Up to 40% of Auckland Council building inspections failing; Council's building control manager fears experienced builders are being stretched and leaving workers unsupervised

Up to 40% of Auckland Council building inspections failing; Council's building control manager fears experienced builders are being stretched and leaving workers unsupervised

There are urgent calls for the building industry be renovated, as Auckland Council’s failing up to 40% of its building inspections.

Auckland Council building control manager, Ian McCormick, says the push for Auckland to ramp up its housing supply is putting the construction industry under pressure, and seeing the quality of work take a dangerous dive.

Last month 29% of Council inspections didn’t make the cut, and recently there was a week where the failure rate was just under 40%.

Given the Council does 132,000 inspections a year, that’s nearly 40,000 failures. It also doesn't take into consideration the properties that may slip through the Council's cracks.  

McCormick says that while failure rates fluctuate from area-to-area, week-to-week, they’ve been on a downward slide over the last year and a half.

Lack of supervision

The issue is, there are too many new houses to be built in Auckland, and not enough skilled workers.

“To deliver on Auckland’s growth needs we’re actually building a Hamilton every four or five years in Auckland. So all of the buildings, all of those roads, all that infrastructure, (is being built in Auckland every four or five years,” McCormick says.

This year's National Construction Pipeline Report also says the value of Auckland residential construction is expected to grow by 126% from 2013 to 2018, to $9.6 billion. 

McCormick has narrowed the problem down to experienced builders being too stretched to provide adequate supervision on site.

He’s noticed, “Even the most competent builder, someone who our building inspectors… hardly ever have any issues with… Will suddenly have some really significant failures associated with the building inspection.

“Normally what’s happened is that a really good builder has ended up being stretched. He’s running too many jobs at the same time; he ends up not being able to get one of the sub-trades he normally uses, and ends up having to use someone else who’s not as good (that’s probably the reason they’re more available) – not as experienced – and he fails to recognise he needs to put more supervision on that work to make sure it’s done properly.”

Productivity low and worsening in building sector

He points out all the re-work that’s having to be done as inspections fail, is seeing productivity in the sector plummet.

McCormick says productivity in the sector is the lowest of all the sectors in New Zealand, and has worsened over the last 10 years.

“You think of every other industry; there’s technology that’s come in, there’s new learning, new ways of organising people, collaborating to create products, and it’s more efficient and it’s more productive. Not the case in the construction industry – it’s really quite concerning.”

Building culture to blame – not the developers or govt

McCormick denies developers are exacerbating the problem, pressuring builders to do more – quicker and for less.

He says developers are in a position to help alleviate the housing shortage, so “we absolutely need them”.

“They’re not creating the pressure. The pressure’s actually part of the community and people’s desire to want to live in Auckland.”

He says the industry doesn’t have a culture of quality assurance embedded it in, as others do.

Building inspectors are seen as “checkboard Charlies”, who simply tick boxes rather than require quality on a more holistic level.

“That type of perception is really problematic”, McCormick says.

“Quality should be something that everybody embeds, it should be the way they do things... unfortunately in many parts of the construction industry this is not the case.”

He denies the Building Code isn’t robust enough to ensure work is completed to an adequate standard. He also says the Government isn’t to blame.

“The answer is really for the industry to recognise we need to work better together. We’re doing that a lot better than we were previously.”

He says professional affiliations like Master Builders are doing lots to help their members, however the residential building industry needs to up its game and meet the standard which the commercial construction industry is meeting.

McCormick says there is a good culture within the commercial sector, whereby a robust construction management system sees work completed to a high standard.

Furthermore, he notes the work builders do is becoming increasingly complex and require higher skilled workers. 

We welcome your help to improve our coverage of this issue. Any examples or experiences to relate? Any links to other news, data or research to shed more light on this? Any insight or views on what might happen next or what should happen next? Any errors to correct?

We welcome your comments below. If you are not already registered, please register to comment.

Remember we welcome robust, respectful and insightful debate. We don't welcome abusive or defamatory comments and will de-register those repeatedly making such comments. Our current comment policy is here.

40 Comments

Comment Filter

Highlight new comments in the last hr(s).

Okay , for years everyone has been aware of the cook-and -push stuff being built by a certain group of people.

Nothing new , just that its possibly more now than before

Nice story but I don't buy it.

To take this from a fun sound-bite to something substantive you would really want know some data like the % rate of failures on projects where the builder is building on their own account as opposed to contracting to a developer or owner. How many failures are in the sub-trades as opposed to the construction (both are mentioned in this story). And we would all want to know how many of the failures are of the nit picking variety vs something that would really affect the projected life of the structure.

