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house-second-headeraa1jpg-1Consumers who attempt to build, extend, renovate or do repairs are totally unprotected and we can prove that this has been the case for the last 23 years. Many independent inquiries have confirmed this fact, but no government will listen or act to stop what is essentially ‘legalized’ building fraud. Just read some of the stories of those whose lives have been ruined, Then come join us and be part of bringing about genuine change. 

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STRUCTURAL SOUNDNESS IS RARELY FULLY ASSESSED

PART B: CONSIDERABLE KNOWLEDGE IS NEEDED

Part A referred to the pitfalls relating to building inspection reports that contain the words “The House Seems to be Structurally Sound”.

This article (written by an experienced building consultant) describes the difficulties in understanding structures and what must be inspected closely to sort out if a house is sound structurally… or not. Considerable building science knowledge is also required.

Many building consultants will struggle to understand all of the concepts necessary to ascertain the structural capacity of a home, even with ample access.

In the Building Code of Australia, it clearly states under Part 2.1 at the performance clause P 2.1… that actions MUST be adequately resisted when designing a home’s structure including at least the following:-

DEAD LOADS (the weight).

Sometimes trusses are designed for a metal roof and a last minute (paid for) alteration by the owners from charcoal corrugated roofing to charcoal roof tiles will more than double the load on the trusses… and on the studs… and on the stumps… and on the pads… so it is vital that the builder remembers to make the necessary changes to documentation prior to placing the order for the trusses. In two of my cases builders forgot to make these changes with dire results… but the negating building consultants still fought in an attempt to make the claim go away.

Trusses are also often installed with excessive out-of-verticality or without adequate bracing which together with long-term creep, can cause collapse or partial collapse of the roof. (One Victorian firm of structural engineers is very busy condemning roof truss installations).

LIVE LOADS (the temporary loads such as people on balconies and furniture).

If a balcony structure is timber or if the mesh in a concrete balcony was laid too close to the surface to prevent concrete cancer, or the concealed flooring is rotting under ceramic tiles, there is great potential to over-load the balcony and associated great danger.

Potted plants can also overload balcony floors.

WIND LOADS

Sometimes the 28 m/sec design wind speed criteria are assumed standard for houses in situations where 33 m/sec or even 42 m/sec should have been assumed… such as opposite large open spaces such as parks and lakes).

Most windows are designed for 33 m/sec winds… note.

For lightweight roofs, tie-downs are of extreme importance, (especially with storm activity increasing).

Twenty (20)-year-return criteria must be designed for… but warranty periods last just 6.5 years; so that often, the house is not fully tested at inspection time.

So if tie-downs are not inspected, or roof tile fixings not checked… the building consultant who does not make the effort to inspect these often-vital elements is not able to say that the roof tiles or the whole (metal) roof may be at risk of lifting off in an extreme storm. And lack of concern as regards openness of terrain and such like is also a failure by the building consultant… negligence.

These events have occurred in Victoria. I know of one roof-tile-lift-off incident in Lysterfield and one Brighton carport flat roof came off… both examples occurring since 1996. I inspected the roof tiles in the Lysterfield case and the number of roof tile fixings was under 60% of the requirement even for the lower 28 m/sec wind design speed.

I have not seen one house with the required roof tile fixing pattern required for strong wind areas, and only one house with adequate roof tile fixings.

Polystyrene-clad upper storeys of houses, particularly when there is only one in the street, are also susceptible to strong winds if the fixings were inadequate. Not much is said about this because not many consultants climb onto the roofs of houses and will almost certainly miss the tell-tale movements which relate to this problem.

DIFFERENTIAL MOVEMENT

One fairly common situation was where shrinkage of one or more structural unseasoned timber member adjacent a steel structural member for instance caused excessive differential movement (not allowed for), and where large forces were involved.

I have many times seen elements ripped apart by such poorly thought-out juxtaposition; one big building firm being responsible for hundreds of these… four of which I inspected... all with this defect and numerous symptoms.

The more recent use of seasoned framing has largely eradicated this problem from the late 1990’s onward.

Many careful builders stopped using unseasoned framing considerably earlier.

GROUND MOVEMENT CAUSED BY SHRINKAGE (settlement) AND/OR SWELLING (heave)

Heave has caused thousands of grossly deformed house slabs for home owners in the far western suburbs of Melbourne right down to Point Cook.

Each building consultant must fully understand heave and be aware of the ramifications of heave that has just commenced for instance. This goes hand-in-hand with an understanding of settlement, subsidence, heave and their causes
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Articulation of masonry is also a part of this understanding of how structures are affected by ground moisture-differential forces. I have met three (3) structural engineers who clearly did not fully understand masonry articulation as it related to heave... and yet they are often responsible for their design.

TERMITE ACTIONS.

By not searching for difficult-to-find termites, a building consultant cannot say that the house is basically sound because termites can cause enormous concealed damage to timber structures, timber trimmings, floorboards and even some windows.

One house in Tarneit that I inspected had had 6 termite nests in the house before I arrived on the scene… and it was likely that over-treatment by the large pest control firm (a total bungle with over 20 visits) caused this to occur. Five other houses in the same street had also been attacked… and yet the local council stated that their council was not a termite risk area. It now is I believe.

Another house owned by a very elderly woman in Montrose had to be pulled down for safety reasons. Most of the floor framing had been eaten by termites and was in places sagging 200 mm because the red-gum stumps had also rotted, so that some floor framing was actually touching the soil and an open invitation to more termite attack.

Another house in Scoresby was like a mine-field with the carpet working as the support in many areas with most floor boards eaten. The owner asked me to follow exactly in his foot-steps… it was quite an inspection. And I had to hold my breath to inspect the sub-floor because he had just used bug bombs to get rid of the red-back spiders for me he said. I would have preferred the red-backs to the poison. Six bearers in a row were severely attacked via multiple tunnels.

