consistency of resources, health and safety controls and building standards that would not be possible if homeowners worked separately with EQC and contractors.

Barry Akers, Chief Communications Manager for Fletcher EQR, believes that processes put in place are making a difference. ‘From the start, it was not just about getting work done quickly. We had to deliver quality and safety.

‘Our subcontractor accreditation process was comprehensive and fair, and it has made sure that everyone is committed to the same building standards. The same applies for health and safety. We put in place a compliance-driven approach that requires all contractors to have specific health and safety plans for all their work and an associated company policy. This was a new thing for many contractors.’

Getting contractors under way and managing their daily work appears efficient under Fletcher EQR’s overarching control. To date, 17,000 tradespeople from 1,100 contracting firms have been accredited to work on the programme. This number is the result of both an effective screening process and the simple willingness of local companies to get involved.

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What have we learnt so far?

At the end of a major lull in nationwide construction work, a building project of unprecedented scale has begun. The programme stands out as a model of productivity in comparison to common headlines about laboured planning surrounding other national building projects.

Latest predictions say Auckland needs at least 13,000 new homes to be built every year at a time when the industry is building fewer than 5,000. Reaching the predicted target will require a major step up in productivity, while at the same time ensuring levels of quality and weathertightness that have previously been unattainable.

Perhaps a citywide scheme led by a single project manager could deliver an unprecedented level of Auckland new home builds in much the same way one is delivering Canterbury repairs.

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Moving a home back onto its concrete footings.
A hammerhand removes floor tiles.