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Alan Pears: defer National Construction Code changes or “create a mess”

Alan Pears
Alan Pears

Building sustainability expert Alan Pears has requested the Australian Building Codes Board undertake further expert consultation and research into measures around building performance and energy use before implementing proposed changes to the National Construction Code.

Mr Pears was a member of the ABCB steering committee for the development of the 2006 Building Code of Australia energy provisions.

In his formal submission to the ABCB on NCC 2016 Mr Pears proposed the ABCB should “defer implementation of changes to the building energy regulations within the 2016 NCC, and to establish appropriate working groups and allocate research and support resources to them to engage effectively across the community to develop improved requirements that meet community objectives”.

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He said the ABCB had failed to effectively engage with stakeholders and develop “appropriate energy performance measures that are in the interests of society”.

“Many professionals did not know about the proposals until alerted by word of mouth or media articles, with too little time and resources to effectively engage with the proposals,” Mr Pears wrote.

“ABCB staff have claimed that the proposals do not affect the stringency of the energy requirements. There is a strong consensus across building professionals, based on modelling and analysis, that there would be significant impacts. More work is needed.”

Mr Pears said he had spoken to a number of community groups, industry groups and industry professionals who were all concerned about the potential for stringency to be undermined. They were also concerned about “potential unnecessary, confusing and costly outcomes from a rushed and inadequate process and the inevitable future changes that would be needed to fix problems”.

“Some expressed a preference for existing problems to be addressed as quickly as possible. Many called for more vision, focused on ensuring new buildings meet appropriate climate targets and support cost reductions in energy supply infrastructure. All expressed dismay at the poor process that has been pursued on this matter to date.”

In an appendix letter to the ABCB that accompanied his submission, Mr Pears wrote:

“The present NCC energy provisions certainly need improvement. But we need to recognise that their weaknesses to a great extent reflect the serious lack of resources allocated to ongoing research and development related to knowledge, analysis of field experience, tool development and compliance management. It is a miracle that the provisions work as well as they do, given these chronic failures. But rushing into ill-considered changes risks ‘killing the patient’ and increasing costs and uncertainties for the building industry while confusing home buyers and undermining benefits for future occupants.

“I support the principles of encouraging more emphasis on performance-based regulation, and the opening up of alternative options for building energy rating. However, the changes involved are not minor, and substantial work is needed to ensure that the integrity of building energy regulation is maintained. A number of professionals have described to me their efforts at modelling the outcomes of the proposed changes: the results show significant variations from present outcomes, and variability.

“The process of engagement regarding these changes has been flawed. For example, I spent over an hour searching the ABCB website, trying to find information on the proposed changes. Eventually I found a copy of the NCC with tracked changes covering many aspects of the Code, and had to wade through to find the proposals for energy… Many professionals in the building sector I have spoken to have only found out about the proposed changes through word of mouth or via media articles.

“There is widespread concern across the industry and community about the implications of the proposals and the poor process associated with engagement on them.

“Despite assertions from ABCB staff, the proposed changes do impact on the stringency of the NCC, so a thorough review process is necessary. In particular:

The loose specification of the protocol for residential building rating means that dwellings with much worse performance than present 6 star standards could comply

Removing the requirement that individual apartments within an apartment building be rated denies potential buyers and tenants the right to know what they are paying for in terms of energy performance. It will be possible (actually very likely) for someone to unknowingly buy a thermally poor apartment in a ‘6 star’ building, and have to live with the consequences for many years. This change will also create risk for buyers if and when mandatory disclosure at time of resale is introduced

Just as professionals and developers are becoming accustomed to the use of JV3 for nonresidential buildings, new options have been introduced that confuse and potentially undermine compliance, while increasing compliance costs.

“It is important for the ABCB to recognise that modelling of the thermal performance of buildings, especially dwellings, in Australian climates is very challenging. Small changes or limitations due to assumptions and algorithms underpinning the models can lead to large differences in results. This is because many of our climates are both very variable and moderate (for much of the time) and buildings are complex. So simulation tools are trying to estimate a small difference between two very large numbers. A small change in one of the large numbers (i.e flows of thermal energy into and out of the building) drives a large change in the difference, which is the visible energy requirement of the building. The detail in the protocol for modelling, and the capacity of tools to model features such as ground temperature and ventilation effects, are critical to consistent outcomes, and hence the integrity of the NCC provisions.

