Energy efficiency levels for buildings

+ Industry experience and resources can help shape better building regulations, as the Section J experience in Australia shows.

The Australian Building Codes Board (ABCB) has recently published proposed changes to Section J of the National Construction Code, which gives minimum requirements for energy efficiency in the design and construction of new buildings. 

It’s also intended that the code amendment cycle is stretched from one year to three years, to provide stability and so that the industry doesn’t continually have to adjust.

I’ve been working with a group of industry leaders to submit a formal response to the ABCB. In short, we’re not happy. In an attempt to quantify performance requirements and promote innovation, the proposed changes would in fact reduce the stringency of compliance and introduce complexities and opportunities for manipulation. 

Our analysis has indicated that a significant number of poor building designs, which would not meet current requirements, could sail straight through the proposed compliance barriers. We certainly do not want minimum standards to reduce energy efficiency, especially if those standards are then in place for the next three years.

So where did it all go wrong?

The draft changes were published in early June with a two-month window for public comment. Many industry professionals were unaware that there were plans afoot to change the energy compliance landscape so drastically. There’s a sense that the whole exercise is being rushed. It seems that industry engagement has been neglected and is seen more as a ‘final check’ than an essential part of the evolution and improvement of our building codes.

The changes could have achieved so much more had there been genuine consultation. The 17 industry sustainability experts involved in the working group I’ve been part of have a wealth of construction industry experience that ensures a pragmatic approach to building compliance. We have the analytical skills to assess the quantitative impacts of compliance changes. Most importantly, we all want to see high-quality, high-performance building stock in Australia’s built environment.

So perhaps it’s time to stop referring to other industry experts as ‘competitors’ and start pooling experience and resources to make a positive impact in our cities.

A full description of the industry group’s objective and formal response, is available here