As of May 1, Australia’s building industry will have a new National Construction Code (NCC).

Courtesy of previous changes introduced in 2016, the Code is now updated every three years rather than annually. As a result, the current version of the Code has been in place since May 2016.

Now, that time has almost past and the industry is preparing for NCC 2019, which will apply from next month.

One consequence of the longer updating cycle is that each cycle is now being approached with a more strategic focus. Thus compared with previous single-year updates, each new update of the Code now features change of greater magnitude.

Accordingly, amendments in NCC 2019 are more far-reaching compared with previous version amendments.

At a practical level, the most significant changes in NCC 2019 revolve around fire safety and energy efficiency. As well, there has been a shift toward quantifiable performance requirements and making the NCC as a document more readable and comprehensible.

Over coming weeks, Sourceable will provide greater detail about specific aspects of the new Code.

A summary, however, is provided below. This is based around information published by the ABCB last December after the new Code’s content had been finalised.

Fire Safety in Mid-Rise Apartments

Arguably the most significant change in NCC 2019 involves a new requirement for sprinklers to be installed in Class 2 and Class 3 buildings (apartments and other multi-residential buildings) of between four and eight storeys in height as part of the deemed-to-satisfy provisions for these buildings.

Under the changes, anyone who uses a DTS pathway for compliance in respect of these buildings will need to install a fire sprinkler system.

As part of these requirements, two new types of fire sprinkler systems have been included.

Due to the extra safety afforded by the sprinklers, concessions have also been granted under the DTS provision in respect of other fire safety features. These include reducing the Fire Resistance Level for non-loadbearing walls, greater travel distances and permitting the use of external ‘dry’ hydrant risers instead of ‘wet’ risers. These offsets do not apply to Class 3 residential care facilities as there are already required to be sprinkler protected under existing DTS provisions.

These changes address previous concerns about fire safety within buildings of less than 25 meters in effective height due to the lack of sprinkler protection within these buildings.

In other fire safety measures:

  • A new non-mandatory fire safety verification method will be introduced after a delayed adoption date of May 1, 2020. Based on the International Fire Engineering Guidelines(IFEG), this will be a voluntary tool which will apply under a performance solution pathway. It will provide for a documented process in the design of fire safety Performance Solutions.
  • The ability to use a bonded laminated material, with specified characteristics and controlled fire hazard properties, where a non-combustible material would otherwise be required will remain. A similar concession has been included for certain sarking-type materials, and some other minor components have been exempted from the requirement to be non-combustible.

Tougher Energy Efficiency

The other key area of change which directly impacts building design is energy efficiency.

Most importantly, there have been significant upgrades to the energy efficiency requirements of commercial buildings. As part of the COAG National Energy Productivity Plan, a package of new measures contained in Volume One of the NCC will see reductions in energy consumption for this type of building under the new Code to a potential of 35 percent. As well, new verification methods will be introduced to demonstrate compliance with the relevant performance requirements by way of NABERS and Green Star.

For residential buildings, new heating and cooling load limits for the NatHERS compliance pathway to be introduced.

It should be notes that the energy efficiency provisions for Volume One and Volume Two will have a transition period of twelve months until 1 May 2020. During this time, either the new NCC 2019 provisions or provisions from NCC 2016 may be used.

Specific and Quantified Performance Requirements

Outside of areas which impact design and construction directly, two further changes will affect the direction and operation of the Code at a broader level.

The first relates to the quantification of Code requirements.

As part of efforts to reduce any non-compliance with the performance requirements in the NCC which is caused by poor or inappropriate application of performance solutions, the ABCB is undertaking considerable effort to make the performance requirements as specific and clear as possible. Under these efforts, it is moving toward performance requirements being quantified either directly or by using an NCC verification method.

In NCC 2019, therefore, the Board estimates that 40 percent of the Code’s performance requirements will be quantified either directly or via a verification method. Beyond that, the remaining performance requirements will be quantified in the same manner by NCC 2022.

According to the ABCB, this is the most significant change to the NCC since the performance based nature of the Code was introduced in 1996.

Simpler and Easier to Read

As well, the ABCB has undertaken considerable effort over recent years to make the Code easier to read and understand.

As part of this, the Board has introduced consistent governing requirements across all three volumes of the Code and has changed the format and structure of the information it provides about the NCC online.

In NCC 2019, Volume three has been redrafted according to a new ‘architecture of information’ which aims to improve access and readability of the document in a digital environment.

Beyond NCC 2019, this structure is expected to form the basis for what will be a consistent volume structure which will be applied across all three volumes of the Code in NCC 2022.

Other Changes:

Other changes include:

  • Improvements to the provisions of numerous acceptable construction practices
  • New ACPs for earth retaining structures, masonry and attachment of decks and balconies
  • New provisions to reduce the likelihood of risks associated with condensation of buildings to help deal with potential health risks and amenity issues.
  • New requirements in Volume One clarifying the application of requirements to occupiable outdoor areas such as occupiable roof spaces.
  • New requirements in Volume One for accessible adult change facilities to be provided in large shopping centres, sporting venues, museums, theatres and airport terminals.
  • New requirements in Volume Three for heated water temperature control, cross connection control and rainwater harvesting.

(image via Australian Building Codes Board web site)