There is a large amount of debate at the moment about how the use of performance-based building solutions will affect the quality of buildings.

There appears to be a negative outlook, in that the only way to achieve good quality building solutions and outcomes is to get stricter on deemed-to-satisfy (DtS) and not use a performance-based solution, as performance-based solutions are considered too risky.

Thinking about this recently while I was lying on the operating table in the cardiac theatre of a major hospital is a weird thing to do, but I did. A heart attack from a collapsed cardiac artery is a life-affirming event that made me think more about the amazing advances and incredible abilities of the professionals in the health industry, and all the important aspects of the buildings that help those health professionals do their amazing work.

I was lying there looking at the ceiling while they ran a small tube up an artery in my arm all the way to my heart, to place a small piece of expanding metal into my artery to expand the collapsed artery and allow blood flow to return to my heart muscle tissue. Being fully conscious in that situation gave me a long moment to think. I actually, truthfully, thought about the ceiling support system, holding the four large TV screens, X-ray machine, operating theatre lights, and all the associated medical equipment that goes ping! I hoped the installer did a good job with the detail and installation of the framing system above that ceiling, because there was a lot of heavy stuff hanging of that steel.

The installation of the framing systems above the ceilings are special in that they help save lives. The compliance of those systems is not a DtS compliance. In fact, it is highly unlikely the certifier has much to do with any signoff of those systems, but it is extremely critical they comply with their performance requirements. The engineer and installer have all the risk associated with providing a system that is critical and extremely important in saving lives, and getting individuals back to health quickly with as little pain as possible.

How do we achieve great things, and support those who strive to achieve great things, when the focus within our industry is a race to the bottom? Performance-based solutions are not harder, they are easier for skilled professionals to achieve, they are more cost effective and they provide better solutions. Skilled individuals can assess and provide the necessary input to building compliance and determine performance-based solutions for building compliance provided the right individuals are identified and given the opportunity to use their skills in providing well thought out and effective building solutions. We need to move building compliance completely away from DtS solutions, using them as a last resort and not the main option as is currently used.

On reflection, I find the entire methodology of the DtS compliance measures of the National Construction Code to be very negative. The emphasis is not on how to do things better, how to save lives, rather it is how to achieve a minimum standard that does not unduly result in anyone dying. If the doctor who operated on my heart used a similar methodology, I would likely not have had the excellent outcome that I have. I am still young, fit and have a very close to fully functioning heart. I can take positive measures to improve my life and hopefully see my children grow to adults and give me some grandchildren.

The building code needs to provide performance-based solutions where there is incentive to achieve a better solution than the minimum performance. The DtS is negative, the performance based solutions are positive. DtS means just exceed the minimum, while performance-based means achieving a specific aim, a strong level of performance. I certainly would not have been happy with a deemed-to-satisfy outcome from my surgery; the good to excellent outcome achieved makes me much happier.

I wonder, why do we think it is so hard to achieve better than the minimum?