NSW con­struc­tion indus­try — an expert’s per­spec­tive (part 3 of 6)

Inter­view with Allan Har­ri­man – BCA Log­ic

Over the com­ing weeks, I will be releas­ing a six part arti­cle series. The arti­cles will doc­u­ment my dis­cus­sions with build­ing con­sul­tants who are in the know when it comes to the cur­rent state of the NSW con­struc­tion indus­try and the high per­cent­age of prop­er­ties which are found to con­tain build­ing defects aris­ing from orig­i­nal build­ing works. 

These experts will give their per­spec­tive on the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion, the fail­ings, the pos­i­tives and their views as to what can be done to imple­ment change and help builders, devel­op­ers and con­sumers alike.

Present­ly, in place is the Nation­al Con­struc­tion Code (NCC), imple­ment­ed with a goal of achiev­ing a nation­al­ly con­sis­tent, min­i­mum nec­es­sary stan­dard of rel­e­vant safe­ty (includ­ing struc­tur­al safe­ty and safe­ty from fire), health, ameni­ty and sus­tain­abil­i­ty objec­tives efficiently’. 

There is appar­ent work to be done to achieve the goals of the NCC.

Allan Har­ri­man — BCA Log­ic

What is your area of expertise? 

Build­ing Reg­u­la­tions and Fire Safe­ty Engineering.

How long have you been involved in the con­struc­tion industry? 

35 years.

How long have you been pro­vid­ing expert wit­ness reports in build­ing claims?

Since about 2007, 12 years.

With the NCC in place, in your opin­ion, why do you think there is still such a high rate of defec­tive work aris­ing out of res­i­den­tial con­struc­tion in NSW?

In respect of fire safe­ty, there is a vast array of prod­ucts and build­ing techniques. 

For exam­ple, if we look at gas pipes and the com­bi­na­tions of out­comes. There are two types of pipe (cop­per and PEX), 10 com­mon wall types, 3 FRL’s and 5 man­u­fac­tur­ers with approx­i­mate­ly 3 prod­ucts each. This means that for a hum­ble gas pipe, there is almost a thou­sand com­bi­na­tions to achieve a prop­er instal­la­tion of gas pipes available.

Com­bine this with oth­er ser­vices such as water, NBN, PVC pipes and elec­tri­cal cables, the recent increase in the num­ber of wall types and new fire rat­ed prod­ucts to treat pen­e­tra­tions there are thou­sands of com­bi­na­tions and near­ly as many test reports to con­sid­er when inspect­ing penetrations.

How do you think edu­ca­tion could be improved for builders? Do you think it is a fail­ure at the super­vi­sion lev­el or are there oth­er fac­tors at play?

For sub-con­trac­tors, the tech­ni­cal cours­es do not teach fire seal­ing. There is no for­mal train­ing avail­able in this area which is a major shortfall.

Oth­er fac­tors at play are that the sup­pli­er’s prod­uct brochures, do not tell the whole sto­ry. You need to read the test reports to check that the sys­tem is appro­pri­ate for the appli­ca­tion. Some­times get­ting the man­u­fac­tur­ers to release these test reports may be difficult.

There is now only one home own­ers war­ran­ty insur­er, per­haps if the insur­er looked at all of the defects and deter­mined the areas where most defects arise (at present water­proof­ing) and put the pre­mi­ums into run­ning edu­ca­tion­al short cours­es for builders on par­tic­u­lar issues, such as water­proof­ing and fire, the inci­dence of defects may be lessened.

What needs to hap­pen to make it work?

The best way is to have a design for the solu­tion of the pen­e­tra­tion pri­or to start­ing construction.

The design process needs to include test reports to ensure com­pat­i­bil­i­ty of the pen­e­tra­tion as opposed to the sub­strate. Very few are design­ing this prop­er­ly and the fail­ure is that after a pen­e­tra­tion is put in, and some­one comes along and says seal it, it is too late. You can­not fix a pen­e­tra­tion prop­er­ly at this point, it needs to be done in the design phase.

If the sub-con­trac­tors are trained prop­er­ly and are giv­en the test reports before they start the work and have a prop­er design, it will work. When we are engaged pri­or to com­mence­ment of con­struc­tion, we ensure a sam­ple instal­la­tion is con­struct­ed on site and to which the sub-con­trac­tors can keep going back to check when pro­gress­ing through the con­struc­tion of the building. 

Job spe­cif­ic train­ing is the answer as every site is dif­fer­ent. Dif­fer­ent prod­ucts, dif­fer­ent design, dif­fer­ent solu­tions. It comes down to bet­ter design and more infor­ma­tion shown in plans and specifications. 

There are con­cerns about the whole design and con­struct’ process.

How cre­ative can you be com­ing up with a rea­son­able alter­na­tive solu­tion to rec­ti­fy­ing a defect with­out rip­ping every­thing apart and start­ing again?

It is dif­fi­cult. Get­ting a test report is a test of a per­for­mance of a prod­uct in a wall of a par­tic­u­lar service. 

If you have a builder smash a hole in a wall, you can’t just fix the hole, as instal­la­tion and tol­er­ances for fire safe­ty mea­sures are crit­i­cal. You need pre­cise mea­sure­ments. Test reports are the ulti­mate test of per­for­mance so it is not always pos­si­ble to do a quick fix’.

The major­i­ty of alter­na­tive solu­tions, involve apply­ing an addi­tion­al lay­er of a prod­uct that is a test­ed sys­tem’ e.g. fire rat­ed board, so that you can treat pen­e­tra­tions prop­er­ly through that addi­tion­al layer.

Out of inter­est, what is the worst or most unusu­al defect you have seen in your time report­ing as an expert on build­ing defects?

The scari­est is hav­ing pipes going through a wall with 2 or 3 bricks miss­ing at each pen­e­tra­tion and this being repeat­ed through­out a whole building.

I was involved in a stra­ta site com­pris­ing 472 units. Upon inspec­tion, there was no evi­dence of fire rat­ed prod­ucts on any of the ser­vices through the walls, which meant for the pur­pos­es of fire, all units were interconnected.

This was a home own­ers war­ran­ty insur­ance claim where the fire safe­ty’ defects were noti­fied out­side the two year statu­to­ry war­ran­ty peri­od and accord­ing­ly, insur­ance was denied and the own­ers of the stra­ta units wore the cost of rec­ti­fi­ca­tion. In this case, it was esti­mat­ed that the builder saved $350,000.00 dur­ing con­struc­tion on fire safe­ty, but, cost the stra­ta own­ers $6 mil­lion to re-instate after the fact.