Living on quality street

This Issue This is a part of the Grand designs feature

By - , Build 163

While quality might be in the eye of the beholder, there are several practical steps that designers, builders and clients can take to ensure that a building stacks up quality-wise.


QUALITY in the construction industry is a concern amongst practitioners, building consent authorities (BCAs) and clients.

Defining quality

BRANZ Study Report SR380 What is quality in buildings? notes, ‘Building quality is not easily defined or measured ... Despite the challenge settling on a definition, quality is an important concept for designers, builders and users of buildings. Many definitions and ways of measuring quality have been developed.’

SR380 defines three levels of quality:

  • Basic – conforms to the minimum required levels.
  • Enhanced – construction that caters for a range of users now and in the future.
  • High – generally higher quality or more expensive materials and top-quality workmanship, plus the building may have won awards.

What is poor quality?

Several aspects of construction can be considered a defect or poor quality:

  • Non-compliance.
  • Non-agreed variations from consented documents – unauthorised substitution.
  • Failure to meet agreed contractual specifications – for example, different level of finish on plasterboard from that agreed.
  • Premature failure.
  • Damaged surfaces or finishes.
  • Failure to meet accepted industry level of quality or performance.

One of the best places to start is with the clients, whether of the designer or those purchasing from or through a builder or building company.

Tips for designers

One of the first tasks for designers is to inform clients what can be expected in terms of quality. A range of factors influences this:

  • Materials chosen – ensure the client sees a representative sample when using any material or finish that has a natural pattern, texture and colour variations.
  • The expected level of finish on wall surfaces – a painted level 4 finish on plasterboard will not be equal to a level 5 finish. The stopper and painter cannot be expected to transform a level 4 into a level 5, as the level 5 requires specific installation practices such as backblocking.
  • The budget and the level of finish that can realistically be achieved.

Designers set the stage for good quality

Designers can make it easier for good construction quality to be achieved:

  • Tailor drawings and specifications to the specific project requirements. Weed out superfluous information such as cladding types not used on the specific project.
  • Have documentation peer-reviewed.
  • Clearly define requirements for materials and finishes. This is especially important for items like kitchen benches and showers where there are specific Building Code performance requirements. See clause G3 Food preparation and prevention of contamination for benches and clause E3 Internal moisture for waterproofing showers.
  • Reduce complexity in all areas.
  • Include providing samples of finishes as part of the contract.
  • Allow sufficient time when setting contract periods in contract documentation.
  • Facilitate harmonious relationships and better coordination between architectural, structural and services design teams. Adoption of BIM technology is seen as a key tool to avoid construction conflicts between professions.

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What not to do

A great example of what designers shouldn’t do was found in a consent specification submitted to a BCA for a small, simple building. This contained information on seven cladding types, but the one cladding shown on the drawings was not included in the specification!

Tips for builders

Constructionwise, elements of quality are:

  • ensuring everyone involved is committed to quality outcomes
  • allowing sufficient time when pricing work
  • having staff experienced in the specific construction type leading the construction both on site and in the office
  • having defined quality control processes
  • ensuring individual trades or tradespeople take responsibility for their work and respect the work of others
  • daily, or more frequent, work supervision
  • dealing with unsatisfactory work immediately
  • being ready at the appointed time for BCA inspections
  • keeping good records
  • having a quality sign-off protocol – designer, LBP, main contractor, BCA and client.

Tips for the client

The right processes are needed for work to be effectively carried out. Clientwise, this is:

  • employing the designer or an experienced overseer to observe construction
  • making all key decisions ahead of the consent being applied for and the contract being priced and let, for example, selecting benchtops and finishes.

Some protection for clients

Mandatory requirements and legislation have been established to protect clients against the likelihood of being left with a poorly constructed building.

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12-month defects period

For housing, the 12-month defects period starts from the date all building work agreed between the client and the contractor is finished. This is the completion of all physical building work:

  • agreed in the written contract
  • where there is no written contract.

In theory, defects are anything that the client brings to the contractor’s attention that is a result of action or inaction of the contractor. They must be notified in writing by the client, and it is the contractor’s responsibility to prove if the defect is not part of construction.

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Implied warranties

The Building Act sets out implied warranties to protect a client’s residential building work – whether there is a contract or not. Contracts cannot exclude the warranties from applying.

Implied warranties are automatic and cover almost all aspects of building work from compliance with the Building Code to good workmanship and timely completion of building work. A breach of these warranties is a breach of the contract. They are applicable for 10 years after completion of building work.

The implied warranties are that:

  • all building work will be done properly, competently and according to the plans and specifications in your approved consent
  • all the materials used will be suitable and, unless otherwise stated, new
  • the building work will be consistent with the Building Act and the Building Code
  • the building work will be carried out with reasonable care and skill and completed within the time specified or a reasonable time if no time is stated
  • the home will be suitable for occupation at the end of the work
  • the work and the materials will be fit for purpose and of a suitable quality to achieve it if the contract states any particular outcome and the homeowner relies on the contractor to achieve this.

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Consumer Guarantees Act

The Consumer Guarantees Act applies to services provided by the building industry but not to buildings and building materials – they are covered by the Building Act through implied warranties. The Act says:

  • tradespeople need to work with reasonable skill and competence
  • tradespeople must fix work that isn’t competently and skillfully done, at no extra cost
  • if tradespeople can’t or won’t fix work, building owners can get another trades-person to do the work, passing on the cost to the original tradesperson, if it isn’t fixed within a reasonable timeframe.

Quality assessment

There are several resources to assist in the assessment of building quality. These include:

  • MBIE’s Guide to tolerances, materials and workmanship in new residential construction 2015
  • New Zealand standards, for example NZS 3604:2011 Timber-framed buildings for frame straightness, NZS AS 1884:2013 for floor surface levels and AS/NZ 2589:2017 for levels of plasterboard finish
  • Acceptable Solutions, for example, E2/AS1 for flashing slopes and upstands
  • Australian acceptable workmanship guides, for example Queensland’s Standards & tolerances guide – these are more extensive than the MBIE guide in several areas
  • manufacturers’ literature
  • plans and specifications – consent documents.

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