19 May 2021

Harditex cladding dispute: Defence argues product was changed post-consent

4:23 pm on 19 May 2021

A lawyer for the building materials company James Hardie has blamed bad and in some cases "atrocious" construction for a leaky home - not the company's product at the centre of a $220m legal case.

Auckland court coat of arms.

Photo: RNZ / Patrice Allen

The James Hardie group of companies are being sued by more than 1000 homeowners over what they claim were product deficiencies of their Harditex exterior cladding, causing their houses to rot and develop mould.

Today, a lawyer for the defendant said the cladding in question was not at fault in one of the homes in the case.

Homeowners said Harditex fibre-cement cladding allowed rainwater in and not out, causing damage to the structure of their homes. They also say James Hardie knew or ought to have known the product was defective. The company stopped manufacturing the product in 2005.

Of the 360-odd properties laid out in the lawsuit, seven are being used as illustrative examples in the case.

Today, defence lawyer Bruce Scott ran through their analysis of one of the homes in Auckland.

Scott said the house plans were consented with a different type of cladding, before inexplicably being changed without the alterations the new cladding needed.

He said the cladding was installed without the required batten - a wooden buffer - between it and the structure. This meant it was contacting the porous concrete.

"It should have been off the concrete, separated from it, not against it where moisture transfer can occur... My real point is that it's not the James Hardie system."

He said it was unclear why the cladding was changed post-consent.

"In terms of construction, in terms of bad building practice, it's an unconsented change to the cladding. It shows that halfway through the construction process someone just decided to completely change the cladding and gave not only no thought to the wider implications I would submit, but even the immediate implications at this location," Scott said.

At one point, he highlighted some work which he called atrocious.

"Because the flashing has been taken back behind... that means when moisture comes across that metal it gets directed straight in behind the cladding against the timber and causes a leak. We see that actually causing damage," he said, referring to photos.

Scott said this meant the cladding was not to blame.

"So not surprisingly, moisture has got in as a result of that aggregation of defective construction.

"This property is affected by a multitude of workmanship and compliance defects, which is the direct cause of moisture ingress that's been identified at this property."

Later in the day, another of James Hardie's lawyers, John McKay, said the type of cladding Harditex is - fibre cement - had been shown to work and was an approved type of cladding.

He said there were regularly issued instructions - called the James Hardie Technical Instructions - on to how to install their products. The warranty for it states it must be installed in accordance with the instructions in order to be covered. In this case, they say, it was not done to the instructions.

The trial, before Justice Whata, is set down for about four months.

A number of the homeowners who are part of the class action are set to give evidence.