Latest developments in changes to building regulations in Australia

There has not been much good news on sustainable energy issues coming out of Australia recently. So it continues, according to an article by Damon Kitney on The Australian website. There are growing concerns about proposed federal government changes to building regulations.


Builders oppose Canberra’s energy efficiency changes

Some of the biggest names in the building industry have united to fight proposed federal government changes to regulations governing the energy efficiency of residential and commercial buildings, warning they could cripple manufacturing and leave Australia behind the rest of the world.

The proposed changes to the building energy regulations within the National Construction Code are designed to slash red tape and open up wider options for achieving building energy performance in new developments.

But key industry players fear that proposed changes to protocols for measuring residential building energy ratings could have unintended consequences such as allowing buildings with much worse performance than the present six star standards under the current Nationwide House Energy Rating Scheme to comply with the code.

NatHERS is a performance-based rating system that describes the thermal performance of a home.

There are also concerns about the proposed removal of a requirement that individual apartments within an apartment building be separately energy-rated.

Building sustainability expert Alan Pears, who was a member of the Australian Building Codes Board steering committee for the development of its energy provisions almost a decade ago, claimed the change could unintentionally leave individual apartment owners with no guarantee as to the energy performance of their apartment.

It could also leave them with higher energy bills as a result. The proposed changes come as the building industry is already wrestling with widespread non­compliance in the industry following an explosion in the use of unsafe products that fail to meet local building standards or are being used inappropriately. The Senate is currently holding an inquiry into nonconforming building products called by independent senators Nick Xenophon, John Madigan and Jackie Lambie, which is investigating the reasons for the proliferation of substandard materials in the local construction supply chain.

Two years ago an Ai Group survey found that as much as 92 per cent of construction industry suppliers had identified non­conforming products in their sector.

The Victorian building regulator is also currently investigating how non-fire-resistant panels were installed on a high-rise apartment building in Melbourne that caught fire last year.

“The huge potential here and worry for me is that we already have enough non-compliance with the standards. The potential, if these changes to the code aren’t handled correctly, is that will elevate things to another level. We can add energy efficiency to the mix as well as non-compliance,’’ said Australian Window Association (AWA) chief executive Tracy Gramlick.

The AWA is the National Industry Association representing window and glazed door manufacturers and their suppliers. Its 600 member companies and its board members include representatives of the likes of the world’s largest lock manufacturer, Sweden-based Assa Abloy, the CSR-owned Viridian and Capral. “We don’t have an issue with verification methodology at all. The more we can get rid of the overburden of regulation, the better. But we already sit low in the world in terms of energy efficiency. We can see that this methodology can lead to the underperformance of buildings,’’ she said.

The verification methodology for energy ratings would replace the NatHERS system, which has been criticised for being inconsistently applied across jurisdictions and by unaccredited assessors. Ms Gramlick also sits on the Australian Building Codes committee, which will meet in October to consider the proposed changes to the NCC before providing advice to the Building Codes Board.

The NCC, an initiative of the Council of Australian Governments to incorporate all on-site construction requirements into a single code, provides the minimum necessary requirements for safety, health, amenity and sustainability in the design and construction of new buildings throughout Australia. The deadline for submissions on the proposed changes to the NCC was last week. While the changes for the 2016 edition of the NCC are due to take effect next May, the government is also proposing they now be reviewed every three years instead of annually in a bid to reduce red tape, which has also angered some in the industry.

ABCB general manager Neil Savery said the group was committed to running an “open and transparent process”.

“The process that we are going through is a consultation process. We will take these views into consideration and regard them seriously before making a recommendation to the board. If we can be satisfied there are unintended consequences and that the proposed changes would be improved, we would make the changes,” he said.

This would mean changes to the Code would not take effect until 2019 and the status quo in the industry would remain until then.

Insulation Council of Australia and New Zealand CEO Denis Darcy said the proposed changes were “extremely deficient in their underlying assumptions compared to what has been practice in the industry for the past 25 years’’.

“The building industry is extremely cost-conscious. If one builder got on to this and de-rated his house, that would spread quickly. They could still achieve six stars without having to use the insulation products that were previously needed. The sale of insulation, windows and other materials could drop substantially,’’ he said.

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