Leaking homes are actually rotting homes – the problem with over insulating.

J Hardie suit grows
A lawsuit against building products maker James Hardie Industries has so far been joined by more than 80 claimaints, with another 80 to 100 expected to sign up and hundreds more registering an interest. Wellington law firm Parker & Associates has filed claims in the High Court for leaky-home compensation, mostly over properties in Auckland, Wellington and Tauranga. Next year, the court will issue directions about whether a class action under plaintiffs Tracey Cridge, Mark Unwin, Scott Woodhead and Katrina Fowler is possible, among other legal issues.
(The New Zealand Herald, 1 Jan 2016)

This has been a long time coming and something of particular interest to Terra Firma. The quality of building materials is definitely in question but it also alludes to our theory that it’s a mistake to be putting more and more insulation into our homes.
Electricity is a considerable expense for any household and New Zealand has up until recently lagged in building homes that actually took into account our cold weather – from Stewart Island to Cape Reinga it gets cold. And Auckland with its humid weather is particularly susceptible to mould and damp. The more damp our homes, the more cold they feel, the more we close the windows and put on the heating, the damper they get…

Buildings do get damp, then they need to be able to dry. 100% weather tightness is unrealistic, particularly over time.
With rammed earth homes damp is never a problem. Even when the homes are new and the walls are still drying out, the temperature will be lower but the walls will still never have issues with mould.  Rammed earth buildings have been rigorously tested overseas (in parts of Europe where cold and dampness are a considerable problem) to find out why this is – the results recorded that the relative humidity (RH) did not go below 45% or above 55%.  Mould needs a minimum RH of 70% to grow.

Terra Firma has always considered that one of the main problems contributing to the rotting of NZ homes (“leaky building crisis”) is caused by inappropriate materials and subpar specification. The specification document is put together by the homes designer and guided by building regulations.
It has been a long time coming that the likes of J. Hardie is being taken to task regarding the materials and systems they provide for the NZ housing industry. There are a couple of other large building supply companies that we believe should come under scrutiny as well.
In addition to the use of subpar materials is that building regulations are requiring the industry to cram more and more insulation into the walls and ceilings. So on top of the J. Hardie type of systems not allowing  for breathability of our homes we are also trapping moisture in the walls with too much insulation. As mentioned earlier construction materials will always get wet in Winter, therefore they need to be able to dry out in Summer.

We need to also consider the benchmark for housing sustainability – this is not just about short-term energy efficiency but also (and just as important, if not more) is a structures’ long term durability and it’s health in regard to it’s occupants.

We the consumer, are also inadvertently condoning the quality of these building materials, by wanting to pay as little as possible for our housing. Completely understandable in that a home will probably be the most expensive investment/asset someone buys – but choosing cheap products comes at a cost– ultimately it’s often the environment, or the poorly paid and treated workers that produces these goods and at the end the homeowner with a house that fails.
Even our own government and regulatory authorities are not serving the public by allowing these massive companies to flood our building industry with substandard building materials that don’t last.

Also it seems the all powerful banks haven’t helped their mortgage clients either by wielding any of their power to question the quality of the homes their clients are getting sold. Surely alarm bells were ringing in these corporations regarding a growing concern over leaking structures and rotting homes. Maybe not their place to get involved but injustice is injustice and power is a pretty handy thing in these matters and times – unfortunately it has come at considerable cost, on so many levels, to homeowners to have these issues redressed. Big business is a Goliath – banks are too. Instead the banks seem to be quite happy to keep providing mortgages for homes that will only have a lifespan of 25yrs or less, and re-mortgaging those clients who need to pay for the repairs. We can’t help thinking perhaps this is because they then get to sell another round of mortgages.
Our thoughts go out to those dealing with this nightmare – we hope the considerable hard work that many have gone through already will help expediate the process for those still battling to save their homes.
With all this negativity and the massive financial disasters this has caused in peoples’ lives we think there is good news in the near future on all of this:
  • Rammed earth is becoming more mainstream.
  • Building firms are beginning to be held more responsible for the building materials they supply
  • The biggest bit of good news is our energy revolution – in both cars and homes – the technology is growing incredibly for homes to start to generate their own electricity, even selling surpluses into the grid. Meaning we don’t have to focus so much on insulation and we can instead address durability and health
So lets get on with the business of building homes that last.
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