ABCB chief executive Gary Rake.

Speaking to The Fifth Estate, Australian Building Codes Board chief executive Gary Rake provides an important update on the National Construction Code, including the final areas to be decided on, and compliance pathways during the transition.

Separately, the ABCB has also released some guidance this week about some of the major changes to passive fire safety rules that are coming into force as part of NCC 2022.

At a meeting of state and federal building ministers to be held in late August, the ABCB will recommend delaying the publication of the final version of NCC 2022 until at least 1 October 2022.

During the meeting, the ministers will also make the final big decisions for the 2022 update of Australia’s national building code, which will deal with the two key areas of residential energy efficiency and condensation in buildings.

That meeting was originally expected to be held in July, but was delayed because of the federal election.

“When building ministers last met in March, their plan at that time was that building ministers would meet again in July to consider the final decisions and have the code released on 1 September,” Mr Rake says.

“But with the federal election, formation of a new government and a few other reasons, the building ministers meeting has been delayed by a month. They’ll now meet in August rather than July. 

“And so the ABCB has offered advice to building ministers suggesting that they also delay the start of the NCC by a month, from 1 September to no earlier than 1 October.”

The reason for ABCB recommending a one month delay to the start date of the NCC, Mr Rake says, is to allow ministers the time they need to make their final decisions, and then provide time to communicate those decisions to industry. 

“The reason we’ve used the language ‘we think it should be delayed by at least a month’ is to match the one month delay of the building ministers meeting. Of course the ministers will make the decision, and they might decide to commence it a little bit later,” Mr Rake says.

Contrary to some media reports back in May, the ABCB’s proposal is still to increase the minimum energy efficiency standard for new homes in the NCC from a 6 Star to a 7Star NatHERS rating.

“All of our analysis over this last stage has been focused on 7 Star. The final advice is based on 7 Star analysis. And our advice is quite clear: there are cost effective improvements that can be made heading in that direction,” Mr Rake says.

“We’ve now finalised our regulatory impact assessment. As I forecast to building ministers in March, there are cost effective improvements that can be made in residential energy efficiency, and we’re recommending those for uptake in the code this year.”

Implementation and rollout

The other big item on the agenda for the ministers at the meeting will be around the transition period for changes to the residential energy efficiency and livable housing provisions in the code. 

“When building ministers met in March, we recommended to them that it would be worth thinking about coordinating the transition period for those two big changes, largely because both of them will require some redesign of floor plans and housing types,” Mr Rake says.

“Our advice was that compliance would be easier and more efficient for industry if they only have to redesign once, rather than going to redesign once for livable housing and then another time for energy efficiency. 

“So when building ministers meet in August, they’ll also consider what transition periods should apply to the phase in of those two major provisions.”

Once the final NCC is published (whether that’s on 1 October or later), industry will be able to adopt the new provisions immediately. 

Mr Rake says there will be two compliance pathways during the transition period: one for the old rules and another for the new rules. 

“By the end of the transition period, only the new rules can be used,” he says.

“But for those who are keen to take these improvements on – and most importantly, for Australians buying new houses who want to have more livable houses, better for mobility, better energy efficiency – there’ll be easy compliant pathways available from the very first day.”

Fire safety changes

As The Fifth Estate has previously reported, one of the major updates in NCC 2022 will be around the fire performance rating of building elements.

This week, the ABCB released some guidance this week about some of the new and updated provisions around fire safety that will come into force as part of NCC 2022.

“We made these changes based on stakeholder feedback, which helped us understand what practitioners were finding challenging or confusing about the provisions,” the ABCB statement says.

“This also gave us the opportunity to incorporate more practical concessions, whilst still maintaining building safety.”

The main changes highlighted are some additional concessions for minor, combustible building elements in section C2D10 (equivalent to section C1.9 in the 2019 code). 

There are also a couple of other important changes regarding fire performance of external walls in C2D14 (equivalent to C1.14 in the 2019 code) and C2D15 (which is new in the 2022 code).

A summary of the changes is available on the ABCB website, with full details here

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  1. The clear and sensible thinking by Gary Rake is refreshing indeed. It is time for the conservative elements of the housing industry to listen up to what ordinary Australians need in housing in the future.