As the Auckland building boom gains momentum, traditional building materials are becoming harder to find when they’re needed, causing builders to turn to substitute products to get the work done faster.
In many but not all cases, that can also mean better, provided the new products are “up to code”.
Ian McCormick, General Manager of Auckland Council’s Building Control team, says council building inspectors are seeing more substitutions than ever before, with a cheaper price being the number one reason for replacing the specified product. He’s urging builders to save themselves and their customers thousands of dollars by getting the proper signoffs before using substitutes.
“We’re seeing innovative new products and processes entering the market. That’s great news because it improves the whole industry. Auckland Council has a duty of care to Aucklanders to make sure those products meet our high standards and are fit for the intended use for the lifetime of the building.”
Mr McCormick says it’s common for inspectors to discover a substitution on-site during an inspection.
“That may happen weeks after the decision to use the alternative product was made. The message is clear – notify us as early as possible to avoid delays in building.”
An example Ian cites arose out of a recent struggle the pre-cast concrete panel industry was having keeping up with demand.
“Some product suppliers took the opportunity to introduce new alternatives which could achieve the same outcome as the concrete panel. We encourage this type of innovation. Some of the substitutions were untested and a full fire and acoustic assessment was undertaken, after which they were able to be used,” he says.
All building products must meet the New Zealand Building Code.
The sticking point for builders in a hurry is in the time it takes for the council to assess the products as fit for purpose, but Ian McCormick argues for “less haste, less waste.”
“While we recognise builders need to get on with their construction, we can’t cut corners on quality, durability and suitability,” he says.
Ian says due diligence can sometimes look like red tape when you’re in a hurry, but reputable builders recognise the importance of ensuring new products are up to code. He cautions against falling for a cheap price and quick turnaround if the deal looks too good to be true.
“While there are some great new products on the market, the boom has attracted a few cowboys trying to cut corners and some importers trying to bring in cheap, substandard products,” he says.
Some imported products may look like the local offering, but if they’re being quoted as 40 per cent cheaper then chances are they might not comply with the New Zealand Building Code or pass inspection.
He says he recently learned of an enterprising person who was cold calling on sites offering an imported roofing product at 40% of the cost of the original.
Unfortunately for the owners of those houses, the substitutions were not disclosed until the end when the roofer provided the certification. After research, the council had to issue a notice requiring the roofing to be replaced because it could be not verified as complying with the New Zealand Building Code.
In another example of hasty substitution, a decision to use non-compliant electrical wiring in multiple houses cost a developer thousands of dollars.
“We have zero tolerance for products that are not up to the New Zealand Building Code. The developer had to remove and replace the non-compliant wiring from all of the houses, some of which were nearly finished,” says Ian.
He says that good building practice is a bit like the proverbial tortoise and hare.
“Sometimes it may seem to take a bit longer, but getting new building products signed off is cheaper and faster than having to re-work non-compliant construction – and in the end Auckland consumers get reliable and sustainable buildings.”
Checklist for home owners
- Owners should ask the designer or builder to provide confirmation that the product complies.
- Ask for the supplier for confirmation that the product meets the New Zealand Building Code. The Building Act requires the supplier or manufacturer to confirm that products if installed as per their instructions will comply with the building code. They normally do this by quoting a New Zealand standard used to meet specific testing requirements or, if an international standard is used, they will need to demonstrate its alignment with the equivalent New Zealand standard.
- Check to see if the product has been independently appraised or certified in New Zealand. An example of this is the Building Research Association of NZ (BRANZ) appraisal website where they list products which have been tested and certify compliance with the New Zealand Building Code.
- Ask the building inspector. They will provide advice on compliance matters.
- You should check compliance before buying particularly if the product price seems too good to be true.