Thursday, December 9

Builders seek to take shortcuts with restrictions on construction supplies that face risks


Builders caught up in desperate times are in some cases resorting to desperate measures.

130114. Photo Diego Opatowski / RNZ.  Generic images of housing.  Builders working on a construction site.

Archive image.
Photo: RNZ

Cornered by the restriction of construction supplies, an increasing number of them are looking to substitute one product for another to avoid an unprecedented supply shortage.

However, they are warned that it can bring big trouble.

Triplicate

In the busiest little council in the country, Selwyn District, requests to amend residential consents have tripled to about 40 per month.

Regulatory and environmental services council group manager Tim Harris said: “They can’t just get the materials that had been approved for their build consent.”

Tim Harris.

Tim Harris.
Photo: Supplied

“It is quite widespread, from plasterboard, siding, trusses and frames to things like … doors [handles]. “

Harris’s recently expanded team of 30 construction officers has already faced a flood: consents reached nearly 2,000 per month, a fifth more than last year.

Selwyn [https://www.stats.govt.nz/information-releases/building-consents-issued-july-2021#download-data

ranked third behind Auckland and Christchurch for new house consents in total], and far outperformed all others per capita.

Immediately after those consents was the growing demand to change the consents.

Substitutions can be made for many materials, and sometimes minor variations can be made using comparable materials on site, although others require amendment and council approval, which takes longer.

‘Shortcuts … counterproductive’

Some builders weren’t waiting, but instead took it upon themselves to replace the products without consulting the councils, which was Harris’s real concern.

“We are all in this together,” he said.

“But the builders under the bomb, they have customers who yell at them and in some cases they are looking for shortcuts that sometimes backfire … they may have a hard time getting the certificate of compliance.”

In dozens of jobs, perhaps a tenth of the 1,800 inspections they did a month, their inspectors ran into problems like that.

“What we want to avoid is our inspectors going to the site and discovering that the builder has been using materials that are not part of the approved blueprint set.”

That was happening “quite a bit.”

Delays and priorities

Selwyn was aiming to process consent amendments in 10 business days, half the time for full consent, but he was struggling.

“The more solutions, the more variations, the more amendments we get, that’s really additional work for us on top of the volume of new applications coming through the door,” Harris said.

It echoed the most common advice circulating in the industry: check things out ahead of time, whether it’s with the council, the designer, or a merchant like Placemakers or Miter 10.

“Come to us as soon as possible to find solutions,” Harris said.

Builders who left late risked longer delays and higher stakes.

Some dealers were now refusing to take large orders unless the builder could wait until next year.

Manufacturers and distributors of custom roof trusses and trusses were now sourcing jobs that already had their consent first, Fletcher Building said.

“We are looking for sensible and equitable ways to prioritize what work to do first,” said its chief distribution officer, Bruce McEwen.

“Jobs that already have the necessary consent in place will generally be completed first.”

Can you get an extension?

Small variations could often be resolved if a comparable product had been exchanged, but the amendments were another story.

Attorney Tanya Wood, a partner at Duncan Cotterill, cautioned that the councils were tied.

“The builder would run the risk that the city would not consider it a minor variance, and then the city would not be able to retroactively issue a construction consent amendment,” he said.

A builder wanting to replace a product should also consult with the customer and the designer.

“It has to be done before the job is done,” Wood said.

Even if they got all the approvals, builders had to be more stubborn about risks amid what she called a “perfect storm” of supply, labor and consent pressures, and tight margins.

“If you are going to have to substitute materials, you need to understand what the consequences could be on your contracts, your ability to be able to do that substitution with clients and / or the council and if there are delays … understanding if you are entitled to what is called an extension of time, “Wood said.

Selwyn was innovating through fast track consents for designers, builders, and developers who met certain criteria.

The problems were not general. For example, the Queenstown Lakes District Council said it was “not finding any problems with local builders.”


www.rnz.co.nz

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