Australia’s leaky building crisis – what’s to be done 

Australian homes are experiencing significant water damage and resulting health risks, with many homeowners often unaware of the hidden dangers.

For some Australians, the dream of owning their own home is becoming a nightmare as they deal with the ramifications of poor waterproofing

At Fosroc ANZ, we are heavily invested in seeing strong waterproofing outcomes for all Australian buildings. We spoke to industry leader, Byron Landeryou, for his take on the current waterproofing crisis in Australia – what’s caused it and how it can be fixed. 

Waterproofing issues at pandemic proportions 

According to Byron, the problem of leaky buildings is reaching pandemic proportions. A recent study in New South Wales found that nearly a quarter of class 2 residential apartment buildings surveyed had a serious waterproofing defect. 

“While it only accounts for a small percentage of a building’s cost, waterproofing failure can be astronomically expensive,” he explains. 

And, Byron points out, it’s not just the financial costs that can take a toll. 

“There’s the risk of physical harm if structures collapse, on top of the psychological and emotional stress involved in dealing with the damage and trying to rectify poor workmanship,” he says. “It can literally ruin lives.” 

In Byron’s experience, three factors commonly contribute to waterproofing failures: poor building design, issues with the substrate, and incorrect waterproofing application. He says that overcoming these failures will require broad changes across every element of the waterproofing process and industry.  

Leaky design 

While architects and building designers are typically well versed in designing for liveability and sustainability, Byron argues that waterproofing should also be one of their top considerations. 

“The term waterproofing is possibly a bit of a misnomer,” he explains. “It’s more a process of collecting and redirecting water away from the building. We need to ensure that our homes and commercial buildings are designed with this in mind.”  

Sub-par substrate installation 

As many waterproofing experts will point out, waterproofing is only as good as the weakest point in the system, and in many instances, the weakest point is the substrate.  

Byron sees frequent examples of incorrect preparation or poor choice of substrate materials causing big problems for waterproofing performance.  

“Waterproofing is so heavily reliant on what happens before, during and after installation that there are multiple layers of risk,” Byron explains. 

“For example, we often see instances where cellulose materials are being used in substrates which can be a major contributor to mould issues in buildings,” he says. 

Application error 

Byron points to the absence of ongoing professional development and poor quality assurance practices within the construction industry as key contributors to the myriad of waterproofing defects. 

“Waterproofing requires expert knowledge,” Byron explains. “In the absence of any formal training and accreditation, applicators and builders often don’t know that they’re doing anything wrong, which means problems are being perpetuated.” 

“We need to upskill applicators, builders and architects to ensure they are aware of and understand the relevant waterproofing codes and standards, know what products are available and how to apply them correctly.” 

“It’s great to see manufacturers like Foscoc ANZ playing a role in educating the industry on how to correctly select, use and apply waterproofing products.” 

Broad changes required 

Byron urgently wants to see industry-wide change across multiple fronts. 

“We need greater regulation of the industry; we need to upskill and educate our workforce; and we need the industry to go digital,” he says. 

“Currently, in most states in Australia, anyone can call themselves a waterproofer,” he says. “We need a formal accreditation system so unqualified operators can be easily identified.” 

And, Byron argues, while regulation and legislation may be outside the control of the construction industry, professional development is not. 

“As an industry we need to implement and insist upon ongoing, professional development for our workers,” Byron says. 

Critical to addressing the waterproofing issue is the need for the industry to adapt to the digital age.  

“A decade or two ago, onsite inspections were undertaken at multiple stages of a project. Now, given the proliferation and speed of construction, that’s simply not possible. We need the construction industry to adopt a digital approach to inspections and quality assurance.” 

What Fosroc ANZ is doing 

Fosroc waterproofing and sealants expert Colin Picton, says Fosroc ANZ is working hard to help industry customers meet their regulatory waterproofing requirements and avoid costly problems down the line. 

“We are more than happy to help building designers identify potential problems and what adjustments might need to be made to achieve the best outcome,” Colin says. 

As well as detailed specifications, Fosroc ANZ offers Continuing Professional Development (CPD) training for engineers, architects and applicators, including waterproofing seminars. 

“Preventing waterproofing defects starts with education. It’s important that everyone knows and applies best practice,” Colin explains. 

“Our committed Fosroc representatives are out in the field every day, providing application advice and product recommendations to builders and asset owners. We also have excellent product resources on our website that provide expert advice and guidance.” 

While education and expert advice are key to proper installation, Fosroc also invests heavily in research and development to ensure that its waterproofing products deliver optimum performance. 

To give the construction industry total confidence in its products, Fosroc ANZ undertakes widespread independent testing. 

“As part of the Dulux Group, Fosroc ANZ will not state that our products comply with a particular standard unless we have independent testing,” explains Colin. “Other products might say the material complies with a certain standard. But is the manufacturer relying on its own internal data? We believe the market can have more confidence in external independent testing.” 

For Byron, the urgency of the waterproofing situation cannot be overstated.  

“This is a nationwide problem that is negatively impacting individuals, families, and businesses,” he says. “We can’t continue to kick this can down the road.” 

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