The word maintenance is being deliberately distorted by the building industry.

‘Maintenance’ is attending to normal wear and tear where the installation was properly done. It entails items such as adjusting doors and locks as the house settles, returning lifted carpet edges, attending to squeaky hinges, filling minor separations caused by shrinking framing. In the medium term, maintenance includes other normal wear and tear items such as tightening loosened door handles and freeing up door locks.

It is not attending to symptoms of underlying larger problems over and over again as they repeatedly fail as a result of not being installed correctly in the first place. This is ‘band-aiding’ and is often carried out by builders in the name of ‘maintenance’ during the warranty period.

But the concept of maintenance falls apart when building consultants, more often than not incorrectly labelled building inspectors because they inspect buildings, do not have a full definition of the word ‘defect’ that addresses time related issues such as components being likely to reach a reasonable life expectancy. As a result, the words ‘maintenance’ and ‘fix’ are often distorted to mean ‘rectification.’

‘Rectification’ is redoing work so that it will reach a reasonable life expectancy.

It is not redoing short-cut work that has already failed during the warranty period.

‘Band-aiding’ is short-cutting work to give the illusion (by its neatness), that it will last the journey and make the home owners think that the builder cares.

Many structurally related defects are actually the result of a larger problem – the underlying soil condition – so the cause of the problem (the defect), is often the incorrect founding depth and/or an incorrect soil classification. The failed structure is often just a symptom – but boy what a symptom! – of a more fundamental problem: the actual defect.

Silicone applied incorrectly across tight wall-tile junction joints works for a while, but does not comply with the requirements of plasterboard manufacturers or technical minimum (dimensional ratio) requirements of the silicone manufacturer. Thus, it fails prematurely under normal stretching of the building fabric. The resultant separation or peeling of the silicone allowing the joint to leak is not the defect, but the symptom of the defect: the absence of the minimum three-millimetre gap between the tiles (or between the tiles and fixture) at the junction.

Re-applying the silicone is band-aiding, which will fail again often in a shorter time. Rectification would be removal of the silicone, widening of the joint (by scoring and grinding back the tiles) to form the necessary gap, and neatly filling the joint with silicone to form a seal with appropriate dimensional ratios that can resist minor differential movements that naturally occur in buildings.

A crack in plasterboard is supposedly not claimable according to the Guide to Standards and Tolerances unless it exceeds two millimetres across the crack.

But there are often fine (hairline) cracks that radiate from (for instance) the top of a doorway, called tear cracks. These occur almost always because of a 10-millimetre-plus out-of-level floor within three metres of the doorway. This out-of-level span often exceeds the maximum allowed in a floor (over a three metre distance). The fact that it is out-of-level is the actual defect, with the symptom (the crack) also claimable as a result of the underlying defect.

Filling such a crack and touching up the paintwork is not rectification or maintenance, but a band-aid.

These ‘band-aids’ are a substantial portion of what gets ‘fixed’ by large builder ‘maintenance’ staff, along with the actual maintenance as described earlier.

Many home owners have identical band-aiding done several times to the same symptoms of underlying defects in their new homes before the warranty runs out. This includes items such as:

  1. Peeling cement tile final render coat (due to inadequate thickness that saves the tradesman buying an extra two buckets per job)
  2. Peeling silicone (across incorrectly formed wall tile junction joints)
  3. Peeling paintwork within two years (because paint issues are officially and often wrongly stated as not being defects after two years).

These owners should delve into the causes that made these items fail during the defects warranty period, because the “why” is often the defect.

Materials and systems such as paint systems have a right to last a reasonable lifetime, even though this is not specifically stated in the Domestic Building Contracts Act.

The paint manufacturers often boast that their acrylic paints can last seven years or more if applied correctly to surfaces that have been prepared adequately, with the required minimum number of correctly applied coats actually applied. So what if there was only one coat of paint applied? It may well peel prematurely.

It is also worth noting that acrylic paint applied to surfaces that are below 10 degrees Celsius is incorrectly applied, as noted on the tin. These often become powdery in less than two years, but what if they hang on for three years?

Acrylic paint applied to non-durable timber surfaces without an oil-based primer fails to adequately protect the non-durable timber, making it a defect.

None of the 20-plus post-1996 reports on homes with tiled roofs reports that I later inspected made mention of:

  • the peeling roof tile final pointing
  • the non-existent gaps in the wall tile junction joints
  • the poorly protected non-durable timber external doors/frames
  • the several other commonplace defects present in most new homes

The unqualified report writers (with a multitude of disclaimers regarding reasonable access that preclude them getting in and on the roof and under timber floors), had no thorough definition of defect and therefore did not know the difference between fix, maintain and rectify.

If so-called experts do not even know what their title should be (building consultant) then the chances are that they are not well-equipped to handle the task of looking thoroughly for defects. So do your research before you have one inspect your most valuable asset.

As a result of just these two deficiencies, such a consultant would be likely to find no more that 25 per cent of the total number of defects in your new home (and very few major items). They often think the symptoms are the defects.

Experience in the outcomes of long-term problems makes an expert building consultant realise that even small mistakes during construction can end up with serious outcomes such as gross distortions and possibly even partial collapse.

The building consultant who thinks about the effects of time and the effects of short-cutting construction work (manufacturer requirements), will find so much more than the building consultant who just looks for the claimable blemishes listed in the VBA’s Guide to Standards and Tolerances.

There are a multitude of claimable defects not listed in that tome, so a building consultant must fully understand structures, know the pertinent Australian Codes and know manufacturer specifications – particularly the difficult detailed work clauses. He or she must also be prepared to work hard enough to uncover the short-cuts in construction which can affect the long-term stability of the structure – items such as what constitutes adequate bracing, prolonged moisture build-up and its effects.

They must also have a considerable understanding of heave, latent heave, long-term creep factors for truss installations.

Obviously the more disclaimers they have attached to their reports, the less they will see, the less capable they will be, and the less experienced, even if they have been consulting for a long time.

The writers of the Codes for Building (& Termite) Inspections AS4349-0/1/3 certainly knew how to avoid being liable when they describe defect and reasonable access.

As a result of so many deficient specifications and an official thorough definition of defect, is it any wonder that building supervisors and building consultants have so little understanding of structures or knowledge of building science, and end up approving band-aided and short-changed work?

Firstly the building supervisors tick it off, then the under-paid certified building inspectors approve it, and eventually the vast majority of building consultants approve the same defective work.

Then, when the meagre 10 per cent of the symptoms of defects are discovered by the owners on completion (or the 25 per cent discovered by the owners’ building consultants), the scope of works proposed by builders in mediation are largely agreed to by home owner and government-appointed building consultants, simply because nobody knows what a defect is.

This scenario has virtually dumbed us all down to the point that nearly all Australians accept that any work (including short-cuts and band-aided repairs) carried out by builders’ tradesmen (workmen) is (tradesmanlike) workmanlike.

Time to wake up Australia! Band-aiding in the name of maintenance is not rectification!

All governments should define ‘specification’ and ‘defect’ sufficiently to avoid this blurring of the truth. Otherwise, the residential building industry will become an unsustainable wasteland of defect-riddled band-aided homes that runs down the economy.

This and first resort DBI would make builder supervision improve to the point that defects are no longer built into new homes.