The Australian Building Codes Board (ABCB) has introduced the first stage of the public comment draft for the 2022 update of the National Construction Code (NCC), anticipated to be enacted in September 2021.

The draft is being presented in dual stages.

The introductory stage – released last week – includes the majority of the proposed changes anticipated to be featured in NCC 2022.

These include:

  • New guidelines for accessible housing.
  • A new minimum level of lead for plumbing products which enter contact with drinking water.
  • Egress provisions for early childhood education centres and primary schools.
  • New requisites for bushfire protection for non-residential buildings with at risk residents.
  • Quantification of performance requirements in many categories.

A detailed account of these revisions can be read here.

The second phase of consultation is anticipated to open July 19. This will concern proposed changes to energy efficiency and condensation; the focus of recent project work.

The National Construction Code (NCC) is the primary document in Australia which details the technical design and construction provisions for residential and commercial structures.

Updated in 2020, the Code shifted to a tri-year updating cycle in 2016.

Other editions of the code can be downloaded here.

The 2022 update of the NCC also includes a simpler to read structure and format.

The new code offers a consistent volume structure, a new referencing system and more web content accessibility. Read more here.

Stage 1 Changes

1) Fresh Accessible Housing Provisions

The new accessible housing provisions are needed to attain Silver level certification in accordance with the Liveable Housing Design Guidelines, and a decision by most of the ministers at April’s Building Ministers Forum to feature accessibility requirements as a component of the NCC.

Details can be read here.

The primary mandates are:

  • A secure, continuing and step free path of travel from the street entrance and / or parking area to a level dwelling entry.
  • Interior doors and corridors that render feasible comfortable and unimpeded movement from space to space.
  • A toilet on the entry level to allow for easy access.
  • A bathroom that includes a hobless shower recess.
  • Reinforced walls surrounding the toilet, shower and bath to support the secure installation of grabrails at a later time.
  • Stairways designed to lessen the probability of injury (like through provision of continuous handrails) and to empower future adaptation.

The draft changes will concern Class 1a buildings (detached houses, detached units, townhouses, row houses, etc.) and Class 2 sole-occupancy units (apartments) only. Common areas in Class 2 buildings will be covered by present NCC provisions and the Disability (Access to premises — Buildings) Standards 2010.

The draft changes also feature a limited set of exemptions from the step-free access path requirement for Class 1a buildings. The exemptions concern steep sites, small sites and homes where a high floor level is needed. They are subject to the limits defined at clauses H8P1 and H8D2 in NCC Volume Two.

2) Lead in Plumbing Products (Volume 3) (Plumbing Code of Australia)

The public comment draft features changes to Volume 3 of the NCC (often referenced as the Plumbing Code of Australia) to place more limitations on the content of lead in plumbing products which enter into contact with drinking water.

Evidence of suitability provisions included in A5G4 will be amended to necessitate a maximum lead content of 0.25 percent for all new copper alloy products which enter into contact with drinking water.

These products include fittings, valves, fittings on stainless steel braided hoses, taps, mixers, appliances for the delivery of drinking water, water heaters, water dispensers (boiling and cooling units).

Compliance with this will need to be verified by either a test report from an accredited testing laboratory or a WaterMark certificate.

The changes emanate from potentially toxic levels of lead in plumbing products.

3) Fire Safety and Evacuation for Early Childhood Centres and Primary Schools in High Rise Buildings (Volume One)

This concerns deemed to satisfy (DTS) provisions about egress in early childhood centres (ECCs) or primary schools situated in high-rise buildings in the event of fires or other emergencies.

Current NCC DTS provisions concern fire related concerns through active and passive measures that restrain the fire’s impact and its capacity to spread.

In NCC 2022, the draft Code rectifies situations where the centres are situated on upper floors where direct egress to roads or public space is not accesible.

This is especially valuable given the burgeoning prevalence of ECCs which are situated on higher floors in multi-storey buildings. In these facilities, the ABCB says there are concerns about unacceptable levels of risk to life as we are dealing with very young children and potentially long travel distances.

