NSW con­struc­tion indus­try — an expert’s per­spec­tive (part 2 of 6)

Inter­view with Paul Rat­cliff – Paul Rat­cliff Build­ing and Water­proof­ing Pty Ltd

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.

Paul Rat­cliff – Paul Rat­cliff Build­ing and Water­proof­ing Pty Ltd

What is your area of expertise? 

Gen­er­al build­ing con­sul­tant spe­cial­is­ing in water­proof­ing and diag­nos­tic reporting.

How long have you been involved in the con­struc­tion industry? 

I entered the con­struc­tion indus­try when I was 18 years old – so 39 years.

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

For about 20 – 25 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?

That is an inter­est­ing ques­tion, there are a num­ber of reasons.

First of all, I think the qual­i­ty of build­ing dete­ri­o­rat­ed when it went to pri­vate cer­ti­fi­ca­tion. In my view, cer­ti­fiers are not tak­ing on board their respon­si­bil­i­ty to prop­er­ly inspect the work at crit­i­cal stages. That is borne out in num­ber of com­plaints in rela­tion to water­proof­ing and inter­nal wet areas, an area in which are still a high num­ber of defects. 

Sec­ond­ly, I think there is an over reliance on per­for­mance require­ments which are vague. I under­stand why per­for­mance require­ments are in the hier­ar­chy of the BCA, sec­ond to the sec­tion 18D statu­to­ry war­ranties (s18D Home Build­ing Act 1989), but, I don’t think the per­for­mance require­ments go far enough in describ­ing the per­for­mance of the work. I think the func­tion­al state­ments and the objec­tives should be grouped togeth­er at the same hier­ar­chi­cal level. 

Specif­i­cal­ly, going to the Deemed to Sat­is­fy’ (DTS) require­ments which are in rela­tion to water­proof­ing AS37402010 (AS3740) and AS4654.22012 (AS4654.2), those stan­dards are not cur­rent. They have not been kept up to date and there is no link­age between the stan­dards and the com­plaints that are run­ning through the Tri­bunal and the Courts. 

An exam­ple of this, is in rela­tion to bal­cony and planter box leaks. AS4654.2 does not address those issues that have been the sub­ject of the com­plaints. To make the stan­dards effec­tive there needs to be a link­age between the two that make changes to ensure those items which are the sub­ject of the com­plaints I see over and over, are being addressed. The NCAT could pro­vide this data to the NCC and SAI Glob­al so that reoc­cur­ring inad­e­qua­cies are addressed. 

As to AS3740, an issue arose in a com­plex of 103 over 55’s units cat­e­gorised as adapt­able hous­ing. AS3740 does not address the issue of con­trol of min­er­alised salt in tile screeds in bath­rooms and nei­ther does AS3958.1- 2007. There is no guid­ance for a builder on how to con­trol the move­ment of mois­ture through tile screeds. Whilst AS3740-2010 acknowl­edges that mois­ture may cause dete­ri­o­ra­tion, it does not tell you how to com­ply with the per­for­mance require­ments of FP 1.7 of the NCC. Con­se­quent­ly, the builder is not tech­ni­cal­ly at fault because he has met the DTS pro­vi­sions but he has­n’t met the per­for­mance require­ments of FP 1.7 under the BCA – so who is at fault?

Are these con­cerns being addressed in the upcom­ing changes to the NCC due to be released in May 2019?

No, AS 3740 & AS 4654.2 are not sched­uled for revi­sion in these upcom­ing changes.

I was involved in a recent Hackathon’ con­duct­ed by Vic­tor Dominel­lo, dis­cussing home own­ers war­ran­ty insur­ance pre­mi­ums whilst address­ing the increase in build­ing fail­ures. One of the ques­tions asked was, Why is there so many com­plaints in waterproofing?’

