Construction industry: $20k defect ‘nightmare’ hitting

A building expert has lifted the lid on the devastating ticking time bombs that could end up costing Aussie homeowners big time.

A building inspection company is going viral by exposing some of the dodgiest and most common building “defects” that are costing Aussie homeowners thousands.

In recent months, a TikTok account by Victorian firm Site Inspections has attracted tens of thousands of followers with a series of videos highlighting problems with newly-built homes.

Sales and marketing manager Ed Waldman told news.com.au the company was on a mission to educate homeowners and tradies about all-too-common issues, which range from “cosmetic” problems to more serious cases of “noncompliance” involving breaches of Australian building standards.

“We detail these things in our reports and obviously those sorts of things are then up to individual customers to determine if they’re not happy with them, and if they take it to the builders to get rectified,” he explained.

“Big issues with noncompliance can be things like roofing leaks which let leaks into the home, or work carried out in bathrooms, such as waterproofing.

“The builder is given a compliance certificate by the tradies saying the work has been done in a compliant fashion … but we are finding 90-something per cent of jobs in these two areas alone are non-compliant.”

He explained that while roofing leaks would be spotted fairly quickly, bathroom problems were far more insidious.

“With bathrooms it can take longer, it could take five years or more before problems start to become apparent,” he said, adding that building defects were not only frustrating, but could also cause serious problems down the track.

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“Water leaks, for example, almost 100 per cent of the time lead to a mould infestation in the home if they are not dealt with quickly,” he said.

“Mould removal can cost thousands, depending on how big the home is and how long it has been left unattended, and it can have health repercussions – we’ve had some clients who say they haven’t been feeling well, and then we find black mould on their loungeroom ceiling.

“There are some serious health risks attributed to black mould, it is a nasty beast.

“Poor waterproofing in bathrooms can take a couple years to show up, and by that stage, you have to remove the timberwork and framework and plaster and tile to rectify, and the job could cost $10,000 to $20,000.”

He said noncompliance had long been an issue for the industry.

“I’ve been in the industry for a good few years and we’ve always seen this sort of stuff unfortunately. Some of it is due to standards changing over time … some people say ‘I’ve done it this way for 20 years and not had a problem’ – some are a little bit slack and haven’t bothered to keep up to date with changing standards over time,” he said.

“I don’t believe it’s a case of people just being too busy.

“One defect we find almost every time is waterproofing over dirty surfaces – that takes five minutes to sweep or vacuum a bathroom floor, so that’s not going to impact your ability to move onto the next job, it’s just a bit of laziness.”

He said another repeated issue was tradies charging for a completely waterproofed membrane, when only one coat was actually applied.

“They are probably charging the amount for two, but they’re not coming back to do the second coat,” he said.

“We need to follow the Australian standards more stringently in the construction process because it is lacking and tradies are taught this, but I think it sometimes goes in one ear and out the other.

“It’s about protecting your investment at the end of the day. So many people spend three-quarters of a million dollars minimum on their home and it’s a lifelong dream, but if you’re not careful, it can end up being a bit of a nightmare.”

Mr Waldman said if work did not comply with Australian standards, it was “pretty much guaranteed” there would be problems eventually, and that it’s “just a matter of when” they arise, not if.

But he said owners had to the right to demand a builder fix work that is non-compliant.

“For me it’s about education in the industry – this issue of non-compliant work shouldn’t exist and at the end of the day, tradespeople should be delivering the right sort of quality and the same quality,” he said.

“It’s not good enough to say ‘this is how we’ve been doing it for 20 years’ – the industry does change, and we have to keep up with those changes.

“We’re not trying to hang builders out to dry – at the end of the day, they expect the tradie they hired to do the work to a quality outcome, but it’s up to the builder to check and some don’t know what to check for.”

He said his team was able to pinpoint noncompliance as soon as the work was finished, allowing the customer to request a fix before it became more difficult down the track.

Construction industry in crisis

Mr Waldman’s warnings come amid a turbulent time for the industry, with Australia rocked by dozens of construction company collapses since late 2021.

The crisis is the result of a perfect storm of conditions hitting one after the other, including supply chain disruptions due largely to the pandemic and then the Russia-Ukraine conflict, followed by skilled labour shortages, skyrocketing costs of materials and logistics and extreme weather events.

The industry’s traditional reliance on fixed-price contracts has also seriously exacerbated the problem, with contracts signed months before a build gets underway.