Some builders ‘cut corners’, put homes at risk

By the reckoning of industry experts and homeowners, the local housing stock could be more resilient to natural disasters, if “people stop cutting corners”.

“The bottom line is that out of fear, no-one wants to say it, but a lot of the problems we face when a hurricane comes is simply that builders and developers cut corners,” one homeowner told Sunday Finance.

The roofs of some houses in the homeowner’s Westmeade Willow community in Portmore, St Catherine were damaged during Hurricane Sandy in October 2012. The residents, who took up occupancy in earlier months of 2012, reported that the outer layer of their roofs peeled off in the middle of the hurricane’s torrents. As a result of that, they said the underlying board got soaked and water streamed down their walls, drenching their belongings and flooding their floors.

The homeowner, who asked not to be named, complained that, after spending $8.1 million to purchase a home, “we have to stop and think, what will happen if Jamaica gets a stronger hurricane than Sandy?”

Building practices need to be standardized and properly enforced by those in authority, argued the frustrated homeowner.

“It’s a who knows who kind of a thing, so you find that cheap material is used and plans are passed without the requisite checks,” the homeowner said in reference to the general state of local building practices.

Other residents of the community said they are fearful of the impending hurricane season, as corrective work was still needed on some of the properties.

For architect Chris Lue, the “lack of a clear definition of a qualified builder” as well as government tardiness to cement a proper building code “adds to the issue of a lack of resilient structures”.

Brian Bernal, of local architecture firm MODE Ltd, has also called for greater enforcement of proper building practices.

“Robust and enforced building codes are highly effective in ensuring a better quality of building,” Bernal said.

Additionally, “when employed in conjunction with ‘green’ building standards or practices (enforced building codes) will significantly increase the functional resilience of our buildings,” Bernal suggested.

He further noted that the main objective of building codes is to protect the health, safety and welfare of occupants by providing standards, construction techniques and strategies pertinent to a jurisdiction or region.

Minister of Justice Mark Golding has said that a bill to establish the Building Act and to facilitate the adoption and efficient application of the code — on which work has been ongoing since 2002 — should be tabled in Parliament this year.

There are also plans for the National Building Code to reflect technologies that are green and more modern.

By Bernal’s reckoning, the adoption and enforcement of the new code, in association with other standards such as the International Green Construction Code (IgCC) and voluntary Green Building Rating Systems such as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), will go a long way in ensuring the design and construction of more climate-resilient buildings in Jamaica.

Golding and Bernal made their comments at a workshop hosted by the Jamaica Institute of Architects in association with the Caribbean Architecture Students Association of the University of Technology (UTech), earlier this month.

While all fingers seem to point to better building practices as the answer to a more disaster-resilient housing stock, it remains to be seen whether the lessons of the past will impact the quality of future housing stock.

Leave a Reply

error: Content is protected !!