Giv­ing you some sta­tis­tics, in 2018, there was $43 mil­lion paid out by the State gov­ern­ment in 809 claims and over 527 projects. There are 19,000 builders eli­gi­ble for HBC insur­ance and 34% of builders are not obtain­ing cov­er (under $25K) and 15% of new build­ings do not have build­ing insur­ance (most like­ly because con­struc­tion is over 3 storeys). 2012 was the worst year for losses. 

The out­come of the hackathon was that the Gov­ern­ment were going to look at increas­ing pre­mi­ums for high risk builders and focus on geo­graph­i­cal areas. I stood up and said the under­ly­ing issues were edu­ca­tion , the qual­i­ty of the Aus­tralian Stan­dards and the fact that the stan­dards are not up to date, con­tain incor­rect prod­uct selec­tion, poor instal­la­tion prac­tices and defi­cient inspec­tion and cer­ti­fi­ca­tion meth­ods. These issues did not fea­ture as causal issues.

The Gov­ern­ment is not going to source of the prob­lem and in my opin­ion, the hackathon was a waste of time. The result will be an increase in pre­mi­ums and will not fix’ one future claim.

Do you have any oth­er con­cerns with respect to the increase in water­proof­ing defects?

The increase in health issues aris­ing from mould. In my opin­ion, this is fast becom­ing the next asbestos dilem­ma. Too many peo­ple are liv­ing in dwellings affect­ed by water­proof­ing issues with high lev­els of mould present. There is no way this can be good for you and there are already many relat­ed health issues.

What needs to be done to fix industry?

You need to look at a six year cycle.

What needs to hap­pen imme­di­ate­ly are updates to AS3740 and AS465.2. These stan­dards need to be brought up to date to reflect prop­er and work­man­like man­ner, not min­i­mum stan­dards. The stan­dards do not present­ly pro­vide for a sys­tem’, if they are going to be a DTS sys­tem solu­tion, they need to adopt a sys­tem that the builder is con­fi­dent the DTS is going to work. 

There should be a dif­fer­ent sys­tem for water­proof­ing a bath­room in a tim­ber framed bath­room com­pared to low move­ment con­struc­tion, ie con­crete slab and brick walls. But, if you go to AS 3740 there is no delin­eation between build­ing struc­ture types. Fur­ther, regard­ing man­u­fac­tur­ing, there is no delin­eation between which mate­ri­als you should be using for which job. If you are going to have a DTS sys­tem, you need to have solu­tions in there that builders, archi­tects and design­ers can rely upon, so they can have con­fi­dence that the sys­tem is tried and proven and will work.

To suc­ceed, you need to get stan­dard­ised sys­tems in place and what would flow from that would be check­lists for cer­ti­fiers so they know what they are to look for when they go out to inspect. If the build­ing indus­try adopt­ed a sys­tems approach in the water­proof­ing which was incor­po­rat­ed in the Aus­tralian Stan­dards, builders would then have a base­line for what is going to work, through edu­ca­tion (i.e. TAFE cours­es) project man­agers will know the sys­tems, water­proofers will install ade­quate sys­tems because they will know what they have to do to make it work, and cer­ti­fiers will know what they have to look for.

In two to three years, the stan­dards could be updat­ed to include a sys­tems approach which incor­po­rates checklists.

Three years after imple­ment­ing a sys­tems approach into the Aus­tralian Stan­dards you would start to see a reduc­tion in claims. Water­proof­ing defects don’t nor­mal­ly man­i­fest until year three but, you would find a change in the indus­try after year three and after year six, you would see a sharp decline in water­proof­ing defects.

Can you sug­gest any oth­er ways to improve the system?

Anoth­er thing that needs to be imple­ment­ed is a mem­brane reg­is­ter. Aus­tralia seems to be the dump­ing ground for water­proof­ing mem­branes that are not fit for pur­pose. Under sec­tion 18B(1)(b) of the HBA, it is an implied war­ran­ty that all mate­ri­als supplied…will be good and suit­able for the pur­pose for which they are used’. Many mate­ri­als, includ­ing mem­branes, have not been test­ed by CSIRO or Branz. They say a prod­uct com­plies but, when push comes to shove, they don’t com­ply. A cer­ti­fi­er asks for con­fir­ma­tion that mate­ri­als have been test­ed and they haven’t been test­ed, the devel­op­er is then left in the lurch.

