The National Construction Code is being updated and the proposed changes include quantification of the mandatory Performance Requirements.

The Australian Building Codes Board (ABCB) publishes the minimum requirements for all new building works within the National Construction Code (NCC) Series. The NCC covers areas such as safety, health, amenity, sustainability and accessibility. Compliance with the NCC is mandatory when undertaking new building works through its adoption into each state’s and territory’s legislation.

For over a decade, the NCC has been published annually, but will soon move to three yearly cycles commencing in May of next year.

Prior to 2015, the NCC series included three volumes:

  • NCC Volume One, Building Code of Australia (BCA) Class 2 to Class 9 buildings
  • NCC Volume Two, BCA Class 1 and Class 10 buildings
  • NCC Volume Three, Plumbing Code of Australia

In 2015, the NCC was expanded to include a fourth publication titled Performance Requirements extracted from the NCC 2015. This includes a summary of all the performance requirements from NCC Volumes 1, 2 and 3.

This fourth part of the series was released as a step toward encouraging a new mindset, which includes consideration of a performance-based approach to compliance with the NCC. Ultimately, a building or plumbing solution will comply with the NCC if it satisfies the relevant performance requirements, being the actual parts of the NCC one must legally comply with. How one currently achieves compliance in a building solution can therefore include a prescriptive ‘Deemed-to-Satisfy’ solution (as defined and prescribed within the many parts of the NCC volumes), or by adopting a performance-based approach to compliance through development and acceptance of an alternative solution, or through a combination of both approaches. For those not familiar with these terms, an ‘alternative solution’ has been defined as “a building solution which complies with the Performance Requirements other than by satisfying the ‘Deemed-to-Satisfy’ provisions of the BCA.”

Australia is not new to a performance-based building code. In fact, nationally we’ve been under such a building legislative regime for almost two decades. The ABCB released the first performance-based BCA in October 1996 as BCA96. BCA96 was adopted by the Commonwealth in 1997 and progressively adopted by all states and territories between July 1997 and early 1998. Yet since this time there continues to remain a lack of awareness and understanding across all sectors of the building industry as to how compliance can be achieved through a performance-based solution.

One sector of the building industry that was an early adopter of the benefits provided under a performance-based approach was the fire engineering industry. Buildings have become increasingly reliant on fire engineering to satisfy the performance requirements of the NCC under fire engineered alternative solutions. Other areas now following suit are disability access and energy efficiency. This is due to the ability to consider overseas requirements, new technologies, new innovations and new materials, which offers greater flexibility in building design and can achieve a more functional or aesthetically pleasing building. The Centre for International Economics (CIE) acknowledged these benefits in 2012 by stating:

“The objectives behind a performance-based building code have been well established internationally: by focussing on the outcomes that the building is required to deliver, it is expected that the market will have more flexibility to develop innovative and cost effective solutions. The ultimate goal is to improve the efficiency of the market in delivering no less than a minimum level of building quality, without being overly prescriptive and impeding the uptake of new technologies and design principles.”

As part of the consultative process prior to the introduction of NCC 2016, the ABCB conducted a webinar on June 23, 2015. One of the key messages from the webinar was that even though we’ve had almost two decades of a performance-based BCA/NCC, we remain in a prescriptive or ‘Deemed-to-Satisfy’ mind-set.

The proposed changes to the NCC seek to address a previously identified issue in that there’s an acknowledged lack of quantification within the performance requirements. Consequently, quantification of the performance requirements in NCC 2016 is a priority.

Furthermore, the ABCB aims to create a built environment where the use of performance-based solutions is recognised, encouraged and supported. To do this they intend to take three actions:

  1. Create a performance mindset
  2. Build capacity
  3. Establish an enabling environment

Some obvious changes to the draft NCC 2016 include removal of the Objectives and Functional Statements from the NCC Volumes and simplifying how compliance with the NCC can be achieved.

Compliance with the proposed NCC 2016 will be achieved when the performance requirements are met, and to achieve compliance there are two paths, a ‘Performance Solution’ (currently known as an ‘alternative solution’) and/or a ‘Prescriptive Solution’ (currently known as the ‘Deemed-to-Satisfy’ provisions). It is understood that this approach and new term for the performance-based approach is to keep performance solutions and prescriptive solutions on the same level, with equal importance and equal preference for their use. Time will tell as to how successful this approach will be, given some reluctance in the use and acceptance of performance-based solutions by clients, building surveyors/building certifiers and other building professionals.

The draft changes for the 2016 edition of the NCC are available on the ABCB website and the ABCB are calling for comments on the NCC 2016 draft proposals by Monday, August 3, 2015.