To appreciate the importance of appropriate practices regarding waterproofing in Australia, one only need look to New Zealand.

Figures from that country’s Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment show that no fewer than 7,018 claims have been made for more than 10,000 properties under a financial assistance package which resulted from literally thousands of homes being built during the 1990s which did not meet weathertightness standards.

That raises questions as to whether something similar could happen in Australia.

The short answer is yes, and furthermore, we are seeing an increasing number of claims and a rising volume of litigation in this area across a number of jurisdictions throughout the country.

Indeed, it is worth bearing in mind that the Building Code of Australia 1996 was largely modelled on the New Zealand Building Code. Moreover, there are a number of problems in this area with regard to both the Building Code itself and some of the practices which are occurring on the ground.

The first of these revolves around the water egress provisions of Code itself, which specify that a drainage system for the disposal of surface water must convey the water to an appropriate outfall, avoid water entry into the building and avoid damaging the building. The Code fails to stipulate, however, what must be done to achieve this. This is a classic performance clause, specifying a required outcome but affording too much latitude in how to deliver on that outcome – in particular with regard to the lack of mandatory requirement for a lip, step or discernible descending outflow gradient on balconies. The wording, too, is problematic.

With regard to current practices, too many cases of building damage are happening as a result of water entering apartments and homes and the objectives of the BCA in this area thus not being met.

One problem revolves around balconies being built perfectly horizontal to internal floors of apartments without any outfall. A further challenge revolves around the difficulty in certifiers making reliable assessments as to the potential for water penetration short of having each and every apartment balcony individually tested prior to the issuing of occupancy permits.

These are serious problems. Water penetration not only causes property damage such as stalactites in basements and rotting carpets, it creates significant health risks in terms of respiratory ailments: a recent study performed as part of an international research effort involving 46,000 children across 20 countries found extensive evidence of a link between living in damp or mouldy homes and conditions such as asthma, allergies, hay fever and eczema.

Leaky homes created massive problems in New Zealand. If Australia is to avoid similar problems, we must act now.

  • This, and similar issues are due to inadequate education practices, failing to carry out Dispute Avoidance Processes and the unqualified carrying out under-quoted works in the first instance. This result is typical of the failure of the above. A major issue in the residential construction industry.

  • Wow, written in 2013!! And still no change from the BCA!! It must start at the top with good governance and guidance from our regulators. The NZ case was and is a complicated issue but the NZ code of the time mentioned above was "loose" for want of a better word. Case in point for us in Australia is the 2016 BCA code which has little to no mention of guidance for balcony waterproofing and the standard it refers to is of little value for balconies in any case. Are we getting what we deserve??
    Are we in danger of following NZ lead?? … late i fear

  • The BCA, with its performance based drafting, and convoluted referenced standards drafted in a confusing, and often contradictory manner, by those with little experience in drafting such documents, all but sets up buildings to fail in many aspects of that it seeks to regulate. Add on top of this poor training, ultra competitive tender processes focussed only on who can do a job, and provide a worthless certificate, for the absolute lowest price (including those who certify) and you have a perfect storm for building defects.

    Further, clients who want absolute rock bottom pricing for construction projects feed on all of the above.

    It is highly doubtful that the devil himself could devise a better system to ensure building failure.

    It will only change when there is enough public groundswell to persuade regulators to change the system. It will not be anytime soon that I can see.

    Perhaps if the insurers took a more active stance, this might bring to bear sufficient force to change, as well as providing an increased margin for them. One can only hope.