The issue is, there are too many new houses to be built in Auckland, and not enough skilled workers.

Might be a problem in the future but right now when the failures are being logged? The Building Consent stats issued by Statistics NZ every month based on the data McCormick's own unit supplies shows the current situation is not that desperate. While residential building has picked up slowly over the last three years the rate of increase is not high. In fact for the average family home the rate has barely changed. And overall the rate is way under the rate required to meet the targets of the Special Housing Accord. It doesn't look to me like there is any special pressure on the construction industry in Auckland right now.

Or you could just admit that when land prices are absurdly high and the government's own definition of "affordable" is 8 times median household income, there is real pressure to cut costs anywhere. Presumably that includes construction costs as there are no discounts available on regulatory costs at Auckland Council.

No its not even a nice story .... its an serious indictment on Auckland Council for allowing to get so far out of control.

We pay these highly skilled people in Auckland Council a huge sum of money to get this right ............ and what do they do ?

Cock it up .

Like Auckland Transport that August body of bureaucrats who has grown its staff compliment from 40 people to over 400 staff , while overseeing the most chaotic deterioration in our transport and traffic in our lifetime .

Auckland Council and its divisions need a shakeup , just like Fonterra is going through .

Oh, what a surprise... we couldn't possibly see that coming!!

Didn't mention the number of foreign builders from countries with much lower standards than ours. I've heard of a house that failed an inspection on 67 different counts, foreign builders with no idea of our rules. Imagine the number of things the council didn't notice - I wouldn't want to buy that place!

What country could possibly have lower standards than the ones that produce such shoddy houses as here? We do build good boats that don't leak and do last here however.

Guess ?

I have seen some of the things going on at some of the houses being built on the shore .

I am going to be politically correct , and say ........... you know exactly who they are .

In many cases the blokes wielding the tools can barely speak or read basic English , let alone interpret and comply with complex engineers specifications , convoluted building regulations and a host of other legal and technical requirements .

mmm ...
I thought you were describing most KIWI builders for a moment there ;-)

https://www.consumer.org.nz/articles/buying-a-house

Depends what you mean by lower standards... Most countries don't have the number of inspections and the amount of documentation and red tape that we have. They just have builders and inspectors that know what they are doing and they use decent products. Maybe we should focus on proper apprenticeships, having a builders register where cowboys are struck off, etc rather than having so many rules and paperwork.

You are so very right. Training has gone down the drain. Even well qualified builders from Europe quickly adjust downwards, however. I guess the concept of doing a decent job for decent money is out of fashion. Too many bad examples out there of money for nothing.

Just talking to a UK chippie, things are tough over there, but most good chippies seem to end up service very small areas, and charging a lot per job. Lots of cowboy's, lots of unfinished jobs, but most of the housing stock has been around since Noah, and many of the old regulations ..well there weren't any

Australia. Their houses are nearly as bad and their climate mostly a lot less benign. I basically view all NZ houses as baches. Makes it easier to make your peace with them :-)

With all the good raw materials in NZ, the variety of stone alone is stunning, what a shame that construction culture is probably the poorest in the Western world. Maybe we all SHOULD be happy that the Chinese dont care and buy anyways.

They certainly don't care about the quality - they have been scooping up the plaster houses as if they were never a problem, even the ones that have had a condom wrapped around it for what seems half their life and everyone except the agent selling it knows that it is a "leaky" house.

neighbouring property has been a building site for a while. They are trying to build 2 houses. I say try because the results are appalling. I have been a builder myself in a country where house insurance is unheard of because houses are built properly and don't fall down or catch fire every second day. In this case the builder is Kiwi, starts very early in the morning and finishes at 3 when it's beer time. The progress is slow as. I've been taking daily pictures of progress until I got bored because there was no progress. Don't know what the guy does all day.
On top of that the techniques are terrible, materials poor and machinery non existent. No cranes, no machines to bend steel, very little steel anyway, makes cement with a spade, building site is messy with leftover wood scattered everywhere.
throw away wood is used for all concrete pouring, that needs to be cut to measure and hammered piece by piece, while in first world countries new techniques are used with reusable wood panels or steel panels or plastic, even paper castings to standard sizes.
Amateurs is a word that comes to mind

that is the normal method for boxing concrete on small sites. The use of shutters for formwork is limited by the cost and low number of times they get used. In theory steel shutters are better and give a fairface finish, but in NZs atmosphere they tend to rust quickly so are seldom worth the trouble.

