NSW con­struc­tion indus­try — an expert’s per­spec­tive (part 4 of 6)

Inter­view with Steven Nakhla – SJN Build­ing Consultants

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 con­struc­tion 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.

Steven Nakhla — SJN Build­ing Consultants

What is your area of expertise? 

I am a gen­er­al build­ing con­sul­tant, a licenced builder and teach the Diplo­ma of Build­ing Stud­ies at TAFE NSW.

How long have you been involved in the con­struc­tion industry? 

15 years

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

3 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?

There is a lack of train­ing for builders and a skill short­age in the trades. With the com­pet­i­tive nature of ten­der­ing i.e. the cheap­est price always wins’, there is no incen­tive to slow down and do for­mal qual­i­ty con­trol inspec­tions. There is a lot of greed’ and rush’, with devel­op­ers and builders tak­ing short­cuts to fin­ish a job quick­ly and at a low­er cost. 

This means that there is no time to do qual­i­ty inspec­tions in between each trade and too much temp­ta­tion for builders to manip­u­late design to get the job done cheap­er and quicker.

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?

There is a need to remove, or at least reduce, the num­ber of pri­vate col­leges which have sprung up to train’ and qual­i­fy builders. There needs to be a high­er lev­el of con­trol over what is being taught, and a high­er lev­el of train­ing on the job under qual­i­fied supervisors. 

To obtain your builders licence in New South Wales, you need a Diplo­ma in Build­ing Stud­ies and work for two years under supervision.

The prob­lem is, who are you being super­vised by and what course are you doing? A num­ber of the cours­es offered in NSW are now con­densed into a cou­ple of week­ends to make them more attrac­tive, and, if you are super­vised by a builder who does not know how to do it prop­er­ly, you will pick up the same mis­takes and the cycle will con­tin­ue. Builder after builder will pick up incor­rect tech­niques and defects will con­tin­ue to rise.

There needs to be decent cours­es offered, via TAFE, col­leges or uni­ver­si­ties who take respon­si­bil­i­ty for the qual­i­fi­ca­tion. There also needs to be super­vi­sion by some­one who is qual­i­fied for a decent length of time. I have seen too many times, a site super­vi­sor who is try­ing to super­vise’ up to 30 hous­ing sites at once. There is just no time for this super­vi­sor to even get to 10 sites, let alone 30 sites and have time to inspect the work properly.

With the lack of edu­ca­tion, is it a sur­prise that builders can’t nav­i­gate their way through the BCA?

What about the BCA itself? In your opin­ion, is there any short­falls in the BCA?

There is not much wrong with the BCA itself, it just needs to be taught as a part of the build­ing cours­es and build­ing licence requirements.

Quite sim­ply, the BCA is not present­ly used by builders. As a builder, you learn from peo­ple above you as an appren­tice, you do what they do and if your super­vi­sor does not know what is right and wrong, how could you pos­si­bly know.

To acquire the Aus­tralian Stan­dards, it is expen­sive. They are unaf­ford­able and most builders strug­gle to afford them so how are they sup­posed to fol­low them if they can’t even buy them. All Aus­tralian Stan­dards should be free and pub­lic knowl­edge. Some cur­rent­ly cost over $250 and there are over 50 of them ref­er­enced in the NCC

What, in your opin­ion, can be done to improve the increas­ing num­bers of defects aris­ing out of con­struc­tion work in the res­i­den­tial sector?

There should be hold point inspec­tions through­out the con­struc­tion ver­i­fied by an inde­pen­dent body who is not paid by the builder. If there was ver­i­fi­ca­tion of works at var­i­ous hold points dur­ing con­struc­tion, for exam­ple in between each trade, by an inde­pen­dent qual­i­ty con­trol body, builders would learn on the job, reduc­ing the need for rec­ti­fi­ca­tion of defects after the job is finished.

I also believe owner/​builder licences should be removed alto­geth­er with more strin­gent builders licence qual­i­fi­ca­tions. There needs to be ongo­ing test­ing of builders, not just the CPD requirements.

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

There is always a way to fix defects, and there is an oblig­a­tion to deter­mine a rea­son­able way to fix defects with min­i­mal inva­sive works and there are many dif­fer­ent meth­ods of reme­di­al work that can achieve results. You just need the best build­ing con­sul­tant who can pro­vide you with as many options as possible.

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 once had a ren­o­vat­ed home where they had con­cealed an entire asbestos roof inside a new ceil­ing space just by fram­ing over it. This was a mat­ter where a pre-pur­chase build­ing inspec­tor had missed the defect dur­ing his inspec­tion and the client bought the home unaware of the major defect.

Any clos­ing comments?

I think the con­struc­tion boom that has just end­ed will force those dodgy’ builders out of the game. There will only be room for good builders who have kept clean and do a good job. The boom has giv­en rise to more defects, too many jobs were done too quick­ly. There has been an unhealthy com­pe­ti­tion in the indus­try where builders want to give the cheap­est price for the fastest job with­out build­ing a qual­i­ty build­ing. You need to be pro-active with front end inspec­tions, if you wait until after the fact, com­plex prob­lems arise.