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The changes keep coming

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The NCC 2019 transition period expired on 1 May 2020, introducing a raft of new energy efficiency changes for both houses and commercial buildings. Photo courtesy Aztek Constructions

Simon Croft

Chief Executive, Industry & Policy
An unprecedented number of changes came with the release of the National Construction Code (NCC) 2019 and none with more impact than the energy efficiency requirements for houses, apartments and commercial buildings.

With such a significant shift there has been plenty of speculation about its effects. Some argue this will mean substantial impacts to industry while others say it will be minor in nature. However, what can’t be argued is that the provisions will alter how buildings will be designed and assessed for energy efficiency performance going forward. 

For houses and apartments there are new requirements for sealing buildings, for the additional assessment of capped heating and cooling loads under the star ratings (note this is not applicable for all states), as well as changes to the verification reference method. Commercial buildings, including communal areas of apartments, have seen far reaching changes with substantial stringency increases, new assessment methodologies for facades (including to determine combined wall and glazing performance), and even restrictions on what roof colours you can use.

Given the scope of what will now be required and to help industry adapt, the ABCB provided an additional 12-month transition period from the adoption of these provisions. This transition period expired on 30 April with the new provisions taking effect 1 May 2020 for all states except Western Australia. Some states have existing variations to the NCC which remain in place.

Helping industry prepare 

Off the back of HIA’s successful NCC seminar roadshow in 2019, which saw more than 2000 attendees, HIA has been supporting the building industry to understand the new energy efficiency changes with our latest series of NCC webinars. More than 500 people tuned in throughout April, including targeted seminars for Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria and the ACT where the provisions for houses and apartments will be felt most. Following this, HIA also held a national webinar on the NCC Volume One Section J (commercial buildings) energy efficiency changes. 

These sessions brought together a range of experts to provide a more detailed understanding of these new requirements, which included case studies and worked examples. The webinars also covered information on the upcoming NCC 2019 out of cycle amendment due to take effect 1 July 2020 and some of the commonly asked questions HIA’s Building Services team receives from members.

HOUSING caught up with webinar presenter Brian Haines, director of Energy Lab, about what these changes mean for builders. As one of Australia’s largest energy efficiency assessment companies, Energy Lab caters to small or volume builders for all types of residential and commercial projects that require mandatory energy efficiency certifications. 
The transition period to adopt new energy efficiency requirements is now up, with changes effective 1 May 2020. Image courtesy Aztek Constructions
For houses and apartments there are new requirements for sealing buildings under the 2019 NCC. Image courtesy Steele Associates

As a presenter for HIA seminars on energy efficiency changes, could you share what you talked about?

BH: The seminars covered the increased performance requirements of NCC 3.12 – specifically the stringency relating to data entry when using the verification method [in order] to bring it in line with the requirements of six stars. We also looked at the introduction of capped heating and cooling loads for six-star compliance. This change is designed to remove any outliers in performance, making sure we have housing that provides consistent thermal performance year-round. 

I presented case studies of various houses and their solutions to meet the capped loads. Each solution is individualised and required in-depth analysis to achieve the desired results.

What are the main takeaways that builders will need to know as they affect Class 1 dwellings?

BH: The main takeaways would be that six stars still remains the most dynamic and adaptable rating method. Being able to offset requirements via design and materials rather than strictly meeting fixed criteria in each component of 3.12 always leads to better results. Capped heating and cooling loads are a practical extension to six stars, ensuring a project performs equally well year-round.

There is some uncertainty for commercial buildings, how do you think industry will adapt?

BH: From a builder’s perspective the new requirements provide more flexibility and offer a greater range of solutions with different methods of assessments of walls and glazing. Although it is likely to increase construction costs if the intention is to maintain heavily glazed facades. However, like any regulation change it will take time for the industry to [become] accustomed. 

Based on the COAG trajectory towards low energy buildings, there are even more changes expected from 2022. How do you see this working in practice?

BH: At this stage I don’t believe there are any formal changes for NCC 2022 set in place. One can assume that seven stars will be considered and some sort of whole of house approach to energy efficiency. There are software packages currently in development looking at a whole of house approach. Victoria has their Zero Net Carbon initiative and Score Card, while NSW has BASIX – these are established systems where the 2022 NCC could certainly take elements and initiatives from.

Will you be adapting your service offerings to help builders understand the changes?

BH: Extensive increases are on the horizon in 2022 and like all previous changes to the NCC, Energy Lab will adapt and continue to offer high quality reporting for the building industry. Our software developers are constantly looking at ways to increase the efficiency of our workflow and our adaptability through automation is key to all future success regardless of any changes to the building code. All these factors play a critical role for our energy partners and clients to make accurate and informed decisions regarding energy efficiency compliance.

Find out more

HIA has produced a range of resources and support material, including 13 videos breaking down the changes on NCC 2019, to assist members navigate through the transition. You can view these and access the recordings of the recently held webinars at www.hia.com.au

Out of cycle amendment

Building Ministers have requested that the ABCB issue another ‘out of cycle’ amendment to the NCC that will take effect from 1 July this year. The amendment includes: 

  • corrections to NCC 2019 including a requirement that would have otherwise specified inclusion of anti-ponding devices/boards for unsarked tiled roofs
  • clarification of the timber framing concession for low-rise Class 2 and Class 3 buildings
  • mandatory labelling requirements for Aluminium Composite Panels (ACPs) 
  • egress requirements for early childhood centres in multistorey buildings
  • additional documentation and process requirements for the development of Performance Solutions.

HIA is disappointed that Ministers have again seen the need to issue a disruptive out of cycle amendment to the NCC for our industry which is still coming to terms with, and adapting to, NCC 2019 itself.