Remember NZ builders, despite being project managers, and responsible for all coordination of subcontractors are the lowest paid tradespeople in New Zealand. Since NZ is so cost sensitive, with wages being so low for the majority of the population...... how much building work, and premium tools for your builders are most people willing (able) to afford?

Probably starts early so he can finish early.
workplace cleanliness is an issue, as is what pours he can do with a manual mix - with 30-45 minutes maximum time between concrete surfaces, that can only be done for fence posts/letterboxes, or single piles.

Why would he need to bend steel? dont need steel reinforcing in pile holes, it would weaken it.
As for cranes in NZ, he'd need a permit, and elfin and safety would have to clear it. not worth the hassle. By the time he gets to the roof he probably won't be buying in truss's anyway. It takes a little longer to put up support members to do it yourself, but if he's in no rush, and doesn't want the nightmare of staff, he could just do the work himself - even hire a mate should he want a hand for a particular spot.

If builders are the lowest paid I'd hate to see what the others get paid!

See, from your comment I can tell that you know what you are talking about but I think you miss the point. The point is that houses are poor quality with these techniques. A builder like that shouldn't have his own company. There needs to be larger scale entities that invest in equipment, training and staff. This is just the result of deregulation where any one can do this kind of job as long as he charges less then the next guy. There are no excuses for building shitty houses.

I don't know where to start on pulling this apart.

As Ian McCormick states the building code is the minimum standards that are to be applied..........."Building inspectors are seen as “checkboard Charlies”, who simply tick boxes rather than require quality on a more holistic level".......and then he goes on to say...
"“That type of perception is really problematic”, McCormick says......and.....

“Quality should be something that everybody embeds, it should be the way they do things... unfortunately in many parts of the construction industry this is not the case.”

A builder and all tradies price the work to the standard the client requires ensuring that at least minimum code is complied with....quality is something that the client embeds!!! They are the one's paying for the work!!!

It is fine to prattle on about productivity being low in the building industry.....the fact is a huge chunk of capital employed is squandered in compliance and regulatory costs because the bureaucracies involved are so damn inefficient and incompetent......

There is approximately 9 inspections per house on a standard new build......A 40% reinspection is significant extra income to the Council......it is hardly in a builders best interest to have a failed inspection as it stuffs up the whole process including all the other tradies waiting in the queue to get on to the site.

It is a shame that Ian McCormick didn't bother to publicly inform that builders can wait around 2 weeks for inspections to be done and also that any reinspection is further charged out by the Council.....

If a builder has to wait 2 weeks for an inspection to be done then that builder might have to rearrange subbies who were next in line to undertake work on the site, so subbies move on to other work after all he has to feed his kids and pay his mortgage........the costs added to a build because Council staff can't turn up to do an inspection are astronomical.....builders have to run more than one job at a time to cover these waiting times......

It is also very wrong to compare Commercial with Residential !

Builders and farmers should all shut up shop for at least month cos some people need a little lesson.

We pay council officers to do their job not to have opinions about how things "ought" to be.

Thanks for bringing this up - saves me an awkward segue.

It's not up to councils to make value judgments about good and bad in the construction industry. As a Building Consent Authority, Auckland Council has one simple job to do: implement the Building Act. Since 1991 when the government unilaterally took away the right to set building standards from councils local building inspectors have become "checkboard Charlies" and they will never be anything else.

Among the many things McCormick disingenuously forgot to mention is the fact that any refusal to consent and approve a construction material or method that meets the national standards set by MBIE will be met by legal action. Anything that invites legal action will bring down the wrath of the council's insurers. So, while LGNZ could lobby the government to wind the clock back 25 years, in the meantime it's tick the boxes and just tick the boxes..

Let's not forget that a Certificate of Code Compliance is just that. It is a ten year warranty that the construction met the minimum standards set by the government at the time of construction.

Most of our bigger house builders offer better guarantees than that.

the builders haave to offer better than that because the Building Act requires construction materials and practices to withstand a 50 year (not a 10 year) test.

Fair go was talking to a roofing supplier about early failures. And the roofing supplier kept saying "it will be good for 50 years". This was because it's confidence in their product - it's because it's a legal requirement for their product to be permitted to be used in housing materials ! (some fillers get a lesser life because no chemical filler has been properly tested for 50y ears, and thats why the rules require workmanship to be appropriate that it does not rely on fillers and chemical compounds)

"A builder and all tradies price the work to the standard the client requires ensuring that at least minimum code is complied with....quality is something that the client embeds!!! They are the one's paying for the work!!!"

