Fired up over code breach

22:41, Feb 14 2013
Shaun Fahey
In the hot seat: Shaun Fahey, with the replacement fire the Marlborough District Council is having installed in his Tunakino Valley home after a long-running dispute over the original fire.

A Rai Valley couple have battled for almost two years to convince the Marlborough District Council the fire in their home was signed off despite breaching the building code.

The council finally agreed to pay to install a new inbuilt Jetmaster fire after the Department of Building and Housing found the council had incorrectly given the fire a code of compliance.

Shaun Fahey and Robyn McQueen are concerned the council has made mistakes inspecting and approving other fireplaces, but the council says it is confident this was an isolated case.

The fire was installed in the Tunakino Valley house, near Rai Valley, in 2000 and the council issued a code of compliance for it in 2004.

The couple bought the house in 2010 and discovered that the fire pushed smoke back into the lounge, blackening the ceiling and a wall. Mr Fahey said they also began discovering more problems with the inbuilt fire.

In April 2011 he rang council chief building inspector Graham Roberts to ask for someone to re-inspect the fire.


"We were told politely to naff off. It had the code of compliance, it had been signed off and basically they didn't want to know."

He kept pushing, but in July 2011 Mr Roberts emailed saying the fire had code of compliance and the council would not discuss the issue further.

"We just struck absolute arrogance," Mr Fahey said.

The couple called in a lawyer and in December 2011 the council took the case to the Department of Building and Housing for a ruling.

The department sent an expert to inspect the fire and produced a draft report in May 2012. It found that the flue was not weathertight nor ventilated properly, the base was not sealed to the floor and there was insulation sitting on the firebox.

The council rejected the report, saying the areas highlighted were not building code matters.

The council response says weather tightness was not part of a building consent and it was up to the builder to ensure the flue was weathertight. Its inspectors were not allowed on roofs for safety reasons, it says.

Department determinations manager John Gardiner's final report in August 2012 ruled the poor ventilation in the flue and the insulation sitting on the firebox breached a safety standard clause in the building code, and withdrew the council's code of compliance certificate.

A department spokeswoman said yesterday there was not enough information to show the fire was definitely unsafe, but there was enough doubt about its safety to say it did not comply with the code.

Mr Fahey said when the report was released council chief executive Andrew Beasley offered to pay for a new fire.

The couple thought the saga was finally over but were not happy with the council's recommended installers. They brought in a builder this week to finish the job.

Ms McQueen said they had to fight at every turn to get the fire fixed and someone at the council needed to be held accountable.

Mr Fahey said it had been a stressful, expensive time and people with similar concerns should not "just walk away".

Mr Roberts retired from the council during the dispute and was replaced by Bill East, who said this week neither the council nor the department thought the fire was unsafe and the breach was on a technicality. He was confident other fires were also safe.

A new building code had been brought in and the council had confidence in "most installers in the area", he said.

"All fires are inspected."

If people had concerns, the council was "not discouraging people for highlighting issues", he said.


November 2000: Jetmaster fireplace installed in the Tunakino Valley house.

November 2004: Marlborough District Council issues a code of compliance certificate for the fire.

April 2011: Shaun Fahey asks the council to inspect the fire and is told it complies with the building code.

December 2011: The council asks the Department of Building and Housing for a ruling on the fire.

May 2012: A draft report by the department raises problems with the fire. The council rejects the report.

August 2012: The final department report says the fire does not comply. The council offers to replace the fire. 

The Marlborough Express