The Irish builders have been copping it lately for substandard work during the Christchurch rebuild, but I reckon there is enough dodgy building work to go around. Here are a few things to keep in mind.
Lesson Number One: Never trust a property inspector who says, “Yeah, the ceiling is insulated.”
It wouldn’t take more than an inch of 40-year-old ‘insul-fluff’ for the average pre-purchase home inspector to tick the box for ceiling insulation. The average homebuyer would trust the property inspection report, buy the home, and then spend the next decade or more shivering in a cold home.
Don’t trust these guys on the topic of insulation. Here’s why: For the most part, they are the same people that built much of the low quality housing stock that New Zealand suffers from.
Think about it. A property inspector is a retired house builder. Most houses built in the last 50 years are under-insulated and cold. These are the guys we are trusting to assure us the large investment we’re about to make is fit for purpose. It’s a bit like allowing the Wall Street tycoons who crashed the world economy to be the guys to help ‘reform’ the financial system.
If you are looking to buy a home, make sure you bring a ladder and a torch. Pop your head above the ceiling. If you can see the ceiling joists then the ceiling is under-insulated. It does not mean you shouldn’t buy the home, but it might mean you can negotiate on price.
Lesson Number Two: Never trust a plumber or electrician to put insulation back in place after they have removed it to do work.
Many of you reading this column right now are living in homes with small and large sections of the ceilings completely uninsulated. If you have had a sparky or a plumber in your ceiling cavity anytime during the last two decades, I strongly advise you to get a ladder and a torch, and to have a thorough look.
Recently I was shocked by the actions of a very experienced and very pricey plumber who did some work at our home. About three weeks after he left I had reason to visit the ceiling cavity to reload bait stations for mice, rats and possums. I was shocked to see a large amount – and I mean LARGE amount – of recently installed insulation piled up against the flue for our wood burner.
Aside from the portion of our ceiling that went three weeks without insulation, stacking batts against a flue is obviously a fire hazard. Negligent is the kindest word I would use to describe this particular plumber.
Lesson Number Three: Don’t trust the New Zealand Building Code minimum levels of insulation. Note the key word is “minimum.”
Many houses built today are destined to be cold homes due to poor design and under-insulation even though they “pass inspection” according to the letter of the law.
The current building code “minimum” for ceiling insulation is R 2.9 for this region. That is not enough. Don’t settle for a minimally insulated home. By international standards R 2.9 is meager. Throw in a couple dozen down lights and you may as well be living in a 1950s state house.
The take away for all three lessons above is this: If you can see your ceiling joists at all then your ceiling is more than likely under-insulated. You’ll need to put the insulation back in place from the tradesmen’s visits and then top up with blanket insulation over the joists and existing insulation. We have topped up with R 3.6 and except for a negligent plumber we have a fairly cosy home.
Got the message? Get the ladder!
Don’t say you’ll do it next week because you won’t. Put down your paper right now. Put down your coffee. Get that ladder and go!