As leaky building proved. New Zealand and many countries, the price is far more important than quality. Peception of quality is far better selling point - cheap he foundations and structural, splurge on the finsih and marketing. especially if the owner can flick the property for a quick "no-come-backs" profit.

Oh, this can be fixed very simply.

1 - Ramp up factory panelised construction by creating suitable incentives (such as multi-proof consenting their products).
2 - Use standard QC (ISO 9001 etc) to assure quality
3 - Fire all the useless building inspectors (multi-proof means no local consents) and this lowers overall regulatory costs while moving costs from non-tradeable to tradeable sectors.
4 - Put the actually employable ex-inspectors - some small fraction, most likely - to work in the factories.

Factory builds are used for aircraft, boats, caravans and smaller portable structures. Houses are next.

Win/win/win/win.

Right. That's fixed.

Next?

You assume that everyone likes living in a prebuilt mass designed house and also assume that ISO9001 provides guarantees that workmanship is always spot on. Not necessarily the case in real life...

what about jobbing and on site changes?

Jenee - "“You think of every other industry; there’s technology that’s come in, there’s new learning, new ways of organising people, collaborating to create products, and it’s more efficient and it’s more productive. Not the case in the construction industry – it’s really quite concerning.”"

No. that simply does not happen. Especially in NZ.
Except the occasional cartel, each company develops and markets its own product, copies rivals.

There is no "collaborating to create products"
That you should say so is literally "Crazy Talk"
Do you know about IP?

Why do you think Open Source revolution IS a revolution.

Actually, it is a valid comment.
You are confusing collaboration with collusion. Collaboration isn't necessarily limited to the same industry segment.

In other sectors you do see collaboration through the supply chain to create efficiency and sustainable advantage.

In a construction context this would see framing suppliers collaborate with window providers, plumbers, joiners, roofing specialists, transport/logistics specialists etc etc to provide just in time pre-fabricated units to standard.

no I'mm not confusing collaboration with collusion.

Which company do you own/work for?
which non-supplier, has your company actively collaborated with to get product or service to market; outside of marketing event-shows

This is not a good news for already short Auckland housing market! Buyers may pursue again looking at houses that stood the test of time which I can drive the house prices in central and older suburbs much more higher!

Wow so we are still building shit quality homes then ? I thought my place was bad, built in1997 it doesn't even pass my standard if you crawl under it and take a look. You simply cannot build a Monoclad home on the North Shore on the clay with a few piles that didn't even take the concrete above the ground level using a bit of shuttering, the ground is just too unstable with seasonal expansion and contraction, no wonder it cracks up. More and more regulations and rules however just means your trying to compensate for an unskilled workforce. If you have really good builders they don't need a book of rules, they KNOW how to do it right.

you don't need to go above ground with the concrete. the concrete expands the surface area of the pile so there is less movement/more resistance because of surface area to the ground. There is no compressive strength in the top 100mm of soil, and the other major effect to counter by the concrete is sinkage... so going "to the top" won't help there either.

the only reason for going above the ground is to stop surface water pooling and causing the chemical treatment in the wood to leach out.... I don't your piles are exposed to much rain..... so it you are having a ponding issue around your piles under your house then you clearly have a different type of problem!!!!

Yes New Zealand councils and developers were very naughty and filled some areas with soil, including low compaction and some organic matter that does shrink away from the pile/house. Considering what to do about that myself - however, not much can be done to stop that practice of 50 years ago....

Your house isn't actually supposed to be a rigid ground connected structure. that would be an engineering nightmare! First decent earthquake and it would twist with it's own internal stresses. Even natural land movement would split it open eventually. Instead the "box" is built over a slab or series of poles (like a nail bed). As long as the movement tolerances aren't exceeded it can rock and shift without problem. that's why load-bearing and bracing are important - so the box structure transfers it's weight evenly while it moves.

Sadly the rules are written for "fix all" situations, and in every given case some of those rules are redundant. You shouldn't need stainless steel on low fixes - if there's no moisture build up. But some people don't realise you can't have dissolved zinc running over copper, or over aluminum, or how that creates an electrical current which excites the rust a hundred fold.... or was it the other way around.
With a book of words then people can prosecute...if only they can afford it. Without a book of minimum words our justice system has no way to hold people to a set standard.

thing that bugs me, is that in taking on a property I can't hold previous inspectors, builders, or owners to task for their poor compliance - even if they swore completely their were no building issues (got another ten litres of ceiling water two nights ago)

You got it in one, any water just pools in the hole. Unless your perched on top of a hill, show me a house that doesn't get water under it. Actually you never want water or dirt even touching the wood of the piles, the moisture wicks up the piles into the floor joist and just adds to a damp home. Of course if they bothered to put drain flow that had a slope and scorea round the perimeter then that would help, but what builder does that ? mines great underneath they used the cladding BELOW the concrete footpath so the cladding is a RETAINING WALL for the scorea under the footpath !! problem is compounded by a natural spring/water mains leak somewhere so it was a flood zone until I dug a trench while crawling in the muddy darkness ! possibly the worst job I have had to do in my life, head to toe in yellow clay. I'm not even a builder, but as an engineer the flaws are obvious.

