Electronic monitoring technology provides a non-destructive method of protecting NZ homeowners from moisture, rot and financial ruin.

Posted on Thursday, November 19th, 2009 at 3:14 pm in

If you are one of many New Zealanders who own a home, apartment or ‘rental’ built from 1996 onwards, you have probably given some thought in recent days to the approach of the ‘10-year limitation-on-claims’ cut-off for leaky/potentially leaky homes.

That’s usually as far as it goes. Who really wants to have holes cut into the place? I mean, ‘they’ tell you when you build the house that you must watch all nails, cuts, nicks in the surface, and here these inspectors come and chop chunks out.

Besides, there are no signs of leaks, damp or cracks to be seen. Not only is there a high cost attached to the inspection, but there is also the disruption and, worst of all, the ’stigma’ of being seen to have a ‘leaky home’. Neighbours talk to estate agents and would-be buyers. You don’t want that, do you?

So you cross your fingers and do nothing.

Many will be lucky – as with Lotto – while others have simply no idea that inside their walls, the value of their investment is literally rotting away right under their noses.

Now, a New Zealand technological breakthrough that could tip the balance back in the homeowner/investors’ favour is slowly appearing on the local market. Many believe it could revolutionise home monitoring throughout the world.

The new technology offers a number of packages that include a three-year monitoring service; special reports on problem area fixes; and comparative statistics derived from hundreds of other homes, materials and situations on their growing database – all at a price that is comparable to installing Sky-TV, they claim.

Kiwi ingenuity, based on a series of University of Auckland Engineering Department research projects, has been consolidated into a commercialised monitoring system for homes, using building science that claims to lead the world. The Auckland-based Moisture Detection Company (MDC) says its effective technology, linked to a 400-plus database of New Zealand homes, provides peace-of-mind-through-facts about your building’s performance, or the best possible insight into what is happening behind the walls of New Zealand’s homes.
While they are reluctant to be seen as the purveyors of the ’silver bullet’ solution against leaky homes – the electronic probes Bryan Holyoake and Shane Pope have been party to inventing, and have now installed into thousands of walls, are capable of numerous home management and knowledge functions too – they concede it is the misfortune of tens of thousands of Kiwi homeowners that has created a market for their product and linked service.

“The key determinant of potential danger and damage in a home is the amount of moisture present in the external and internal walls, and the time that moisture remains within the wall, undetected,” notes Bryan Holyoake, whose family are major players in the building cladding industry.

“While there are a number of various techniques available, the only practical and reliable method to get ongoing detection of moisture in building walls is with our patented, deep-penetrating, moisture detection units or Mdu probes.

“They avoid all the nasty issues that come with other methods, such as leaving ugly ‘fang marks’ or cut-outs on your exterior, or relying on a number of assumptions. We get the facts.”

The moisture detection probe is a non-destructive tool drilled in through the skirting deep into the timber framing inside the walls – an area that until now has been hidden from the building inspector’s view — in sections that are assessed as being a leak risk. These include high-risk building details such as: parapets, deck connections, roof-to-wall joints, windows, ranch-sliders and any other penetration through the external cladding surface. The installation leaves the Mdu probe installed in the wall, visible only as a ’shirt button’ on the skirting board.

Most importantly, during installation, timber drillings are extracted to provide a wood sample. This is labelled and checked for deterioration. It remains linked to the individual probe it came from, both as a measure of performance and as a secondary coefficient; thereby adding an additional level of reliability not previously available to property owners. Even new buildings are going through this process, as MDC has already discovered apparently new framing to be damaged before it gets to the house.

The probes are permanent, so they can be read immediately after heavy rain to ensure repairs and maintenance have been effective. To underpin accurate interpretations of how a house is performing, more than one reading is required; otherwise readings done in summer (when rainfall is light) will have little value.

“The experience gained in a joint research study with the University of Auckland demonstrated the need for a more scientific approach to building monitoring and assessment, before wholesale changes were made to buildings, or maintenance commenced.

“We proved that water present in walls does not automatically mean damage is rampant and visa versa — particularly if the wall has been left in an ‘unknown’ condition for a long period. Damage is more likely to occur to buildings not maintained or those built incorrectly the first time.”

Holyoake’s fourth year research project at the Auckland University Faculty of Engineering and Chemical and Materials Department was supervised by industry doyen, Professor Geoff Duffy. The aim of the research was to gain insight into the rate of moisture movement inside building walls and to establish the mechanisms driving the process.

“That way the Mdu probes can also provide a record of the building’s on-going performance, thereby dispelling any so-called ’stigma’ implications that a leaky home will always be ‘damaged goods’,” adds Shane Pope, who also has an honours degree in engineering.

MDC believes that only by measuring the timber in the house itself, using a moisture detection probe, can home owners, architects, builders and inspectors be certain that it does comply with the legislation; 18% moisture content for untreated and 20% for treated wood. Those are very tight margins.

“Our reports employ a simple colour code for highlighting different levels of moisture performance. A green reading is inside the safe-and-desirable range; a yellow-to-orange rating indicates the need for on-going monitoring and the possibility that maintenance should be considered; and a red rating requires investigation and the probability that remediation be undertaken before damage becomes more costly,” says Holyoake.

Most leaky home owners inevitably have suffered financial loss, emotional trauma and often attendant health problems. “They need certainty. They need conclusive and consistent facts on the existing and potential problems. They also need on-going monitoring against moisture damage to ensure that any remedial work is fixing the problem, rather than continuing the cycle of extensive and costly damage.

“A key advantage the Mdu probes have given us is the ability to gain a far greater understanding of the entire building and expose the unknown, without breaking into the cladding. This leads to a more balanced assessment of the building to the benefit of all involved.

“We routinely come across clients who have been told they need to reclad, only to show that 90% of their building is ok – saving them hundreds of thousands of dollars in the process. It’s a huge ‘de-stressor’ for people. Although the lawyers don’t always appreciate it”

“By installing moisture detection probes to monitor their homes, owners will ensure maintenance and remedial work is successful. We do not want to see repeated examples in this country of repair failures. Right now Canada is reporting cases of buildings that have been reclad three times and are still leaking. We are committed to helping New Zealand avoid that trap,” concludes Holyoake.

For further information, please contact Bryan Holyoake/Shane Pope at the Moisture Detection Company (09) 271 0522. www.moisturedetection.co.nz. info@moisturedetection.co.nz

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