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Flood restoration - Do I need a Consent or advice from a Fire Engineer?

Relining plasterboard walls is a common part of flood restoration works, but this work needs to be done correctly to ensure the building's fire safety and structural performance is not degraded.


Thanks to the Auckland Anniversary flooding event and Cyclone Gabrielle, our team have visited many buildings recently where plasterboard linings are being replaced and one of the first questions we're generally asked is "do we need a Building Consent?". This question is normally triggered by the fact that the wall they're relining is suspected to be a fire rated wall.


The answer to this question is not straightforward.



Another example of flood restoration work
Another example of flood restoration work
Cut away plasterboard on lower portion of wall
Cut away plasterboard on lower portion of wall











Legal obligations of the Building Owner


Schedule 1, part 1, clause 1 of the Building Act allows repair and maintenance of a building, on a "like for like" basis, without a Building Consent. However, subclause 3 lists repair work that is NOT exempt from a Building Consent, and this includes:


"..complete or substantial replacement of a building product or an assembly contributing to the building's structural behaviour or fire-safety properties."


Therefore "complete or substantial" replacement of plasterboard on a fire rated wall would require a Consent. Similarly "complete or substantial" replacement of plasterboard on a timber framed structural wall could also trigger the requirement for a Consent as often the plasterboard contributes to the structural performance (e.g. bracing walls). While "complete" may be simply understood to mean completely relining a wall, the term "substantial" is not defined in the Act and requires some expert judgement.


There is one further exception to this rule in clause 12 which states that a Consent is not required for:


"..Building work in connection with any internal linings or finishes of any wall, ceiling, or floor of an existing dwelling.."



However, whether a Consent is required or not, all building work must still comply fully with the Building Code and more importantly, it is critical that the work to reinstate or repair a fire wall does not degrade the fire rating of that wall and therefore threaten the lives of its occupants.


To give building owners some reassurance that they are meeting their legal obligations under the Building Act (therefore avoiding possible fines) and, more importantly, not endangering the lives of the occupants, we recommend the following:


  • Consult an expert, such as a Fire Engineer or Structural Engineer to give their advice as to whether they believe the repair work requires a Building Consent, and

  • Request a letter from them stating this opinion, and summarising what works are required to complete the repairs in compliance with the building Code, also

  • If there is some uncertainty about the requirement for a Consent, consider applying to the Territorial Authority (Council) for a Schedule 1 exemption, or

  • To be completely certain, apply for a Building Consent before proceeding with the restoration work.

Note: section 41 subclause (1)(c) of the Building Act allows 'urgent work' to be completed before a Building Consent is granted "for the purpose of saving or protecting life or health" . An application must be made to the Territorial Authority before proceeding with urgent work and a Certificate of Acceptance application is required on completion.


Why you should consult an expert, such as a Fire Engineer


Without a Building Consent, it is even more critical that expert advice is sought for the reinstatement of plasterboard linings on any plasterboard lined wall. It can be difficult to determine just by looking at a plasterboard lined wall, whether it is required to be fire rated or carry a structural load (either gravity loads or shear loads) and this is another reason why an expert such as a Fire Engineer or Structural Engineer should be consulted.


A plasterboard lined fire rated or structural wall acts as a complete system and its performance is dependent on:


  • adequate framing and support for the plasterboard sheets (studs, nogs etc...)

  • the correct specification of plasterboard type and thickness (13mm? 16mm?)

  • the correct laying up of multiple plasterboard layers (e.g. ensuring the sheet joints are offset)

  • the correct screw types/lengths

  • correct screw patterns (e.g. butt joints often require more screws and bracing walls typically require particular screw patterns at the corners)

  • correct finishing (e.g. fire rated sealants, firestopping of penetrations or passive fire protection)


There could be other complicating factors to consider also such as:


  • Acoustic systems utilising rails between the framing and linings

  • Steel members requiring specific fire protection

  • Complex geometry around miscellaneous building features


Summary of recommendations for flood restoration works


  • Any repair to plasterboard linings on a wall requires a Building Consent if there is a 'complete or substantial' replacement and it contributes to the structural behaviour or fire safety properties of the building. The exception to this rule would be in an 'existing dwelling', where Consent may not be required even to line a fire rated or structural wall.

  • HOWEVER, ALL Building work is required to comply with the Building Code, even if a Building Consent is not required.

  • Non-Compliant restoration work to a plasterboard lined wall could endanger the lives of the building occupants, either by degrading the fire rating or reducing the building's ability to withstand an earthquake or strong winds.

  • A Building Owner can be issued with a substantial fine if building work which requires a Building Consent is carried out without a Consent.

  • An expert should be consulted to determine if the wall being repaired is required to provide a fire rating or carry a structural load and then, if this is determined to be the case, give their opinion as to whether a Building Consent is required and,

  • Seek further expert advice regarding the precise methodology for the relining of the wall(s)


 

Nelligan Consulting Engineers has a great Fire Engineering team, including an in-house passive fire consultant team with expertise and knowledge to assist you with your restoration project at various stages to ensure the installation is appropriately specified, compliant, cost-effective, and with minimal delays.





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