Builders have to build the same crap cold damp houses as they are all building to the lowest possible standards set by the Govt/Council... To NOT do so would mean their house is more expensive.
I built two houses now to MUCH higher standard and paid more for it... they are warm and dry.
Stop blaming the builders that are forced to compete against other builders meeting the crap standards.
As an example...
Insulation should be R5 in Walls/Ceilings and at R2.5 under the slab...

Sadly; people think a nice "looking" house is a good house; not realising its cold/damp...

R5? way excessive. Walls only really need to be R2.5 and ceilings 3.5, Floor R1.5, ie diminishing returns set in once past a certain thickness . What you have just saved on excessive insulation (and space for it) can be spent on a heat pump. Unless you are in an area frequently and significantly below 0.

Floor at 2.5 is going to need some kind of localised heat source.

Getting walls past 2.5 is problematic in New Zealand, although we could use staggered external and internal studs like my little brother builds in Canada, but they also utilise massive construction in some internal spaces (very thick heavy timber that acts as a thermal battery for internal spaces). ie it's a distance thing. 2.5-3.2 is 100mm of cavity that is filled with a material which stops air movement transferring energy. to get above that range there needs to be superior product (which could be hazardous, eg abestos) or a wider space - with diminishing effect)

I don't mind going to 4.2 in roof cavity, but the other problem that crops up there is there's no point going 4.2 etc, if there are any gaps. While 3-3.5 is better than nothing, going any higher the loss to point leakage and cold spots and drafts/convection starts limiting how effective it can be.

And when insulating you do need to keep in mind your airflows - rumour has it that humans need to breathe oxygen, so the design of the property has to have a significant number of air exchanges in the room. If the oxygenated air coming in is cool (and/or damp) then that has to be dealt with. We no longer have the high ceilings and 12 - 16 foot stud in most houses, and the lower ceiling height is further an issue with furnishings trapping air pockets and disturbing laminar flow (layers).

> Floor at 2.5 is going to need some kind of localised heat source.
I have no idea what this even means!

I have R5 in walls with standard NZ stud... not hard at all actually.

> rumour has it that humans need to breathe oxygen
provocative???
Windows have built in air vents (although I got decent uPVC ones). Windows in Europe have to replace the air in room in given amount of time.

If I see a house that has or needs a DVS; this tells you a lot... No such thing needed in a country that has expereince building warm/dry and draft proof houses backed by a government that has a brain.

but permanent insulation is a one-off cost, (and will keep your house cool during hot summer, too), whereas running AC a whole year round is very costly, indeed.
You'd blow through your build savings in a couple of years...

not with diminishing return. The temperature at the end of r3.2 insulation is very low, putting anoth layer of extra r1 over it barely makes much difference. Instead of taking 3 hours to drop, it takes 4 hours for the same amount of decrease. so the change, considering what is required to increase the space/materials simply doesn't enter into it.

the floor case, heat rises. The conduction loss into the floor is significant compared to the convection, and your body is designed that way, also many floors already have covering (mats, carpet, furniture). The biggest advances in floor is; reducing moisture under the floor, reducing physical exposure of conductive elements to direct wind loss, some insulation, some localised heating (to the floor - but cavities eg under paper/bookcases/furniture can be problematic but the temperature rise only needs to be slight, and really just to stop asymmetric heating issues). Putting in r2.5 in the floor will give almost no advatage over r1.5, but will cause extra decisions to be made about the cavity size, r2.5 expanded polystyrene is much harder to have good design support compared with r1.5 cavity. Better to spend in passive solar input instead.

ok, thanks

One reason could be the unintended consequence of all this leaky building liability, the principals of small building firms (usually the talent in small companies) are now advised NOT to go on site by their lawyers so they can distance themselves personally from any legal action.

Working well isn't it

Neven

My understanding is that builders now need a designers licence to create or alter a house design
The designer should be made responsible for shabby designs in my opinion.
Just as engineers are responsible for their calculations