In the early 2000s builders were still predominantly male. In 2008 carpenters, joiners and builders earned close to the national average of $38,900. Construction managers earned $74,200, while builders’ labourers ($32,500) and general labourers ($25,500) were paid much less. Apprenticeships remained an effective way for young people to enter the industry.
The building industry is typified by boom and bust cycles – work is sometimes hard to find, and at other times builders must turn down jobs.
The Federation of Master Builders was founded in 1892. By the 2000s there were 22 regional associations. Builders and companies that meet certain standards of workmanship and business practice can apply for membership as registered master builders, who offer a guarantee on their work. Around 1,800 companies, with over 15,000 employees and subcontractors, were master builders in the early 2000s. They accounted for some 65% of annual construction spending ($7.5 billion out of $12 billion per year).
The building process
The process usually begins with a client who wants a new house built, or an existing house added onto or altered. An architect or draughtsperson draws up a plan, which is sent to the local council for building consent. Once consent is granted the client approaches a builder or puts the job out for tender.
There are thousands of individual builders and many companies offering their services on a contract basis to the public. Most clients contract a builder who also acts as a project manager. The contract usually specifies timelines, materials and the budget. Builders then often subcontract parts of the job out to electricians, plumbers, tilers, plasterers and flooring contractors.
Building Act 2004 and Building Code
The Building Act 2004 sets out the law for the construction, alteration, demolition and maintenance of new and existing buildings. The Building Code sets minimum standards that all new building work must meet, but does not prescribe how buildings should be designed or constructed. Plans and specifications are assessed by local councils to ensure they comply with the code before a consent is issued. Councils employ building inspectors who inspect work during and after construction, and issue certificates which attest that the work is compliant with the Building Code.
In the early 2000s more women were taking up apprenticeships in building – traditionally a very male profession. In 2005 Richard Gibb of HRS Construction in Christchurch had some advice for other building firms looking to employ a female apprentice: ‘Don’t!’ he said. ‘Then we [the company] can pick them up.’1 Gibb said he had seen some women apprentices with outstanding skills.
Clients who have problems with builders can make claims through the court system. If the work was done by a registered master builder their federation offers a guarantee on issues such as non-completion, defective workmanship, rot and structural defects.
Leaky building syndrome
From the mid-1990s thousands of houses were built using methods that have not kept out the rain. Many were Mediterranean-style, with flat roofs, no eaves and solid balustrades. Moisture got trapped behind cladding types such as fibrous plaster or stucco. Fungus grew and wood rotted. Many factors contributed including the less stringent Building Code of the Building Act 1991, using untested new materials (such as untreated timber framing), new architectural trends, cost-cutting developers and poor building practices. Councils signed off on poor building work as did private building certifiers. The Building Code was meant to be overseen by the Building Industry Authority, a government agency that was poorly funded.
The Weathertight Homes Resolution Service was set up in December 2002 to help leaky-house owners, yet it had few powers. Local councils, the Building Industry Authority, developers, builders and architects all blamed each other. When home owners tried to get compensation through the courts they often found that the builders had gone bankrupt or the companies had been dissolved. Some owners settled out of court for less than the cost of repairs.
In 2006 the Weathertight Homes Resolution Services Act established the Weathertight Homes Tribunal, which adjudicates disputes over leaky houses that were built or altered in the previous 10 years.