Quake-prone house survives yanking tests

Last updated 14:40 18/11/2013
Ruahine St earthquake test house
ROSS GIBLIN/Fairfax NZ

BALANCING ACT: This house on Ruahine St is being tested for earthquake strengthening.

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Christchurch Earthquake 2011

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A condemned Wellington house has survived being yanked repeatedly by big rigs despite being only seven per cent of code.

Two 550-horsepower Western Star rigs - each equipped with rams capable of pulling about 100 tonnes - have been pulling the house at 38 Ruahine St, Trentham, in opposite directions today to test its strength.

When testing ended shortly before 2pm the house - thought to only meet seven per cent of the building code - was still standing.

However, the house's internal structure was ''compromised'' and it would be demolished today, Housing New Zealand spokeswoman Candice Johanson said.

Later in the week another part of the house would go through the same destructive testing, but side to side rather than back and forth.

The house was one of eight Housing New Zealand buildings in the same street, with 31 units among them, that have been abandoned because they meet just 7 per cent of new building standards, compared to the 34 per cent or higher that buildings need to be.

Number 38, a 1950s unit, was being used to practically test if the houses are indeed that prone or, as is hoped, they are actually stronger.

The test involves pulling the house with one truck's rig in one direction, then the other rig pulling it in the other direction to simulate the strain the building would go through in an earthquake.

Housing Minister Nick Smith, who has an engineering PhD and was on hand to control one truck for the first tug, said it was the first time this type of "destructive" earthquake testing had been done on a two-storey building in New Zealand.

"We need more reliable information about how weak or strong houses of this age are so we can make better-informed decisions on their repair and replacement," he said.

Housing New Zealand has 167 houses nationwide which had been deemed quake-prone.

Smith said $100 million was needed to be spent on strengthening them but if this building was found to be stronger than thought "tens of not hundreds of millions" could be saved.

The results would be made public, meaning other state and privately-owned building might not need the work once thought.

Last month, a 1960s, timber-framed classroom at South End School in Carterton went through the same test.

It withstood more than three times the force experienced in the Christchurch quakes, without collapsing.

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