NCC 2014: An overview
For readers who have not yet familiarised themselves with the changes in the National Construction Code 2014, this article from the Australian Building Codes Board contains a snapshot of some important changes to both the Building Code of Australia (BCA) and Plumbing Code of Australia (PCA).
CHANGES TO THE BCA
Interconnection of smoke alarms
Previously, the Building Code of Australia (BCA) has required smoke alarms or heat detection alarm systems (where appropriate) throughout residential occupancies.
The location of these alarms in strategic positions, such as a hallway near bedrooms, is designed to allow occupants to respond early to a fire.
The size or layout of some residential buildings can create situations where a number of alarms may be distributed throughout the occupancy. In a Class 1 building, within sole-occupancy units of a Class 2 or 3 building and in a Class 4 part of a building, alarms must now be interconnected so that when one alarm is activated, it will activate all other alarms in the occupancy. This feature will increase the likelihood of occupants being aware of the presence of a fire.
New options for exit signs
Internally illuminated ‘running man’ exit signs are a common sight in buildings. In recent years, many other countries have permitted the use of photoluminescent (PL) exit signs as an alternative in certain circumstances.
Photoluminescence is the ability of a material to absorb light and UV rays, and re-emit visible light for a period after the source light has been removed. These signs have a unique ability to glow for long periods of time, allowing for its potential use in an emergency.
Careful consideration was given to these overseas applications and it was considered there was scope for their use in Australia provided that minimum specifications are met (see page 58).
As part of the new Deemed-to-Satisfy Provisions for PL signs a new specification has been included that sets out minimum illumination, luminance and duration for the performance of a PL sign. The specification also covers sign colour, borders, pictorial elements and viewing distances, and references ASTM E2073-10 Standard Test Method for Photopic Luminance of Photoluminescent (Phosphorescent) Markings.
Better fire safety outcomes
Reducing regulatory burdens and achieving better fire safety outcomes at the same time, sounds like an impossible task.
For a number of years concern has been expressed about the potential dangers associated with fire hose reels in Class 2, 3 and Class 4 parts of buildings. It is highly unlikely that an occupant who uses the fire hose reel in the event of a fire will be trained in its safe use. Also, water as an extinguishing medium can be a very dangerous mix for electrical or fat/oil fires that typically occur in residential occupancies, particularly when combined with the potential for the fire hose to prop open doors that form part of the building’s fire separating construction.
Following consideration of these concerns and the commissioning of an assessment of the relative risks associated with fire hose reels and portable fire extinguishers used in residential occupancies, the requirement to provide fire hose reels in Class 2, 3 and Class 4 parts of buildings has been removed. In their place, additional installation requirements for portable fire extinguishers, including a requirement to cover Class A fire risks, has been introduced.
Other fire safety measures
The BCA contains a concession to allow timber framed construction for certain Class 2 buildings where non-combustible construction would otherwise be required. The concession was a result of research conducted by the Fire Code Reform Centre (FCRC) that included an extensive investigative report into the fire loads associated with timber framed buildings. It confirmed overseas findings that the fire loads generated would not impede the safe and timely evacuation of occupants in Class 2 buildings built to a height of three stories. This research resulted in an exemption to the brick or concrete construction usually applied to structures of this size.
Timber construction was generally considered also appropriate for Class 3 buildings, however further research was recommended prior to the concession being expanded to Class 3 buildings. This additional research has now been completed by the National Association of Forest Industries and Forest Wood Products Australia. The research report built on the earlier FCRC work and confirmed the concession could be extended to certain Class 3 buildings.
Defining slip resistance
Previously, the BCA has contained requirements for stairway treads, landings and ramps to have slip-resistant, non-skid or non-slip properties. However, the BCA did not identify what level of slip resistance was required or how it could be measured. This created uncertainty, risks and disputes about what was acceptable.
An Australian Standard for measurement of slip resistance existed but was not considered appropriate for referencing in the BCA. A recent revision of this standard (AS 4586) resolved these issues and, as a consequence, we are now able to provide an answer to the question, “What does slip-resistant, non-skid and non-slip really mean?”