“The approach taken to date seems likely to lead to unravelling of efforts to achieve national consistency in building energy regulation. State governments are likely to be forced to introduce their own changes, or reject introduction of the 2016 changes, in response to industry and community concerns over the present proposals.

“I recognise that stepping back would leave the present, less than satisfactory, energy regulations in place, potentially for some years. However, this is a ‘less bad’ outcome than creating a mess. Further there is scope to address many problems through non-regulatory means, for example by investing effort in addressing anomalies and weaknesses in rating tools, data availability and developing guidelines and standard interpretations.

“I urge you to step back and adopt a more comprehensive and inclusive process.”

Comments

4 Responses to “Alan Pears: defer National Construction Code changes or “create a mess””

  • Tim Renouf says:

    I concur with the comments of Graeme Doreian.

    The NCC mess is affected by a multitude of factors and an obvious key one is the reliability of R-values of all building materials. This is not some boring dry subject, it is serious and avoided by nearly all the “experts”.

    I gave technical insulation evidence to both the 2010 Senate Inquiry and 2014 Royal Commission. The insulation Standards called up in regulations have numerous errors in them and the current revision process should be halted until the chaos of the NCC 2016 is sorted out.

    Industry writes Standards and Standards are call up in regulations.

    The R-value test methods for bulk insulations are based on 4 hour duration at average 23degC. Ridiculous for hot roofs at 80-100deg over long duration. Another example is summer ductwork insulation overwhelmed by intense roof space radiation where the so-called guaranteed R-value is frequently false. The ACCC and ABCB ought to act. Does anyone talk about tjis? No.

    I have fighting since 1999 for real time thermal testing of houses across Australia supported by physical testing in a Climate Simulator.
    Computer modelling should be underpinned by verifiable field data. Drawing on Europe Building Codes is foolish in the extreme. Why not create a system that suits realistic variable Australian climates and not those where snows lies metres deep.

    Independent testing is needed and under no circumstances should CSIRO or BRANZ head up or control any new project.
    CSIRO’s computer modelling history is a disgrace because it was never based on verifiable field evidence of real houses across Australia.
    The fraud of HERS was first identified by John Stein USA 1997 who spoke about the serious negative impact of user-behaviour.

    Its interesting how few experts are prepared to facilitate and encourage a full and open dialogue on ALL issues. In the Public and National Interest.

    Everyone is running for the life rafts now. About 15 years late. No one has a monopoly on truth. That is rapidly apparent now.
    Maybe the government in a twisted way is punishing everybody for the sins of the past.

    I also briefed a string of politicians over the past four years, and no they can’t be trusted either. Neither can the public servants who are never accountable. The system is well and truly broken.

  • Graeme Doreian says:

    As admirable as Alan Pears’ comments are today, why didn’t Alan peak up ten years earlier, along with the insulation and related industries as well who were aware of the problems, as all sides politics were and further confirmed thanks to the Royal Commission Home Insulation Program revelations.

    The 2010 Senate Inquiry Home Insulation Program exposed the problems and gave a pathway to address those problems, however everything was quashed even to the point that the media fell silent. Why?

    There is a basic solution to sort out the whole building energy fraud, ‘festered’ by modelling.

    My colleague and I, unpaid, and unsupported, have campaigned many politicians and bureaucrats over 4 years, more so Greg Hunt my local member, he has had many briefings from us, and acknowledged our pathway to the solution but failed to support us, which addressing part of the mess Alan Pears has exposing.

    Respectfully, as a building energy consultant, and the only person attempting to represent the public interest.

    I gave evidence on the stand, under oath to the Royal Commission Home insulation Program and was personally referenced 13 times in the final written report.

    This mess which has been rolling along since the 1990’s, is out of control, it’s all a political ‘game’ to create jobs for the ‘boys club’ which includes the various consultants, Standards Australia, which is basically industry, AND CSIRO.

    CSIRO, who own the base computer program, that forms the basis of every computer modelling program, which are not validated by real house controlled testing in a climate simulator to establish how building materials interact with the various insulation’s for an appropriate climate.

