Are you planning to buy a house in New Zealand? The “leaky building syndrome” may affect 30,000 – 90,000 houses built in the last 10 years. Arm yourself with some facts to ensure buying the wrong house doesn’t turn your NZ dream into a real estate nightmare.
In the last 10 years or so, the “Mediterranean look” has become fashionable for houses in New Zealand. Flat or sloping roofs with minimal eaves, and a white or beige plaster finish have been bringing a hint of Greece or Southern Spain to New Zealand’s streets.
Unfortunately, some of New Zealand’s most fashionable homes are taking in water through the exterior finish – a finish known in the trade as monolithic plaster. Although monolithic plaster looks like plaster, it’s actually a synthetic material which is sprayed on the outside of timber-framed houses.
And leaking monolithic plaster is just the beginning of home-owners’ woes.
After water has penetrated the plaster, it can soak into the wooden structure of houses. Unfortunately, the timber in modern houses is untreated. Untreated, kiln-dried timber is certainly a plus for New Zealand’s “clean and green” image but, as a building material, it’s proving to be a serious minus. That’s because, once water has penetrated the plaster finish and has reached the wood, the wood rots.
What you should know:
*Monolithic plaster finish is found in all grades of real estate, from low cost, right up to the top end of the market.
*Producing a weatherproof, monolithic plaster house is a skilled task. If the installers are not highly trained, the finish will be suspect.
*Even if the weatherproofing is carried out correctly, there’s no guarantee a monolithic plaster finish will remain leak-tight. Heating and cooling can create cracks, as can earth tremors.
*Traditional eaves keep a great deal of rainwater away from walls, giving protection even if the building work is poor. Houses with non-existent or minimal eaves, often associated with the Mediterranean look, are susceptible to wind-driven rainwater penetration.
*The Government is working on the basis that the repair bill per house will be as much as 15% of the construction cost. (A house costing $300,000 might have a construction cost of roughly $150,000 and a similar land value.)
*Monolithic plaster finish is not only a problem in New Zealand. Builders in America and Canada have been facing lawsuits for almost a decade now as problems emerge in these countries with the same finish.
*Builders in New Zealand are also facing lawsuits and, like most forms of legal action, these have been protracted.
*A toxin-producing fungus that thrives in damp conditions, stachybotrys, is claimed to be associated with rashes, respiratory problems and chest infections.
Scientists have confirmed the presence of stachybotrys in water-damaged homes around New Zealand.
Would I buy at house with a monolithic plaster finish? My own opinion is that I’d rather be safe than sorry. I personally wouldn’t consider buying this type of house. Most of the New Zealanders I’ve spoken to are of the same opinion. Of course, whether you choose to be guided by these opinions is entirely up to you. If your heart is set on having a house with the Mediterranean look, proceed with caution, or consider having one built using traditional, time-tested materials and methods.