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Canterbury Rubble Foundations Dubbed a “Multi-billion-Dollar Problem”

By Donna Jones

Anthony Harper partner and earthquake lawyer, Peter Woods is shining a spotlight on failed repairs to rubble foundation-homes damaged in the Christchurch earthquakes.

Woods hosted an assembly for owners of affected rubble foundation homes in June, with the caveat that no representatives from insurance companies could attend. The meeting was part of the independent survey he is carrying out to identify the issues facing owners of repaired homes that were built prior to the 1970s.

Around 65% of Canterbury homes have rubble foundations, a building process that was dropped by much of the country in the ’20s. Canterbury carried on until around ’68, so the problem is widespread and may very well be a multi-billion-dollar issue for the region.

Bevan Craig, a licensed foundation specialist is assisting EQC Fix in its efforts surrounding rubble foundation repairs. He says the guidelines the Ministry of Building, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) offered insurers in 2013 was more suited to modern structural concrete which acts like a beam and fractures cleanly in one place.

Craig told Fuseworks Media that MBIE’s advice stated “if a house looks reasonably level and the cracks to its ring base are no larger than the 5mm tip of a pencil, then it is probably safe to put it down as a cosmetic fix”.

These cosmetic fixes feature waterproof filler, paint and/or epoxy injection for larger cracks. Craig explained that the plaster used in rubble foundations is shaken to dust during an earthquake, giving the repair epoxy nothing to bond to, resulting in a task that’s equivalent to gluing a dinner plate back together after it’s been broken and crushed. “You wouldn’t bother trying, would you?”, Craig stated. “If the repairs haven’t been done properly or at all, the efficacy of the foundation is seriously compromised”, he said.

Sadly, for Canterbury homeowners, this seems to be a common occurrence. Woods said he has seen a high rate of remedial repairs being carried out due to failed foundation repairs or repairs that weren’t actually done, despite getting signed off as such.

“People are noticing cracks appearing in inside walls, or slumping happening on one side of the house”, Woods offered Fuseworks. “We have one family in a 1915 house with a rubble foundation, with all those things happening plus their internal walls are now bowed. It’s likely this is related to the scope of works which went from costing $800k to $52k to repair damage, and most of what was removed from the scope is related to foundation repairs. Now their house is cracking badly,” he says. “This is one of many like this that we have heard about.”

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