Obviously the general poor quality of new construction is nothing new, but unfortunately our unsuspecting customers who think “new” is new are often disappointed.

A few recent inspections uncovered three hidden areas that would not have been noticed by the buyer until after they moved in. Having a keen eye from a building consultant check over the property before settlement is key. With this prior knowledge, the buyer can at least look to have the problems rectified before moving in. Unfortunately is some cases the problems will be unable to be rectified fully, but at least the buyer knows what they are moving into and what to expect.

Example 1: Incorrect fall in shower recess

defect1As you can see from the photos, there is water pooling on the tiles and flowing out onto the main floor area, not draining away toward the floor waste. This has occurred from running the shower water directly onto the tiles. However, once you have someone showering, the water will be more widely spread and a greater volume of water will be sitting on the tiles and flowing into the main floor area. It becomes very wet underfoot.

Unfortunately, in this instance, the fall of the tiles cannot be easily corrected and would require removal and replacement of tiles, which is a major expense. Installing a full shower screen will assist in containing the water within the recess area, but that was never the intention. Doing so alters the appearance of the bathroom and alters the original concept. The client now has to compromise because of poor trade work.

Example 2: Drainage in subfloor

This is often evident where no effort has been made to try and track water away from the subfloor. Drainage can be a costly expense for a builder, though it should not be ignored. You can see from the photos that the soil is very wet. No significant rainfall had occurred, and therefore the soil dampness cannot be attributed to any recent rains. It’s a true case of drainage being ignored.

Having a damp subfloor can not only bring the property into a high-risk zone for termite attack, but it can cause damage to the building elements. If the dampness is left unattended, it can cause musty smells to penetrate into the house, and those with mould allergies could be affected significantly. We have had situations of clients having to move out of a property because of ill health.

Example 3: Paths installed above barriers

Breached damp course

When a path is installed higher than the damp course, this will allow moisture to penetrate the brick instead of the damp course repelling the moisture. Having damp brickwork can cause paint and render to flake and crumble. Worst case scenario, moisture could enter the internal areas of the house and cause damage to frames.

It is difficult to correct other than by ripping out the path and re-installing it at the correct level. It is something that is going to have to be monitored ongoing which will incur ongoing repair costs.

Breached termite barrier

If the damp course is breached, there is a very high risk that the termite barrier is also breached. This means that any weep holes which are below the installed path are now exposed to termites, giving them a very hidden access point straight into wall frames. This may go unnoticed for a significant amount of time and may not be noticed until a significant event occurs like the skirting boards crumbling when knocked by the vacuum cleaner or at an annual termite inspection. Unfortunately, when people are buying new properties they tend to think they are at a lower risk of termite attack, so they tend to ignore the importance of yearly inspections. Typically they won’t know about the problem until it starts to cost them money in termite repairs – and that's too late

Breached weep holes

Weep holes serve to provide:

  1. Ventilation to the internal wall cavity to reduce any chance of mould and wood rot. “Leaky Building Syndrome” is caused by inadequate ventilation
  2. Drainage; any water that enters the cavity due to capillary action, condensation, damage or accidental flooding needs to escape somewhere and weep holes provide that escape.

The buyers of new houses need to complete due diligence and engage a suitably experienced and qualified building consultant to look at things that are going to be hidden from the innocent buyer.

It doesn’t seem that anytime soon we are going to see a significant improvement in the quality of construction. It’s therefore important for the buyers to take whatever action they can into their own hands and get defects rectified as soon as possible preferably before they move in.

  • You're right Bruce, buyers might not see this type of defect and the latter two can attract termites. But you would also have to agree that there is a far bigger issue, namely that hardly any building consultants has even half a definition of defect (neglecting time-related issues), and that employees of companies are not permitted to enter the roof space, walk on the roof or get under houses with less than (a ridiculously high) 600mm clearance under bearers… basically precluding those consultants from discovering even 30% of defects in houses… so in many respects, unless buyers get a sole trader building consultant (they are actually excluded from Workers Compensation Insurance and can access most of the building), the structure of the roof and sub-floor will not be looked at up close, and most defects will remain hidden to those consultants.

