“Shades of grey” to Government’s building products outlook?

By Bruce Kohn, BIF September 22, 2015 Building Materials

The following is an opinion piece from Bruce Kohn of the Building Industry Federation (BIF), which represents the supply chain in the construction industry.

Kohn believes there are “shades of grey” to the face value of statements made by Minister of Building & Housing Nick Smith during recent Parliamentary exchanges on pricing in the construction materials and products markets.

“There is resistance from Councils to innovative building technology, which reduces competition,” said Minister Smith recently. “We are very open to competition from products with Chinese sounding names. I would also note that one of the key issues is actually both designers and Councils continuing to specify the tried and true. That is why the Government is making changes to the Standards Act and liability laws in order to encourage a greater and wider use of alternative plasterboard products.”

Taken as expressions of an approach that favours competitive markets and best value provision of goods and services for trade and consumers, there is little in these remarks which do not fit with BIF’s policy of free and open competition to all comers in the marketplace.

The “shades of grey”, however, encompass the emphasis placed by Government legislation on performance accountabilities assigned to architects, designers, builders and materials and product suppliers.

It means that all these sectors of the industry need to be very, very clear that the materials and products they propose for use, or use, are fit for purpose within the scope of use for which they were produced.

In those circumstances, with the weight of law hanging over them, designers who specify products and builders who use them will naturally turn to the products and materials they know from experience will do the job.

"All these sectors of the industry need to be very, very clear that the materials and products they propose for use, or use, are fit for purpose within the scope of use for which they were produced"

Council consent and compliance officials will clearly feel more comfortable in accepting what they too know from experience will do the job. An outcome is more surety to customers that the finished build will be up to their expectations.

On the basis that this is a natural response to the legislated accountabilities, two significant factors come into play if new and innovative products, materials and systems are to earn a place in the “tried and true” category.

The first is the need for them to have clear evidence of “fit for purpose” compliance with the Building Code, preferably backed by endorsement from a highly reputable independent testing body.

The second is clear evidence to specifiers, builders and merchants that in the event of issues arising – defects, technical or servicing – there is a clear and unequivocal path to correction, redress or fulfilment of any warranties provided.

Vigilance in the supply chain and among specifiers and builders is key to the first of these.

Representations that a material or product is okay because it has similar qualities to another well accepted branded product is not sufficient to be taken as a guarantee of its fitness for purpose.

Potential buyers need to be sure that an overseas supplier is positioned or available to meet normally expected warranty and service provisions along the lines of those provided by the major local suppliers in the market.

The New Zealand market is no more immune to court actions concerning products and materials than the markets of Australia and the United States. Currently Australian authorities are dealing with the ramifications of a Melbourne fire that took hold in some imported cladding and ran up the side of a high rise building.

They are also dealing with a multi-million dollar problem of substandard electrical wiring in New South Wales. In both cases the materials at issue appears to have originated from Chinese suppliers.

According to US news reports in Florida and other southern American states lawyers are seeking to serve a possible $1 billion suit against a Chinese company, alleging that sulphur emissions from “dry wall” (plasterboard) ruined their homes and belongings.

Lawyers for the complainants say that a year after starting the action they are still trying to get the lawsuit served on China’s state-owned Assets Supervision & Administration Commission.

The extension of a welcome mat to “products with Chinese sounding names” should also involve a clear signal that the mat must have on it in bold letters a caveat that these comply with the New Zealand Building Code and are fit for purpose.

Use the following email address to contact BIF or Bruce Kohn: bruce.kohn@xtra.co.nz

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