Building sustainability expert Alan Pears has requested the Australian Building Codes Board undertake further expert consultation and research into measures around building performance and energy use before implementing proposed changes to the National Construction Code.
Mr Pears was a member of the ABCB steering committee for the development of the 2006 Building Code of Australia energy provisions.
In his formal submission to the ABCB on NCC 2016 Mr Pears proposed the ABCB should “defer implementation of changes to the building energy regulations within the 2016 NCC, and to establish appropriate working groups and allocate research and support resources to them to engage effectively across the community to develop improved requirements that meet community objectives”.
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He said the ABCB had failed to effectively engage with stakeholders and develop “appropriate energy performance measures that are in the interests of society”.
“Many professionals did not know about the proposals until alerted by word of mouth or media articles, with too little time and resources to effectively engage with the proposals,” Mr Pears wrote.
“ABCB staff have claimed that the proposals do not affect the stringency of the energy requirements. There is a strong consensus across building professionals, based on modelling and analysis, that there would be significant impacts. More work is needed.”
Mr Pears said he had spoken to a number of community groups, industry groups and industry professionals who were all concerned about the potential for stringency to be undermined. They were also concerned about “potential unnecessary, confusing and costly outcomes from a rushed and inadequate process and the inevitable future changes that would be needed to fix problems”.
“Some expressed a preference for existing problems to be addressed as quickly as possible. Many called for more vision, focused on ensuring new buildings meet appropriate climate targets and support cost reductions in energy supply infrastructure. All expressed dismay at the poor process that has been pursued on this matter to date.”
In an appendix letter to the ABCB that accompanied his submission, Mr Pears wrote:
“The present NCC energy provisions certainly need improvement. But we need to recognise that their weaknesses to a great extent reflect the serious lack of resources allocated to ongoing research and development related to knowledge, analysis of field experience, tool development and compliance management. It is a miracle that the provisions work as well as they do, given these chronic failures. But rushing into ill-considered changes risks ‘killing the patient’ and increasing costs and uncertainties for the building industry while confusing home buyers and undermining benefits for future occupants.
“I support the principles of encouraging more emphasis on performance-based regulation, and the opening up of alternative options for building energy rating. However, the changes involved are not minor, and substantial work is needed to ensure that the integrity of building energy regulation is maintained. A number of professionals have described to me their efforts at modelling the outcomes of the proposed changes: the results show significant variations from present outcomes, and variability.
“The process of engagement regarding these changes has been flawed. For example, I spent over an hour searching the ABCB website, trying to find information on the proposed changes. Eventually I found a copy of the NCC with tracked changes covering many aspects of the Code, and had to wade through to find the proposals for energy… Many professionals in the building sector I have spoken to have only found out about the proposed changes through word of mouth or via media articles.
“There is widespread concern across the industry and community about the implications of the proposals and the poor process associated with engagement on them.
“Despite assertions from ABCB staff, the proposed changes do impact on the stringency of the NCC, so a thorough review process is necessary. In particular:
The loose specification of the protocol for residential building rating means that dwellings with much worse performance than present 6 star standards could comply
Removing the requirement that individual apartments within an apartment building be rated denies potential buyers and tenants the right to know what they are paying for in terms of energy performance. It will be possible (actually very likely) for someone to unknowingly buy a thermally poor apartment in a ‘6 star’ building, and have to live with the consequences for many years. This change will also create risk for buyers if and when mandatory disclosure at time of resale is introduced
Just as professionals and developers are becoming accustomed to the use of JV3 for nonresidential buildings, new options have been introduced that confuse and potentially undermine compliance, while increasing compliance costs.
“It is important for the ABCB to recognise that modelling of the thermal performance of buildings, especially dwellings, in Australian climates is very challenging. Small changes or limitations due to assumptions and algorithms underpinning the models can lead to large differences in results. This is because many of our climates are both very variable and moderate (for much of the time) and buildings are complex. So simulation tools are trying to estimate a small difference between two very large numbers. A small change in one of the large numbers (i.e flows of thermal energy into and out of the building) drives a large change in the difference, which is the visible energy requirement of the building. The detail in the protocol for modelling, and the capacity of tools to model features such as ground temperature and ventilation effects, are critical to consistent outcomes, and hence the integrity of the NCC provisions.
“The approach taken to date seems likely to lead to unravelling of efforts to achieve national consistency in building energy regulation. State governments are likely to be forced to introduce their own changes, or reject introduction of the 2016 changes, in response to industry and community concerns over the present proposals.
“I recognise that stepping back would leave the present, less than satisfactory, energy regulations in place, potentially for some years. However, this is a ‘less bad’ outcome than creating a mess. Further there is scope to address many problems through non-regulatory means, for example by investing effort in addressing anomalies and weaknesses in rating tools, data availability and developing guidelines and standard interpretations.
“I urge you to step back and adopt a more comprehensive and inclusive process.”