• Fabric First

NCC: The Future is Minimum Compliance

Updated: Feb 5, 2019

After pushing through the challenges of University, not only the bar in the Student Union, I have been working in the building design and construction sectors for almost 10 years now while being an enviro-lefty for almost 20 years.

As 2016 thankfully ended, I officially hit my first wall of ESD fatigue and began to question our industries future and opportunities to meaningfully contribute to improving the built environment.

Returning home on an empty flight from the land of Din Tai Fung and recent Trump propaganda, my time in Taipei has seemingly been the perfect catalyst for such reflection….What is Sustainable Design (ESD)? Green building rating tools? Design vs construction objectives? Building fabric vs technology? Compliance vs benchmarking vs performance? …… it’s not an easy question (or equation)!

In a competitive industry that is constantly shifting and moving goal posts that impact architects, designers, engineers, builders, suppliers, surveyors, councils, developers and more, are we now lost in ESD administration and the objectives of market transformation or technological innovation? Or are we slowly tracking towards the noble, common cause of improving buildings for future generations?

Digging for answers and consulting with industry friends and colleagues, I honestly feel like we are now on a very real countdown to prove if the collective of practitioners working under the common nomenclature of ESD are actually improving the built environment.

And one thing is for sure, I am not alone in this concern. The vast majority of my eco-peers are having various levels of concern that opportunities to meaningfully contribute to improving the built environment are few and far between, so I am carrying the flag here as opposed to going on a rant!

Now somewhere above the South China Sea, trying to summarise a few days of soul searching, I am of the conclusion that we have the tools, knowledge and ability to make a real difference and its not that hard. But, and at risk of pointing out the obvious, we need fundamental, brave and rapid shifts in our industry to do so.

Simply put, this ability is not going to be realised at the top end of town alone, where the Well Building Standard, Green Star, LEED or other can be sold to the owner as an added value to be represented in the 99% percentile! It is going to be the super unsexy realm of minimum building compliance and its presence in the National Construction Code (NCC) Energy Efficiency Provisions.

As 2019 approaches and the next round of changes to the NCC play out (2017-18), we are quite simply setting the benchmark of what we as an industry hope to achieve in the next decades of construction.

With the Australian Building Construction Board (ABCB) now embarking on a significant piece of work within this space, we will know as early as next year if the benchmark for most construction projects (minimum compliance) will be meaningful, scalable and transferable into a higher quality construction sector. 

Avoiding a technical discussion, the only way to move forward is to commit to the fact that the band-aided system we have slowly inherited over time for both commercial and residential minimum compliance fails to improve the built environment. Relying on limited design based benchmarking systems that lack market confidence do not improve buildings, they only serve to compare poor buildings against poor buildings. 

It is time to move away from pointless energy modelling conventions, which prove little and allow thermal bridging and air-tightness to be ignored on a scale that risks under-sizing services, drastically failing any sort of occupant comfort.

It is also an opportunity to leave behind the in situ practice of academic policy reports with no backbone, that only serve to surmise what we should be going without providing the insight to deliver. Reports that get left on a server and eventuate in little to no benefit to the construction community.

It is my hope that as the 2019 changes approach, they will be seen as an opportunity to clean up and take a long honest look at where we are going in our industry. Without this, we are simply building to standards superseded in Europe 20 years ago and attaching zero carbon aspirations to them, another band-aid for high-performance buildings. 


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