Unsurprisingly, the most common problem mentioned by all the councils revolves around paperwork, namely:
• Wrong plans & specifications on site
• Not reading/understanding consent conditions, inspections required, paperwork required
• Understanding the difference between minor on-site variations and amendments (which require a formal consent application)
• Working with out dated technical literature
• Incomplete producer statements or producer not on “approved” list
• Engineer producer statements not provided
• LBP record of work not complete
• Poor on site supervision of non-LBPs
Inspectors generally noted a lack of co-ordination between the building contractor and the sub trade contractors. For the building inspection process to be completed, all the relevant paperwork needs to be provided, including sub trade paperwork and a complete list of producer statements.
All of the councils mentioned product substitution as an issue. Typical examples include changes in plasterboard linings, insulation, cladding, lintels and coatings. When something different from what is specified in the plans is used, expect problems.
For example, changing from one brand of plasterboard to another may affect bracing calculations. This can be managed with an on-site minor variation provided that all the required paperwork is included with the application form.
One contributing factor that came up consistently was the practice of building products sales people driving around building sites offering a cheaper price for what may appear to be an identical product.
The fact is that substituting consented products and materials with alternatives without getting council approval will nearly always cause hassles and delays.
Many of the councils we spoke to expressed frustration at the inefficiency and extra cost when building inspections were booked, but the work to be inspected wasn’t ready.
Christchurch had faced a significant problem, however, by working together with the industry, has turned things around, explains Council spokesperson Donna Grice.
“Failure rates and waiting times are connected. If you have to wait longer for an inspection when you book you will be less certain of your site being ready, raising the risk of failure. The more failed inspections, the more checks that have to be repeated, pushing wait times out again and adding costs to the project.
"Working together, we have made great inroads. This has been helped by the development of guidelines that explain some basic requirements for each residential inspection type."
Now, residential inspection wait times are down to about 1-2 days, Donna says, while in the commercial sector they have consistently been one day for some time. Failure rates for residential inspections have fallen to about 20 per cent.
Moisture levels in framing during winter builds were a niggling issue singled out by both Napier and Christchurch councils.
“Moisture level fails are an issue for us,” said Napier council’s Chris Meechan, “but it is becoming less of a problem now because builders are starting to use approved packers under the frames.”
As well as high moisture levels, Christchurch council’s Donna Grice rated flashing problems as a significant factor in inspection fails.
“It’s very high on the list for us – the complex details around the flashings – even with all the publicity over the years, they’re still getting it wrong in too many cases.”
Recent media reports about the rising number of building inspections failing in Auckland centred on poor workmanship, with the underlying reason being the immense volume of work being undertaken.
Certified Builders chief executive Grant Florence believes many of the issues are because the sector is trying to fill skills gaps in any way it can.
"The industry's been telling anybody who would listen that we've got a skills shortage in Auckland.”
Ian McCormick, who oversees Auckland Council's building consenting, commented:
"What we are seeing is large numbers of relatively unskilled folk coming into the market, often not supervised to the degree they need to be. Skilled project managers are also busy, overseeing on average 25 jobs at a time. So they'll move from site to site, often with teams of relatively inexperienced folk.”
At one building site, the concrete foundation slab for the house was poured too small. The next tradesman came along and built the framing outside the slab on loose concrete, "which is obviously problematic in terms of structural strength in that wall,” McCormick said.
"The explanation was, 'I'm just here to stand the frame up, mate'. "It's a good example of the fragmented nature of how work is done in the industry."