The changes aim to address these concerns and to ensure that such facilities can safely be accommodated under DTS provisions.

The changes include:

  • Restrict building classification regulations under Part A6 to guarantee that early childhood centres are not exempt from added requirements by being located on a relatively sizable floor plan – such as in a large office building.
  • Mandate ECCs to possess two fire compartments, two horizontal exits 9m apart, and smoke lobbies in place of fire compartments for smaller ECCs (up to 500 m2).
  • Mandate ECCs to possess at least two exits.
  • When fire-isolated stairways and ramps are needed: mandate ECCs to possess fire-isolated exits in all cases where it is situated above a storey that supplies direct egress to road or open space.
  • Mandate smoke lobbies to be pressurised by a dedicated system if connected to a pressurised exit to ensure the lobby stays clear of smoke.
  • Regarding barriers to prevent falls: put in additional requirements to fire-isolated exits (stairs) serving Class 9b ECC parts in a building to delete the exemption from compliance with Clause D3D27 (previously D2.16) in instances of an open or split stair configuration in a building containing an ECC, a balustrade or barrier that does not allow the passage of a 300 mm sphere.
  • Mandate fire-isolated exits serving ECCs to be supplied with re-entry provisions back into the Class 9b ECC storey or part.
  • Require sprinklers to be supplied through the whole building.
  • Mandate all ECCs above ground level not wholly within a single storey that supplies direct access to a road or open space to have a smoke detection and alarm system supplied through the building.

In the instance of primary schools, a suggested change to clause D2D23 (previously D1.18) has been devised to concern a lack of DTS Provisions which cater to primary schools in high-rise buildings.

The amendment will apply to primary school buildings which are either greater than four storeys in height or which also contain another building class.

4) Bushfire Protection for Vulnerable Buildings

A fourth category of change addresses a recommendation from the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission and other investigations.

That Commission advised that bushfire protection provisions for some non-residential buildings with vulnerable occupants such as hospitals be counted in the NCC.

The proposed changes concern occupants who can’t easily evacuate the building before a bushfire, like young children, older people, and the physically challenged. It applies to hospitals and healthcare buildings, schools or early childhood centres and residential care buildings (Class 9a, 9b and 9c).

  • Buildings must be separated from classified vegetation, other structures and allotment boundaries/car parking areas. Exterior walls and roofs must be separated from on-site hazards like gas bottles, fuel storage, storage of combustible materials, waste bins, vehicles and machinery.
  • A non-combustible path at least 1.5 metres wide must be placed around the perimeter.
  • Access pathways accessible to roads or open spaces will need to be plainly identifiable, possess an even surface and measure at least one metre wide by clear width.
  • Exterior areas designed to contain people unable to be safely accommodated in the building and may be susceptible to radiant heat flux from a fire front during a bushfire must have maximum incident radiant heat flux from the fire front must not surpass 1 kW/m2 above background solar radiant heat flux.
  • An air handling system must be supplied (for internal tenability) capable of being adjusted for complete recycling of interior air for limited intervals to avoid the entry of smoke into the building and maintain an interior air temperature of not hotter than 25°C.
  • Exterior walls and roofs must be non-combustible (exceptions apply) and be built in accordance with AS 3959 for BAL—19 or greater.
  • Water (a hydrant and water supply) must be readily accessible.
  • Emergency power must be readily accessible for not fewer than 4 hours before and 2 hours after the passing of the fire front during a bushfire event, the ongoing operation of air handling systems to maintain interior tenability; and (b) pumps for firefighting; and (c) emergency lighting, exit signs, and (d) any other emergency equipment listed in C3D14(6) and needed to be supplied.
  • Signage must be supplied to warn building occupants against storing combustible materials beneath or adjoining the building.
  • Vehicular access to the building must be supplied in compliance with C3D5(2), as if the building was an isolated structure for the purposes of C3D4.

5) Quantification of Performance Requirements

Performance requirements have been quantified across a spectrum of areas, across all NCC volumes.

Feedback Requested

Feedback on these changes is requested here (refer link) until Friday July 2.