    All want to keep bleeding the’ system’ MORE RESEARCH, FLAWED, RESEARCH AGAIN, to see their flawed agendas performed, while protected by a ‘broken political system’ which includes the Government of the day’s biggest supporter, CSIRO who are basically a Government Department, all the while the innocent public just pay.

    Mr Hunt when in Opposition indicated that myself and my colleague ‘we were gold’ AND would have a ‘frontal position’ to sort out the fatally corrupt building energy efficiency ‘mess’ to address the issues we raised. Know Mr Greg Hunt in Government has abandoned us. WHY?
    Everyone has ‘bled’ the system for years, AND know we have chaos, because of their deceit.

    As per the 2010 Senate Inquiry Home Insulation Program, Recommendation 6 -11, I challenge Mr Hunt and Mr Macfarlane to ‘stump up’ and engage us and appoint us to sort out the mess, via the recommendations.
    Recommendations 6-11:

    http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Environment_and_Communications/Completed_inquiries/2008-10/eehp/report/b01

    Recommendation 6
    5.23 The government should establish a dedicated and industry-independent program to research insulation systems and help develop efficient and effective insulation policy.

    Recommendation 7
    5.28 That Standards Australia consider amending its funding mechanism so as to disallow contributions from any stakeholders with a potential commercial interest in any Australian Standard.

    Recommendation 8
    5.30 That Standards Australia consider reconfiguring its technical committee arrangements to prevent commercial interests from being seen to unduly dominate decisions which should be based on scientific evidence.

    Recommendation 9
    5.32 Standards Australia consider responding publicly and in detail to the scientific criticisms of AS/NZS 4859.1, and if necessary undertake an independent review of the standard.

    Recommendation 10
    5.49 The Australian Building Codes Board should consider:

    • making public the submissions received during the consultation on the recent changes to the energy efficiency requirements of the Building Code of Australia

    • responding publicly and in detail to the concerns raised in this inquiry, and any related issues raised in submissions to the recent consultation, about the treatment of insulation in the energy
    efficiency requirements of the Building Code of Australia; and

    • explaining the basis upon which BCA has not adopted suggestions that roof/ceiling R-value standards in the BCA (volume 2, table 3.12.1.1a) should include, in warm climate zones, maximum up values for naturally ventilated houses as well as minimum down values.

    Recommendation 11
    6.26 That the Government form a small advisory group, representative of all of the different components of the insulation industry, to:

    • develop and consider policies or measures necessary to maintain a viable insulation industry in Australia;
    • consider policies or measures to maximise the energy efficiency for Australia’s building stock in safe and measured ways;
    • proceed with the necessary research and changes to standards required to provide clarity around the efficiency of different forms of insulation for different climates; and review industry standards and workplace practices to ensure high quality standards across all jurisdictions and rebuild public confidence in the sector.

  • Alan’s voice should be heard and respected – no one knows more in this field than he does. I have to say that I was very surprised to learn that the stated values appear to be been worked up in house, with no evidence or third party assessment to assess their equivalence with DTS or star ratings, let alone any analysis as to whether these performance requirements are optimal from an economic perspective. When you then factor in the lack of compliance with existing Code provisions, there is a growing concern that building energy regulation in Australia is optional – at the very same time that the International Energy Agency is urging Australia amongst others to lift the stringency of our Code, as one of the most important and cost-effective GHG abatement measures available. To not do so represents denial of the reality and seriousness of climate change and willingness to ignore the solid evidence of the negative social and economic consequences of locking in yet more inefficient buildings in Australia for many years to come. It is already six years since the current (unenforced) standards were set – it will be at least 10 years before they can be revisited again… at least until better governments in future change the rules around the NCC.

  • ian says:

    For example consider the loopholes to sealing the envelope in buildings which are to have gas appliances.

    Leaky buildings are then a requirement.

    For a better environmental (and health) outcome buildings should be sealable.

    Anyway gas appliances for standard home applications are all less efficient, and more GHG polluting than heat pump space heating or induction cooking. Induction cooking also makes gas cooking seem so stone age too.

    As the ATA report and numerous other studies show, it is time to shift away from gas on cost issues alone.

    The NCC should take into account likely future trends and get rid of loopholes which support gas appliances and leaky buildings.

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