So if the building consultant doesn’t even look at the sub-floor framing or get under the house to inspect the stumps and doesn’t look for termites either… then saying that the house is basically sound structurally is grossly unfair, because it’s no certainty at all. Sprayed soil should not be touched by the skin.

One in ten (10%) houses that I inspected in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne had termite attacks for instance… and termites eat structure amongst other things along with architraves and trimmings and more.

So you will understand that hard work and considerable knowledge is vital for a building consultant to have any hope of thoroughly inspecting your home. I bet that scares the pants of a lot of people who read this article, because there is very good reason indeed to doubt what your so-called expert wrote.

Most are not insured for their reports… and nearly all have an inadequate definition of defect... not too flash when what they are doing is basically looking for defects eh?

We at VBAG strongly suggest that you only hire a building consultant who will carefully get on and in the roof and under the house where there is a timber floor... where reasonably possible.

And if that means you have to use a sole trading building consultant (who is not an employee and restricted as to access because of insurance and/or employers hiding behind the lax AS 4349 Series of Codes for Building Inspections written with the obvious agenda to protect business, then you must discard those who are not going to look at even half of your house.

To put it simply... do you want a careful and fit building consultant who is going to get on and in the roof and under the timber floor... OR do you want a building consultant who is governed by insurance and who will look at less than half of the house you are thinking of buying? Seems to be a simple decision to VBAG... where you read it first.
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DID YOU KNOW THIS SECRET AGENDA OF THE VICTORIAN GOVERNMENT? (B – based on teachings of professor of Soil Chemistry University of Melbourne: Geoffrey Leeper) INADEQUATE SOILS.

As early as 1948… and later in the very early 1960’s, it was well known that the soils in the western volcanic plains of far west Melbourne stretching from Gisborne down to Point Cook would be very problematic for housing.

Geoffrey Leeper wrote ‘The Bible’ on the soils of Victoria in 1948… An Introduction to Soil Science, which was revised in 1964 and re-published by NC Uren in 1993. He also wrote in 1956… The classification of Soils.

In his lectures in the early 1960’s, he spoke of the soils of Lysterfield Valley and Gisborne volcanic plains and adjacent areas as being unsuitable for housing.

And yet huge tracts of land have been approved for housing in the west due to the constantly accelerating population growth of Melbourne with the nett immigration in 2016 alone being 88000 people.

But at no stage was there a compulsory notice attached to these land sales that disclosed that the likely cost of footings for houses in these areas would be considerably more than elsewhere; if houses were to be built according to the over-riding requirement of AS 2870 (The Footings Code)… that in abnormal conditions (deep down in the soil), the site investigation had to comply with Appendix D of that code. The hidden agenda was revealed in a recent VCAT case as… The writers of Code AS 2870 designed the requirements for footings and slabs to ensure that the price of footings did not blow out the cost of housing, knowing that there would be “a small number of house footings that would fail”.

VBAG believes that the wording in this code is so lax, that along with the hidden agenda cited above, it has caused the excessive distortion of thousands of slabs in the outer western suburbs of Melbourne already. In 2011 – 2012 the Code AS 2870 was revised, (but with the same agenda and no overriding requirement that reports must comply with Appendix D). Instead we have considerable additional information describing what constitutes normal site conditions… which without the stipulation of compliance with Appendix D will not ensure that soil reports uncover the real soil condition of sites in such areas.

There is still the same hidden agenda… to keep the price of housing down even if it means failure of some footings! The government seems to be relying on the enormous deterrents of Conciliation and large legal costs to deny home owners their rights to have guaranteed stable footings / slabs. It's outrageous!!!

Why this occurred (and how soil testers were able to by-pass Appendix D of AS 2870) might very well (one day) be the subject of a Royal Commission or at least a Senate Inquiry... but don't hold your breath The lack of care also seems likely to continue unabated.

As a result of this failure by authorities, government and Code AS 2870, thousands of homes (already) have problematic footing and drainage problems (many serious and/or potentially serious). At least two houses by possibly Victoria's largest home builder company have been ordered to be re-built and thousands more may be at similar risk it seems.

We had close to a 14 year drought which only ended in about 2010: so it stands to reason that even if normal conditions have prevailed since that time (which they have not if you look at annual rainfall and large number of dry spells in the ensuing years)… that some sites will still not have fully recovered deep down until something like 2025 or even later than that.

Also, to date, there has been very little blame aimed at soil report writers (or the builders who commissioned them to cut corners and use the 'Ys' estimation method when normal conditions did not prevail), or the building surveyors who had last say on the required documentation prior to issuing building permits.

We at VBAG warn that the current state of affairs is still a very serious issue for home owners in those far western areas and those who are about to build there.

Insist that your report is compliant with Appendix D of Code AS 2870. We strongly suggest this if you wish to avoid the possibility of slab from hell.

Remember... You read it here first at the Victorian Building Action Group site.
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Over the last fifteen years, there have more than one hundred (100) Inquiries into the building industry and its governance. These have included parliamentary inquiries and investigations by the Auditor-General, the Productivity Commission, the Ombudsman and other independent organizations. 

The Victorian building industry has suffered from systematic and systemic failure for decades. We now have overwhelming evidence to confirm that this ‘system’ has been malfunctioning for the last 22 years.

After decades of criticism of  the Building Commission’s failure as the ‘industry regulator’, and following damning Reports from the Victorian Auditor-General (2011 and 2013) and a scathing Report from the Victorian Ombudsman in 2012, the Government decided that the Building Commission’s record was so tarnished that it had to be abolished.