  • Excellent article Bruce. It highlights the need for independent professional inspection prior to purchase and indeed prior to handover. I would like to add the types of defects that can be avoided or discovered.
    New dwellings
    1 Incomplete building work
    2 Defective building work
    3 Non-compliance with warranties, regulations and standards
    4 Non-conformance with building contract (substitution, leaving things out etc.)
    5 Contract administration review ( PS, PC adjustments, ext of time, variations check)
    6 Thermal imaging scan(Insulation defects , roof leaks)

    Pre purchase inspections
    1 Building report(condition report)
    2 Timber pest report(termites , borers or rot)
    3 Thermal imaging scan (insulation defects/roof leaks etc)
    4 Expert opinion with recommendations

    In relation to pre purchase inspections,Under As 4349.1 sub floor clearance to underside of bearers, joists or other obstructions is 400mm(not 600mm as falsely claimed)
    600 mm clearance refers to roof space.
    Sub floor access space is 500×400 and frequently I find them undersized. What if I crawl through undersized opening and get into trouble under the floor and paramedic can't get in to get me out?
    The bottom line is that inspector is required to inspect all safely accessible areas.

  • Felt I should clear up the misinformation clearance under bearers argument Bruce, not that it matters when the code for inspections actually states that sub-floor areas sprayed with chemicals should not be inspected unless safe to do so. Most councils now require termite protection and spraying is (initially) cheaper. The code AS 4349.1 actually removed the 400 mm minimum clearance requirement in 2007. Someone was reading from an old code it seems.

  • Bruce, I appreciate your warning and your intention re helping consumers and taking steps to avoid being seriously damaged. However, in my experience, 'caveat emptor' homework is a dream not to be realized for most embarking on the home buying circuit. I note that you say when considering buying, consumers need to do due diligence. You highlight that often the defects are hidden, especially major cracking (foundation problems) and water damage which can be covered up. As for poor framing and roofing, non-compliant electrical and plumbing defects, etc., these are not visible. So it is hard to do due diligence and very easy to be caught in the trap. Then you have the 'property inspectors' and many 'consultants' who have no building experience and no qualifications or registration in anything building. So how do consumers get a good consultant? To take an example, of the 3 Consultants' involved in writing the 'Expert' Reports in my own case (building not buying), NONE had any qualification in anything 'building'. Even more astounding, the builder's Expert was happy to unashamedly inform that he was the hired gun to discover almost 'nil defects' and get his buddy builder "out-of-trouble". Hence the lies and lies that followed.
    And now there are thousands of consultants out there in the growing and largely franchised pre-purchase market. So how do consumers do the 'buyer beware'? For most it is an impossible task. As you say, 'quality' is not in the building industry dictionary – and as you also say there is no sign of anything changing. In fact, as you would be aware, it gets worse by the day.
    Building or buying is a minefield for consumers, especially for those (the majority) who work in industries other than building and do not know the 'home truths' – they naively believe the 'builder registration' con and the 'consumer protection' spin by Governments in their advertising and on their websites where limited information is designed to mislead and deceive. Where does one find a decent consultant, one competent, ethical and 'independent'? Over 10 years, I have discovered very few. As for the little bits of nonsense on 'official' websites and the scathing reports on the industry all hidden, most consumers cannot read or find accurate and useful information. They are very much left in the dark – this the official building policy and very intentional!
    When it's too late – unfair con-tract signed/house purchased – and the defects raise their ugly heads – the owners are the victims left to clean up the mess, and with the huge financial loss that goes with so many disasters, they generally have their lives turned upside down. Which brings us to the fact that given consumers have NIL protection (this now exceptionally well documented) and with an ever-increasing number of cowboys ruling the lawless industry, for more than one in every two consumers, they will be consigned to the lion's den.