Is Performance-based Building Compliance Really That Hard? 6

Wednesday, August 12th, 2015
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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?

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  1. David Chandler

    Ken your words – "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" really sum up the problem.The situation is worsened by each of construction's parts taking this approach with little regard to the sum of the parts. The industry's customers are exposed to a risky deal when the "performance" + "conformance" + " delivery" underwrites are so fragmented. My observations, validated by hundreds of photos point to work standards that do not even meet the minimums. This applies as much to design as it does to construction. You can always find some "professional" to attest to conformance or deemed to comply if you shop around. Its not good enough and it will erode the publics rightful belief that the built world is as safe as it has been in the past. I am an advocate for new technologies and building methodologies, but not if the principles of public interest are put at risk and here the precautionary principle must apply. Modern Construction will need to raise the bar. It can leave Old Construction behind if the industry sees the opportunities not the barriers to do it better.

  2. Geoff Fletcher

    Practically, I can't agree that DtS is negative – somebody has determined that it is a solution that works. But it IS negative culturally – in the design culture, that is – since it means nobody has to think about what they are specifying, and that is a dangerous practice to nurture. The more significant issue with recent industry incidents (eg. external cladding, electrical insulation) has not been what has been specified – DtS or performance-assessed design – but the failure to verify that a specification has been met by the physical outcome. Is an unenforced law really a law at all? Practically "No", I would say. Builders may object that inspection / verification is an unproductive & unsellable cost. The more enlightened & long-term business minds among them might consider it cheap insurance.

  3. Graeme Doreian

    After 4 years of campaigning Greg Hunt my local MP advising basically on a performance based system from recommendations 6 -11 from the 2010 Senate Inquiry Home Insulation Program he assured these would be implemented. On coming to Government we were abandoned .

    Even if there was such a system, it needs to be policed at the appropriate stages of the construction and ensure further policing the checkers are doing their jobs.

    At the 2014 Royal Commission Home Insulation Program I exposed the rorts of the electrical industry and Governments who have not policed the Wiring Rules for decades, that's why those workers were killed. Did anyone care, did anyone expose the truth in the media. Stony silence. WHY?

    To have complete confidence in the system penalties of 12 months home detention is the only way, fines are not the ultimate deterrent, freedom is.
    With rorts and flaws in the building energy efficiency system, nothing will change, there are to many powerful vested interests, especially Standards Australia who are industry, Government 'panders' to industry at the expense of the innocent paying public.

    Everyone thinks they are untouchable. WRONG, the day is coming.

  4. Hans Tracksdorf

    The problem is we have got tickets on ourselves! (Both racially and in most other ways. )
    A review of the construction statistics for 2014 for the Asia Pacific region ( we’re in that ) reveals that 66% of the total regions construction
    occurred in two of the main countries, China (47% )and Japan (19%). We were at 6%. Our building code, is just one of many.
    Obviously if you’re in a country running so many construction projects , you must be operating on a pretty state of the art building system, otherwise the wheels would be falling off very quickly. Just looking at the breadth and scale of Chinese construction shows that we can never hope to emulate that.
    ( except once when we built the Sydney Opera house, 50 years ago and even then , the Chinese would have completed that project in half of the time! )
    The Beijing Olympics buildings, even though some were designed in other countries, still showed what the Chinese construction industry was capable of and that were things, that we would really struggle to emulate.
    So is our Building Code all that its touted to be by our officials? Well only if your oblivious to what else is happening on the planet and believe our own propagand

  5. Tass G

    When you make a comment like this – "The building code needs to provide performance-based solutions where there is incentive to achieve a better solution than the minimum performance" – you are by default creating another deemed-to-satisfy solution. Maybe the answer is to develop more intelligent and contemporary DTS solutions that also satisfy the intent of the BCA's performance requirements.

    • Geoff Fletcher

      Quite right Tass G – confusion about the meaning & application of rules is a reliable way to set up non-compliance with anything and still nobody knows why!
      Here's BCA 101 : everybody MUST comply with the Performance Requirements (that's LAW) and there are two ways to do this. Either use the DtS where nothing has to be proved but it is no guarantee of best practice or what's most efficient (usually not so) OR devise an Alternative Solution which has been demonstrated to meet the Performance Requirements. The ABCB has rightly identified an unhealthy trend of building professionals not focusing enough on the outcomes (performance) of what they design and construct, and this is holding back productivity increases. By all means specify DtS if it is best value in the circumstances (ie. assess this) but don't use it without thinking it through. In fact, do nothing without thinking it through, as any professional should. We're not meant to be colouring-by-numbers here but apply our minds!
      In future, to better engender a Performance Mindset (as the ABCB has proposed), the terms Deemed to Satisfy and Alternative Solution will be replaced by Prescriptive and Performance Solutions resp.