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The Danger of D.I.Y - How Safe Is Your Home?

Millions of Australians could be unaware of the potential risks that lie in their home, according to a leading structural engineer.

Dave Meney, Director of Yenem Engineering Services says most Australian home owners take for granted the fact their home is safe and considered structurally sound.


“We don’t often know the complete history, the design elements, or the discussions going on when it was designed and built,” Meney said


“Occasionally structural failure occurs, with footings sinking, walls cracking, balconies collapsing, or roof sheeting being blown off. One issue alone doesn’t normally lead to failure, it’s generally two or more things aligning.”


“Perhaps a combination of overload, lack of maintenance, use of inferior materials, bad engineering, bad construction, or changing soil conditions. So, you can have some of these problems and not even know.”


Meney says the risks have increased in recent years, given the rise in home renovation television programs and the trend towards people tackling professional services and trades themselves.


It means many are attempting renovations, without expertise, education or supervision by industry professionals, potentially putting the integrity of their structures at risk.


“I think the programs risk promoting backyard engineering and construction, and doing things without correct process and approval,” Mr Meney said.


“These shows don’t point you in the right direction. They point you to Bunnings to buy a lump of timber and not to understanding compliance issues, design aspects and loads.”


“So many buildings collapse because they lack the structural system that was there in the beginning. Structural engineers design buildings to resist forces from wind or earthquake by providing shear walls or bracing for example.


“Later, walls are removed to open areas and suddenly, the building’s lateral strength is compromised. Or rooms are added, and now structural elements are carrying twice as much load.”


The concern rises also with the growth of property sharing mediums like Airbnb and others, where regular homes are turned into accommodation.


Meney says that travellers have no guarantee the homes are up to the required standard or regularly maintained.


“All of a sudden these homes are being turned into a hotel or public building, but the Building Code of Australia treats the design of these buildings differently,” Mr Meney explained.

“I remember thinking about the issue when I was sitting out on the balcony of my Airbnb house, and I was looking at a non-compliant handrail.”


“My expectation is that as a client of these home-sharing services, I’m in a safe environment.”


“But how do I know that the correct maintenance is being done by the owner? Or the building has been designed and built properly for its intended purpose?”.


Meney says ongoing inspection and maintenance is a big issue, with the only structural inspection commissioned the one an owner gets before selling.


Even if arranged by the buyer, he feels the standard buildings inspections pre-sale do not go far enough and encourages buyers to go for a more detailed approach.


“You pay $600 to have someone wander around the home and say ‘Yes, it looks good. It appears to be structurally sound’.


“To make that call, you need to be crawling through the roof with a torch, inspecting connections between timber elements and brick elements, noting cracks and their causes. You really need to be looking at things you can’t even see, like the footings and the foundations.”


“If you’re really going to say something is structurally sound, you’d have to be a structural engineer and you have to do it at that level. But no one wants to pay that cost.”


Meney and his engineering team design economical and practical structures and cleverly rescue bad ones from despair. They provide a subscription service to builders, owner-builders and owners committed to life-long safe structures. It’s called ‘SAM’ for Structural Asset Management.


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Pic Dave Meney

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