Article: Speak Easy

How Long Do  Newly Built  Homes Last? with Michael BoturHow Long Do Newly Built Homes Last? with Michael Botur

Reporters will make news out of anything. I mean, when I was an anxious young reporter busting out stories for NZME., we would get handed the latest statistics from some government department and our job was to make headlines out of any slight movement in the numbers.

Stuff’s good at making news when there isn’t news, too. Stuff published a piece this year saying newly-built homes come with lots of problems. The article was based upon the opinion of building consultant Stuart Wilson of Maynard Marks Ltd. Since we live in an era in which public relations has permeated journalism (thanks to writers like me), the stuff piece may be skewed. I mean, isn’t the job of a building consultant to generate worry then send someone the bill?

According to the Stuff piece,
• Many Kiwis become “quite upset when they find out houses have minimum lifespan requirements of just 50 years for the building’s structure

• After 15 years, exterior cladding might deteriorate

• The systems we build with are far more reliant on maintenance than buildings of a comparable type overseas because NZ has more UV exposure and UV breakdown.

• It’s very expensive to build in New Zealand and we seem to cut corners everywhere to be able to afford to build

• Houses for renters are in generally poorer condition than they should be

• Rental warrants of fitness are bad because if imposed, they could lead to houses being torn down.

The man to provide perspective is Classic Builders regional manager Scott Coutts, who is overseeing builds of house and land packages at Whangarei’s Totara Parklands and Kotata Heights. One of Scott’s first responses to the Stuff stuff is that NZ firstly has a far superior building code to many other countries, and secondly, new builds come with value for money: modern standards, modern codes, greater insulation, energy efficiency, warranties, warmth and comfort.

I asked Scott if there are really minimum lifespan requirements of just 50 years for a new house’s structure and 15 years for the durability of the exterior cladding. It doesn’t work like that, Scott pointed out – the cladding is expected to last up to the 50 years and beyond.

Following a maintenance schedule will keep a house going and going, Scott explained. “As long as houses are maintained to manufacturers specifications it’ll last longer than building code.”

There’s a little variability when it comes to cladding. “A concrete brick will be around for a long time, as opposed to wooden weatherboard. But as long as everything is maintained to the recommended specifications it should last a long time.”

That maintenance includes things like washing the paint and roof regularly.

And as for whether our houses blasted with UV light we can’t cope with?

“The systems we build with are far more reliant on maintenance than buildings of a comparable type overseas because NZ has more UV exposure and UV breakdown. It’s well documented, there’s no question about the UV, but NZ products are designed and manufactured with that in mind – that’s why they have a warranty and a maintenance schedule.” 

Final question: my friend Philippa bought a new build in a subdivision in Auckland and says her door could take up to a year to settle properly into his frame. Is that normal? Scott thought that sounded unusual.

Houses expand and contract with the climate, Scott explained, especially with timber and metal framework, and we have high humidity, and sometimes we can get minor hairline cracking in the finish. “We have maximum moisture allowances to avoid too much movement in house linings so when it dries out more you’re not getting shrinkage/expansion which will cause cracking.”

The Stuff stuff is headlined “‘Our disposable, leaky homes: ‘Kiwis always try to build cheap,’” but perhaps a better headline would be ‘Our cheap, disposable Kiwi news.’

Michael Botur has published journalism in NZ Herald, Herald on Sunday, Sunday Star-Times and Mana and he writes a lot of fiction. He moved to Whangarei in 2015 and was ecstatic to be able to afford a house here.


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