Structurally deaf: The most common defects of Australia’s building crisis
To say it has been a tough year for Australian property owners would be a hefty understatement for the countless residential apartment owners who have been unwillingly evacuated from their premises after being made aware that their property are but one of many properties across the nation to suffer from combustible cladding issues or building defects.
The Sydney Opal tower debacle and sinking of the The Mascot Towers are the latest examples showcasing Australia’s growing building crisis as engineers have been working hard to pinpoint the exact causes of the defects that resulted in residents becoming temporarily homeless.
A new report released by Deakin University aims to shed light on the building defects plaguing nationwide residential properties. The report examines a rising number of common defects in apartment buildings, successfully identifying the key types of defects impacting a building’s structural stability and its effect on occupants. Researchers also went on to assess the Australian construction regulatory environment, providing an insight on how building defects are flagged, managed and resolved.
Funded by the PICA group, Lead researcher Dr Nicole Johnston of Deakin University analysed 212 building defects and sorted them by what construction systems were severely impaired by structural defects. The study found water damage to be the greatest cause of trouble among apartment buildings. Of the 3227 defects scrutinised, defects arising from problematic building fabrics and cladding were popular. This was closely followed by fire protection, waterproofing, roof and rainwater disposal, and structural issues.
"It is important to note that of the defects coded to building fabric and cladding, one third of those defects were a consequence of water penetration or moisture. So these cases are more likely a result of waterproofing or roof and rainwater disposal defects, showing these two areas may be more greatly impacted than the headline numbers suggest.”
Reacting to the findings of the study, Dr Johnston believed the considerable sum of defects relating to fire safety to be alarming. As an indisputable threat to life, Dr Johnston reiterated the importance of fire safety measures and urged the need for housing developers to independently check and verify that fire safety precautions appropriately reflect the safety compliances outlined by national construction authorities.
To provide a more extensive coverage on the building crisis, industry stakeholders, apartment owners and residents were also integrated into the study. These parties along with those who volunteered on owners corporation committees were interviewed to share their thoughts on the matter. They too cited water penetration and fire protection defects as the major concerns; however, concerns were also raised regarding industry consistency:
"Concerns were also raised about the relationship between the National Construction Code and the Australian Standards, where there is some disconnect in requirements, and industry identified a need for better consistency...The focus on minimum standards instead of best practice in the National Construction Code was also raised as a concern, as well as the private certification system, where community expectations were seen to be out of step with legal requirements.”
Industry representatives and professionals have pointed at human error to be a significant cause for the rise in building defects. Other common factors contributing to defect issues included the misuse of building construction materials, lack of specialised training, and a shortage of licensing. High profile issues occurring at Sydney’s Mascot and Opal towers have also inflicted huge reputational damage across the entire industry.
Dr Johnston stressed concern over the potential health and financial impacts burdening residents and homeowners. The presence of Mould brought about by water penetration defects and the lack of care to remove embedded spores in affected housing blocks has the potential to induce serious health implications for the property’s inhabitants. Often requiring invasive and costly remedial works to rectify, waterproofing and fire separation failures have resulted in numerous financial burdens being directed onto owners to rectify the situation.
"The financial burden placed on lot owners when builders fail to rectify building defects can lead to a number of psychological health impacts, particularly stress related, and for some are financial ruining."
Dr Johnstone concluded the study noting that it should be standard to expect new houses to be constructed in a manner that is guaranteed to be safe, secure, sheltered and fit for living in. While building defects are an inevitable blunder of the building industry, it is essential that the nature of these prominent defects occurring in properties across the nation are properly understood and responded to in an effective manner. Government intervention to ensure that in-depth stakeholder and end-user consultation is carried out would be a necessary step in the right direction in curbing the continual flow of these defects.