May 1, 2015 is a very important date for the construction industry within Australia.

From this date, every designer, engineer, builder, developer and most importantly building occupant will have an easier-to-use performance requirements document – Volume 4 of the National Construction Code.

The National Construction Code (NCC) was developed in Australia to provide a standard of construction that would ensure health, safety and amenity for all construction within Australia.

The 1975 edition and all subsequent editions of the Building Code up until 1996 were based on mandatory requirements for satisfactory construction. In 1996, the Code was changed to a performance-based approach, whereby minimum performance standards have been set that allow designers and builders to use any method or solution to achieve these requirements.

The major focus and push for the Australian Building Code Board in 2015 is the greater acceptance of performance-based assessment. In layman’s terms, this means more possibilities and greater choice in design, with a robust assessment of the proposed design based on the performance requirements.

To achieve this, the NCC 2015 implements one simple, but powerful, change: performance requirements, or to put it another way, the legal requirements of the Building Code, are separated out into a single volume. This means it is the only copy of the Building Code you actually need.

The NCC is now free and access to NCC2015 is a simple online registration open to all. For the consumers of the built form, this is brilliant. All Australians can now review and comment on the technical compliance of their own home, work or public space. Everyone who ever asked “why did the builder do that?” now has access to the building code that guides the builder/designer/certifier. This means if your builder/designer/certifier says you cannot do something because it is not code compliant, then you have the means to investigate and understand why.

Let’s use a public example. The Channel Nine reality television show “The Block – Triple Threat” had a long-running dispute within apartment 4 regarding the required ceiling height of 2.4 metres above floor level for a minimum two-thirds of the ceiling area.

The legal performance requirement in the Building Code is Clause P2.4.2 Room Heights, and states:

“A room or space must be of a height that does not unduly interfere with its intended function.”

Hence, 2.4 metres for a minimum two-thirds of the ceiling is only one interpretation of how to achieve this performance requirement when in fact there are many other ways to achieve the requirement as stated above.

That the NCC is now a free document for all Australians to access is a huge step forward. Now it has also been made easier to read with all the legal requirements separated into one volume – Volume 4.

All that is needed now is for all of us to access it and start to understand how our buildings should be designed to ensure all Australians have safe, healthy and energy-efficient buildings.