Buildings for the 21st Century — a builder’s view?

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The Department of Building & Housing (DBH) has recently released a discussion document on a review of the New Zealand Building Code, seeking broad input from the industry and other stakeholders on what the code may resemble — and thereby helping to influence what our buildings look like and how they are built for the next 100 years. 

Alongside the Building Act 2004, the Building Code is probably the next most important reference document for the construction industry, so it’s critically important to get it right. For those who are interested, the discussion document makes for a worthwhile read, and can be downloaded from www.dbh.govt.nz. 

At its highest level, the DBH outlines five key principles for the code, namely for New Zealand to have: 

• a performance-based code that sets clear performance standards supported by compliance documents and guidance material, 

• a code that will facilitate innovation without compromising confidence in the standard achieved, 

• building standards that are robust and evidence based, and that take into account the benefits and costs of such standards, 

• building standards that allow for different levels of performance in different environments, based on risks and consequences, and 

• users of the compliance documents and guidance material who are able to access the information they require in a simple and comprehensive manner through a range of media. These are all good principles that the industry should have no difficulty in adopting. 

To that list, perhaps, we could add a few more industry-driven principles, as follows: 

• The DBH should ensure the Building Code remains current and up-to-date, through ongoing investment in research, standards development and information transfer to industry, 

• The New Zealand Building Code should look to draw on the Australian Building Code as much as practicable/appropriate, and 

• The Building Code should remain high-level and principle-based, and should be underpinned by an appropriate suite of Verification Methods, Acceptable Solutions and New Zealand Standards. 

Given the more recent context behind the review of the Building Code — particularly the leaky building crisis and it leading to the passing of the Building Act 2004 — a key issue for the code is how it will balance the competing interests of: 

• New Zealand demographics leading to greater demands for flexibility in the housing stock, 

• ensuring housing remains affordable, 

• taking account of the new sustainability requirements in the Building Act, 

• retaining sufficient flexibility to incorporate new technologies and innovations, and 

• promoting ongoing economic growth and increased development. 

The construction sector has underpinned some strong levels of economic growth over the past four to five years, and it is important that the Building Code doesn’t stifle that contribution to the New Zealand economy. 

Finally, one key failing of the approach adopted for the Building Code in 1991 was that the code was implemented without any significant follow-through from the Building Industry Authority to help inform key stakeholders in the code as to “how it was all meant to work”. 

The DBH should ensure there is high level of support mechanisms around adoption of the new code once it is finalised, so that its implementation works as intended — through Building Consent Authorities, designers, builders/constructors and consumers. 

The Registered Master Builders Federation will certainly be making a submission on the Building Code discussion document — and we’re looking forward to seeing how things progress in coming months. 

The whole process of reviewing the code, giving final recommendations for the Minister, drafting new sections and then getting the new code finalised, will take some years — possibly even until late 2008 to early 2009. 

But, at the end, we should have a Building Code that should be better able to stand the test of time — just like our buildings have to do!

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