May 1: A Big Day for Building 5

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Thursday, April 23rd, 2015
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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.

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  1. John Coleman

    These are positive steps indeed and something the industry has been calling for for a long time.

    A simpler, shorter code should be easier to follow, whilst the performance based focused makes basic common sense as it is the result we are after and builders and designers should be given flexibility in terms of using their professional expertise to decide on the best way to achieve that result.

    Now, the next step in efficiency is to stop having states tinker with the requirements of the NCC at a state level. As with most other things, when it comes to building standards, Australia should act as one country rather than eight individual states/territories.

  2. David Chandler

    John, all for simpler, smarter and there needs to be the performance based opportunity when the prescriptive is no longer valid. I think your ceiling height example however is a poor one. If you watched last nights Escape to the Country viewers would have been as uncomfortable as the presenters seemed while they were trying to get head shots in amongst ridiculous ceiling (and door) heights which I assume were supposed to be fit for purpose. I worry about some of the recent construction I have observed and wonder how it has been judged deemed to comply or fit for purpose. Some of this stuff really needs to be actually stress tested rather than theoretically appraised. Its in the public interest, especially when those judgements affect residential buildings.
    I also worry about retrospective acceptances of work or repairs which build on shoddy construction in the first place and which has clearly been compromised. How do you guarantee integrity when there are ever present conflicts of interest?
    NCC2015 is well intended, lets hope its users live up to that intent.

    • Ken Thomson

      David,
      Thankyou for your comments. My intention with the example regarding ceiling heights was to point out the inconsistencies in application of the performance provisions. From my experience with Queensland projects the ceiling heights are usually 2.4m for all areas, not a 2/3 and 1/3 rule, however the performance provision does not state either, it is much more specific about effect on intended function of the room. In both instances the ceiling height rules applied do not take into effect the intended function of the room.
      Escape to the country is a UK program, the NCC does not apply in the UK, hence they must have height allowances that are significantly different to our requirements.
      I agree with your other points about construction quality, it is a issue for the building certifiers and surveyors in each state and education within the building industry.

  3. Neil Savery

    Thanks for your coverage of the free on-line NCC Ken, however, I need to point out as General Manager of the Australian Building Codes Board that the Performance Extracts document does not constitute Volume 4 of the NCC and carries with it on Page 5 a very clear statement that this publication is not suitable for legal reference and cannot be used in isolation where compliance with the NCC is required. This is because we are trialling this format in 2015 and seeking feedback as to its usefulness and where it can be improved. This also acknowledges that in the absence of quantified performance requirements, which we are currently developing, many of the Deemed to Satisfy provisions contain important information that helps clarify the intent of the Performance Requirements.
    Drawing attention to Page 5 of this publication will assist readers understand its purpose and facilitate their contribution to our request for feedback at [email protected].

    • Ken Thomson

      Neil,

      Thank you for the clarification. I draw your attention to your own website and the statement that the Performance requirements are the Legal requirements. http://www.abcb.gov.au/en/about-the-national-construction-code/NCC_Performance_Based_Code.aspx. and this statement – "The extract reflects only the legal requirements (the Performance Requirements) of the NCC." My direct interpretation of this statement is the legal requirements (the Performance Requirements) are extracted and collected in Volume 4.
      I acknowledge the DtS provisions help in understanding how to quantify the Performance requirements, however as I have tried to highlight, they are not legal requirements, they just help in understanding.
      To me, there does seem to be some inconsistency in the Page 5 statement and your statement on the website. I am very happy to have my understanding clarified, as a strong supporter of using performance solutions, I would like to be very clear on my legal position.