Auckland Council warns a building material shortage is seeing an influx of shoddy products enter the market

More cracks in the construction boom are starting to show, as a concerning amount of the new building materials being used to fill shortages are proving to be substandard.

Auckland Council warns traditional building materials are becoming harder to find when they’re needed, sparking builders to use an increasingly large selection of substitute products to get the work done.

“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,” the Council’s building control general manager, Ian McCormick, says.

He warns some imported products may look like local offerings, but if they’re being quoted as being much cheaper, chances are they won’t comply with the New Zealand Building Code.

Problems with a range of products from a range of places

The Council’s building control inspections manager, Jeff Fahrensohn, has seen issues across a range of products.

“It could be anything from your tapware, through to whole roofs of houses. What we’ve seen is some of them are almost mirror image copies [of the traditional materials].”

He says the uncertified products are mainly coming from Asia, but also the likes of Australia and Europe. He notes anyone can go onto a website like Alibaba and buy a container of cheap materials.

Fahrensohn hasn’t noticed particular problems with steel, further to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment last month announcing it would investigate allegations of Chinese steel dumping into New Zealand.

The importance of getting replacement products okayed before using them

The issue is builders aren’t always getting the materials signed-off before using them, or telling building owners about the replacements.

This is seeing building owners made to fork out for the materials to be replaced with compliant ones, once the building is complete and checked by the Council.

For example, there’s recently been a case where a person has cold called building sites, offering an imported roofing product at 40% below the cost of the original.

A builder, who used the product, was then made to replace the entire roof once the Council discovered the substitute wasn’t up to scratch.

McCormick cites another example where a decision to use non-compliant electrical wiring in a number of houses cost a developer thousands.

He says the key is for builders to get the proper sign-offs before using replacement materials.

“The message is clear - notify us as early as possible to avoid delays in building,” he says.

“While we recognise builders need to get on with their construction, we can’t cut corners on quality, durability and suitability.”

Building consent fail rate down a third

While shoddy building materials are increasingly prevalent, Fahrensohn says less buildings are failing Council inspections compared to in mid-2015, when the fail rate sat at around 30%, and even hit 40%. The fail rate has since come down to 20-25%.

“People are taking quality quite seriously now. And the ones that aren’t, are making it difficult for themselves, as they keep failing their inspections,” Fahrensohn says.

What building owners need to know

The Council suggests building owners take the following precautions to avoid being caught out by dodgy substitutes:

- Ensure 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, comply with the Building Code. They normally do this by quoting a New Zealand standard used to meet specific testing requirements. 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, which lists products that have been tested and certifies compliance with the New Zealand Building Code.

- Ask the building inspector. They will provide advice on compliance matters.