Master Builders Victoria revealed it will oppose long-awaited reforms to the National Construction Code (NCC) intended to produce more accessible and sustainable Australian homes.
The construction industry rep also showed it was willing to fight dirty, resorting to tired shock tactics like higher house prices, less choice of home design and even reduced code compliance in other areas.
MBV chief executive Rebecca Casson went as far as citing the higher potential for mould in energy efficient homes, taking the time to list chemical by-products and potential symptoms including runny noses, red eyes and sometimes wheezing.
MBV’s argument relies on an immense lack of faith in the very industry it represents, suggesting the reforms should be shelved pending extensive industry training and public information campaigns.
The MVB’s desire for reform without change is out of step with what most of the industry wants, and begs the question — if not now, when?
In the case of updated accessibility reforms Ms Casson was steadfast they remain voluntary in the 2022 NCC.
“If these changes go ahead, we want to see a clear transitional period where training can be delivered, time for display homes to be built and increased homebuyer options,” she said.
According to Ms Casson, changes to allow accessible housing would “challenge compliant building work, add further costs to homebuyers [and] remove homebuyer choice in the design of their homes.”
Experienced Livable Housing Australia (LHA) assessor John Moynihan from Ecolateral said MVB’s assertions that accessible standards were being “rushed through” or not properly addressed was untrue and that most states had already agreed to adopt the standard.
“It’s not something that somebody just suddenly dreamt up. This has been considered since 2010 when it was first proposed,” Mr Moynihan said.
“There’s been a Regulatory Impact Statement (RIS) running for two years, testing every aspect of this by the ABCB. It’s been out to the public and the industry, and they’ve landed on the decision they’d bring it in.”
“So to say that it was brought in without being thought of is completely incorrect.”
In relation to the MVB’s scare tactics on the increased price of buildings Mr Moynihan said was a denial of the reality Australia faces with its ageing population, and of the social benefits.
“Given that we have an ageing population, continuing to build buildings that are going to require significant amounts of adjustment later on at a much higher price than getting it right in the beginning makes absolutely no sense,” he said.
Proposals to increase the minimum sustainability rating of homes from 6 to 7 stars NatHERS, have repeatedly been shown to be affordable and the government’s own assessments show individual homeowners to be better off.
However, according to Ms Casson the changes would result in “higher glazing requirements, increased ceiling and wall insulation, stricter provisions for heating, airconditioning and hot water systems.”
Victorian-based builder Jeremy Spencer from Positive Footprints, said the argument was not a new one in response to code changes, however, it misrepresented what was actually required. He said energy ratings could more readily come from better understanding of solar efficiency at the design stage, than additional costly materials and appliances.
“I think most of the costs, if there’s any cost, will actually fritter away once designers get on board with what they need to do to comply,” Mr Spencer said.
“Most of the issue is with design and not necessarily the fact that there is a higher star rating to meet. So if you have a reasonable design from the start then these cost issues don’t come into play.”
Ms Casson also asserted that according to government figures, “the costs far outweigh the benefits” of raising minimum energy rating requirements.
This refers to a disputed methodology within the government’s RIS that applies to the financial advantage of society overall rather than that of the individual homeowner.
It also assumes a “business as usual” baseline in terms of the cost of additional infrastructures, and has been criticised for downplaying the benefits of reducing energy-related carbon emissions.
“The report acknowledges from a homeowner point of view they will be financially better off going to the new rating system,” Mr Spencer said.
Mr Spencer did agree with the MBV on the need for increasing industry knowledge, and noted the MBV and other industry bodies were well placed to run the necessary information out to the industry.
As for mould, the correlation with a 7 stars NatHERS rating is non-existent. Mould is an issue that could occur in any style of house and the risk would not be increased by pursuing higher energy efficiency, according to John Moynihan.
“There’s no relationship between 7 Stars and mould,” he said.
“Mould is a big issue, I agree, but keeping it at 6 Stars isn’t going to help, and turning it to 7 Stars stars is not going to make it necessarily any worse. In fact it would probably make it a bit better”