Eyeing building quality

This Issue This is a part of the Building quality feature

By - , Build 166

Quality issues in housing can range from relatively minor aesthetic problems to those likely to have serious long-term performance impacts. BRANZ has been talking to industry experts and clients to identify issues and suggest improvements to the process.

DURING RECENT industry workshops, BRANZ asked industry experts to develop a list of technical building quality issues. Defects that were felt to have the highest impact and occur most frequently were deemed to be the highest priority to address.

Experts’ highest-priority quality defects

In general, high-priority issues related to practices that allowed moisture to penetrate the building envelope. Problems were also reported with incompatible materials being used together, poor-quality materials or workmanship and poor installation practices.

Weathertightness remains an issue that the New Zealand construction industry must address. Inappropriate sealant use was identified as the highest priority issue. It was felt to be occurring on many building sites and having a major impact on the long-term quality of the building.

Reliance on preprimed H3.1 LOSP timber was also identified as a high-priority issue. It was felt that prepriming was being interpreted as giving weatherproof protection. Damp timber was also sometimes being used in enclosed spaces where the timber may not be able to dry.

Finally, the buildability of a design was also considered a high priority. Design errors were found to be a common issue in the consent documents, and those that remain undetected during the construction phase may, in extreme cases, lead to injury or death.

Three important overarching issues

Experts identified three overarching issues that were considered of medium to high priority:

  • Incompatibility of materials.
  • Specifications that were not followed or inadequate.
  • Materials that were not fit for purpose.

These issues require greater awareness from the design stage of how materials should be used, especially in conjunction with other materials. Impacts of incompatible materials or materials that are not fit for purpose generally result in problems for the building owner down the line.

When installation specifications are inadequate or not followed, problems such as moisture entry can result and, over time, lead to high-cost repairs for owners.

Clients look to show homes and plans

Clients who had recently built a new house were interviewed to determine how they viewed quality and where they felt their builder could have improved their building experience.

Clients interviewed selected their builder based on the quality of the builder’s show home and ability to get plans suiting their section and vision. However, builders noted that word of mouth was how they got most of their work.

Specifications critical to both sides

Standard terms and conditions were rarely changed, but building specifications were acknowledged by both builders and clients as critical to reaching an agreement. Some clients realised the importance of specifications after the build was completed, while others took plenty of time to ensure everything was planned before signing a contract with their builder.

Clients reported that support for decision making was appreciated. It was often difficult to make decisions without a proper understanding of the context or implications. Plans can be difficult to visualise, especially if the client has not had experience with reading plans or commissioning building work previously.

Visualising progress was also important to clients, while builders had to balance the risk of inexperienced people on site with providing assurance that progress had been made.

Communication is vital

Communication throughout the building process was vital to a positive result for both the builder and client. The level of communication strongly influenced clients’ perceptions of how the building process was progressing. Frequent, accurate and information-rich communication was appreciated, while inaccurate and reactive communication resulted in warning signals for the client.

Some clients were unhappy with the time it took for issues remaining at handover to be addressed. Their perception was that remedying defects was low on the priority list for builders who had moved on to their next project, and sometimes responsibility for the follow-up was unclear.

Almost all of the clients interviewed reported that, overall, they were pleased with the final result of the build. The one who was not happy had many outstanding issues to be fixed and no clear resolution in sight.

Advice for smoother process

Builders and clients understand quality in slightly different ways and have different expectations throughout the building process. Communication between builder and client is absolutely key to a smooth construction process, including negotiating when a client can come on site.

Clients may have trouble making decisions, especially where the context and implications are unclear or they need to visualise the solutions. Clients who experienced push back on their decisions were often appreciative, as it allowed them to either confirm what they wanted or make a better decision.

The handover process marks a critical stage in the building process, and a formalised process appears to work best. Clients were surprised to see obvious issues remaining at this stage, indicating that preparing for handover would be time well spent. Along with the formal identification of issues, a detailed plan to address outstanding issues would be appreciated by clients. This would remove anxiety and leave less room for disagreement.

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