A mem­brane reg­is­ter should be main­tained by the Office of Fair Trad­ing. If a mem­brane con­tin­u­al­ly results in claims it should be tak­en off the reg­is­ter. This would result in the man­u­fac­tur­ers ensur­ing their prod­ucts are fit for pur­pose and are only being used in areas where they are capa­ble of per­form­ing. It would also mean that man­u­fac­tur­ers would take more care in select­ing who they sell prod­uct too and how it is used. 

Fur­ther, there needs to be the cre­ation of stan­dard­ised data sheets, so archi­tects and design­ers can go to a man­u­fac­tur­er with infor­ma­tion that is laid out in the same for­mat. Some man­u­fac­tur­ers spin data or don’t give you the nec­es­sary infor­ma­tion, if there were stan­dard­ised data sheets for dif­fer­ent mem­branes, every­one would be work­ing to the same infor­ma­tion and this would pro­vide clear infor­ma­tion for design­ers of sys­tems, to make sure that the mate­ri­als are used appropriately. 

Putting it sim­ply, if you use the right prod­uct for the right project, this won’t cost any more and will save rec­ti­fi­ca­tion costs. If there was a sys­tems approach which works, this would solve all of these issues. 

The cost of pur­chas­ing all of the ref­er­enced stan­dards in the BCA is approx­i­mate­ly $3000 to $4000. Then, in a mon­th’s time, there will be anoth­er update that imme­di­ate­ly means the cur­rent stan­dard is out of date. All of the stan­dards, and updates should be made avail­able to builders elec­tron­i­cal­ly as a part of their annu­al builders’ licence fee. You would then get builders build­ing bet­ter. If builders have access to all of the ref­er­enced stan­dards in the BCA, then there is no excuse.

In sum­ma­ry?

You need to intro­duce sys­tems to make it work. If there are approved sys­tems for all crit­i­cal wet areas, an archi­tect can then have con­fi­dence that the design of the sys­tem has been prop­er­ly con­sid­ered, a builder can have com­fort that if they use any one of the sys­tems, that sys­tem will work and the cer­ti­fiers will know what to expect and what to inspect. TAFE can then train water­proofers and all oth­er asso­ci­at­ed trades to under­stand the sys­tems and their requirements.

How cre­ative can you be in your area of exper­tise with rec­ti­fi­ca­tion scopes? Is it pos­si­ble to come up with a unique solu­tion that will solve the prob­lem, reduce poten­tial rec­ti­fi­ca­tion costs for a builder and achieve the results the con­sumer is look­ing for?

In my expe­ri­ence with water­proof­ing fail­ures and writ­ing scopes of work for repair, you either fix it or you don’t. There is no in between with water issues. Water always runs down hill and will always come back unless you fix it prop­er­ly. There may be dif­fer­ent ways that you can go about it and dif­fer­ent mate­ri­als you can use. But, you need to have a mem­brane that is on a sta­ble sub­strate that forms a bar­ri­er to water com­ing into a build­ing with flash­ings that direct the water out of the building. 

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

I would have to say a job in Can­ber­ra where ultra floor’ was used. The con­struc­tion was a high move­ment sub­strate and the mem­brane that was applied, was an acrylic based coat­ing sys­tem which was applied in win­ter. What could pos­si­bly go wrong?

Acrylic mem­brane prod­ucts, when laid, require 24 degrees Cel­sius and 55% rel­a­tive humid­i­ty to cure. This is not going to hap­pen in Can­ber­ra in the mid­dle of win­ter. The sys­tem they used involved con­crete foot­ings and steel columns with con­crete planks laid and then fibre cement sheet­ing laid over the top. It was like a micano set and leaked like a siv lead­ing to a cor­ro­sion of the steel columns. It was a disaster.