Performance-based solutions are a new buzzword in the industry, with the National Construction Code a key driver.

According to the ABCB website, the National Construction Code (NCC) “is a performance based code containing all Performance Requirements for the construction of buildings. The Performance Requirements are the minimum level that buildings, building elements, and plumbing and drainage systems must meet. A building, plumbing or drainage solution will comply with the NCC if it satisfies the Performance Requirements, which are the legal requirements of the NCC.”

The goal of performance-based solutions is to allow for innovation and creativity. To make sure the innovative building solutions are robust, compliant and in the public interest, a report and assessment is to be completed for acceptance by the certifier in accordance with the four assessment methods outlined in the NCC part A0.9. This places the certifier in a situation where they are to accept data and information that they may not have the expertise to assess.

Therefore, certifiers are required to accept the solution based on their judgement of the competence of the presenter and/or on trust. I feel there are ways to manage the compliance landscape to make performance solutions more accountable and easier to verify, hence reducing the pressure on the certifier. Based on concerns by fellow professionals in the compliance landscape, I have found the approach to performance requirements has a significant variation across the different states within Australia.

What is not stated clearly in the NCC is the who – the individuals who should have the expertise to be able to make expert judgements or relevant assessments of alternative solutions. There is a large amount of very good work going on behind the scenes in developing guidance documents for the performance requirements. The verification methods being developed are a valuable resource, but they are still in development for most parts of the NCC. More work needs to be done as there are instances where the state, local and regional government and planning laws seem to be at odds with the NCC.

This is identified in the article Are some Australians shorter than others? The author points out six instances of local council planning provisions giving different interpretations of the NCC requirements for floor to ceiling heights. Are these planning requirements considered and assessed using the performance requirements and alternative solutions, or are they a local interpretation of the DTS provisions? What expertise was used to formulate these local planning provisions? There needs to be a consistent approach based on the national building requirements that can only be altered by individuals with the right level of technical expertise.

The industry needs assistance in identifying the appropriate professionals to take on the liability of developing, assessing or recommending alternative solutions. The building designers, developers, and certifiers cannot be expected to be experts in all the technical detail of a performance requirement, as the requirement may be based on a large body of work completed by universities, industry, government and other technical experts. It is important to have guidance on the required expertise that is needed in the assessment and presentation of the alternative solution so that designers, developers and certifiers are able to rely on the technical advice to meet the legal requirements of the NCC.

In the article Is The Era of Private Certification Nearly Over?, the point is made about the changes to the liabilities taken on by a certifier and their insurer. There is an expectation within the industry that the certifier takes on most of the liability surrounding the building’s compliance with the NCC and all the relevant codes and standards. This is an unsustainable situation, and one that needs a significant amount of work and effort to change. More focus and accountability should be placed on the other parties involved in a project.

The National Australian Building Energy Rating Scheme (NABERS), has provided a list of industry professionals or independent assessors who are registered to provide advice on building energy ratings commitments. In this situation, the independent assessors provide advice to the design team and building energy modellers on how to achieve real outcomes post-construction that are in line with the designer’s and building owner’s goal of a NABERS energy rated building.

A similar system could be used with the ABCB by maintaining a membership of professional individuals who have the expertise to provide alternative solutions in accordance with the performance requirements and their areas of expertise. The certifier would need simply to ensure the professional signing off on the alternative solution is registered, and hence they have no further responsibility for assessing, understanding or reviewing the professional capabilities of the individual or company providing the alternative solution.

The benefits are:

  • Easy access by the public and industry to the right people for providing alternative solutions
  • Status and accreditation for individuals as experts
  • Reduction in the load on the certifier
  • More equitable spread of the liabilities currently assumed by the certifier

It is quite clear performance-based solutions will remain difficult to implement as there are competing requirements and a lack of clear accountability within the compliance system of most states. By creating a registration system for individuals with tested and verified competence in alternative solutions, we take a step closer to a broader use of alternative solutions.