Life in a leaky building: a survivor's tale

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Life in a leaky building: a survivor's tale

Just before Christmas 2005, we fell victim to the pandemic sweeping across Auckland. You know how it is: you always think it’ll affect someone else and you’ll be okay. So we were ill-prepared.

We had just carried on as if nothing would ever happen to us. And anyway, we are people who like to think of ourselves as survivors.

We have lived through the Y2K scare, SARS knocking at our borders and the annual news that Auckland’s volcanoes are “overdue” for a blowout. We’ve flown long distances and never worried about deep-vein thrombosis, and we laugh in the face of the impending bird flu.

Hell, we’re Aucklanders, we live for traffic jams and the tough times.

We survived John Banks, the notorious tree massacre of Queen St, and even that thing where apple moths were being painted by low-flying planes.

But then one morning before Christmas our house went dark and there was a pounding in my head. The builders had moved in, rigged up tarpaulins across the windows, and were demolishing our patio.

We were suffering from Leaky Building Syndrome, and there was nothing we could do about it.

LBS is an insidious pandemic and those who fall prey to it are often filled with shame and embarrassment. Invitations to come round for dinner are no longer extended, and backyard barbecues over summer are a thing of the past. Our apartment looks like a Christo wrap-up in progress.

By day I need the lights on in the office – which I have had to move from a comfortable downstairs room to a humid space on the top floor. Boxes of books, papers and records are now in storage across town. I have to make regular runs to the lock-up to find an important document or reference book. Or even just that album by the Feelies that I suddenly want to hear.

Worse than being forced out, however, is staying at home: there is no view beyond the tarpaulin a metre away, and the noise of sledgehammers, saws and radio stations blasting advertisements for car dealers is constant. Our modest garden is covered in sawdust, timber and canvas. The ponga is dying from lack of water and we aren’t allowed to go down to minister to it. The window in our lounge has a handwritten and grammatically absurd sign taped to it: Do not attempt to open ranchslider and windows for safety purposes.House_repairs005

We are prisoners in our small and increasingly airless space, and outside the barbarians are playing We Are the Champions at full volume, as one of the chippies sings along tunelessly.

If LBS is coming your way, you’ll need to stockpile essential things: earplugs, gin and loud music that you like to block out the loud music that they like. Don’t scrimp on the gin.

If you ever watched daytime television, forget it. DVDs become important survival tools. When the guy yells “clear”, the nail gun is about to go off and you can pause a DVD. The new My Sky box that allows you to do the same to television becomes a very attractive proposition.

Phone calls are impossible, and don’t even think about reading during the day.

If you are afflicted with LBS, you appreciate the small things that you once took for granted, like the silence of the suburbs during the day, National Radio as opposed to someone called Mocker who bellows at someone called BJ about how great the ABs are, and the gentle movement of air through an open window.

We remember when we could have dinner with friends and talk about important things like art, music, politics and the fate of Judy Bailey. Now there is always that appalling mood killer: so, how are the repairs going?

We remember the days before sawdust, before Bowie’s Let’s Dance at 7.30am and ads for Mike’s Motors in Manukau City. We remember a time before headaches.

We remember when we looked out our window at sunsets rather than strangers in toolbelts who look back at us while we eat.

Today, and for months to come, we will be in a cage we once called home – and those repairing it are listening to Mocker and BJ.


Footnote: We got through the repairs to our apartment block. They took 18 months and cost us around $60,000+ -- and incidentals, like the day we found three wheels removed from our car which we'd had to park on the road because the builders needed the courtyard for their trucks. We ate out a lot and who knows what that cost? But we survived.

Others didn't: divorce, bankruptcy, crippling debt .  .

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Tony H - Mar 18, 2009

I'm an aluminium joiner and feel that much of the LBS is caused by the sealers used to seal the joinery. Until around 1994 all aluminium joinery was sealed with RTV which isn't anywhere near good enough, it has poor waterproofing ability and does not adhere to aluminium. Since 1994 most companies changed to a new type of specialised small joint sealer for aluminium, and as long as it is applied properly it should do the job, but some companies still use RTV or galvseal because it is slightly cheaper.
Most builders will make out that simply adding a flashing to a leaky window or door will fix the problem, but that simply isn't true if the cause of the leak (which it often is) is the type of sealer used during manufacture or improperly applied sealer, in which case the joints will continue to leak until the joints are resealed properly, unless the joinery has a sill tray drainage system the joinery will have to be removed.

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