NCC 2014 includes minimum slip resistance classifications for different scenarios and references AS 4586-2013 to determine slip resistance.
The NCC will allow acceptance of test reports based on the 2004 edition of AS/NZS 4586 and issued prior to the 2013 edition of AS 4586 being referenced in the NCC. However, test reports prepared after the BCA reference date of the 2013 edition of AS 4586 must be based on that version.
Regular readers of the Australian Building Regulation Bulletin or those who attended one of the NCC 2013 awareness seminars will recall that the intention to reference AS 4586 in the NCC was flagged last year in order to give manufacturers and suppliers time to undertake testing of slip resistant products if they had not already done so.
Hardboard wall cladding
In response to industry concerns that hardboard wall cladding was not covered by the Deemed-to-Satisfy Provisions of Volume Two, despite being a commonly used material, new provisions have now been included that allow this material to be used without recourse to an Alternative Solution.
These new Deemed-to-Satisfy Provisions complement the current range of wall cladding options recognised in Volume Two. This has resulted in the referencing of a new standard, AS/NZS 1859.4 Reconstituted wood-based panels, Specifications, Wet-processed fibreboard.
CHANGES TO THE PCA
The most significant revision yet
A decade has passed since the 2004 edition of the Plumbing Code of Australia (PCA) was first published and three years since its incorporation into the NCC as Volume Three. This year sees the introduction of some significant updates and improvements which have been under development for some time.
It is the first stage of the Board’s work program to harmonise building and plumbing requirements between NCC Volumes, and elevate plumbing and drainage-related public policy matters from referenced documents to the PCA.
One of the main drivers for the NCC reform in 2011 was the need for consistency between the BCA and technical plumbing requirements, which at the time were a combination of the PCA 2004 and AS/NZS 3500. For 2014, two key changes have been made toward better harmonising the PCA within the NCC overall.
Firstly, the heated water energy efficiency provisions have been consolidated into the PCA to enable all the relevant provisions to be accessed in the one place. Also, a new ‘Part A4’ will define, consistent with similar parts of the BCA, the building classifications already referred to in some parts of the PCA. These will help in removing two well-known inconsistencies, but there are more – work is now underway to address these issues.
New Deemed-to-Satisfy Provisions in Part B1 will improve coverage of important public policy by elevating issues, once dealt with by technical referenced documents, up into the PCA.
The first tranche of new provisions will cover the current water efficiency requirements for dual flushing cisterns and maximum flushing volumes, along with cross connection prevention for drinking water services. This transfer of public policy from technical standards committees to the Australian, State and Territory Governments and industry bodies, as represented through the ABCB, will provide more opportunities for practitioners and the community to participate in the development of plumbing and drainage policy.
Other Deemed-to-Satisfy Provisions have undergone minor restructuring to better reflect their application, either as general provisions, or for specific installations where fixtures and fittings for persons with a disability are required.
These and other projects are still underway. For example, during 2014 and 2015, work will begin on quantifying a number of the PCA’s Performance Requirements to improve the scope for developing Alternative Solutions.
It was also suggested at the Board’s recent Plumbing Code Planning Day that research into water efficiency and other plumbing-related issues is needed to ensure the PCA remains on track as a contemporary regulatory tool. Pending resource availability, it is intended that some of this work will commence in the coming year.
As the next stage of the ABCB’s ongoing work to improve, update and harmonise the PCA progresses, practitioners will be kept up-to-date through the public comment process, industry publications and our education and awareness activities.
Two critical documents which underpin the WaterMark Certification Scheme have been updated in the PCA following the transfer in 2013 of the scheme administration from Standards Australia to the ABCB.
Specifically, the former Australian Standard AS 5200.000 will no longer be referenced as it has been replaced by the Schedule of Specifications, along with the Exempt Materials and Products listing, both of which will be maintained as ‘living documents’ published online and updated regularly through the ABCB website. Therefore, it will be important to check the website regularly to stay up-to-date.
Also, references to the risk assessment document, MP 78: 1999, have been replaced by the ABCB Manual for the Assessment of the Risk of Plumbing Products.
Unlike the Schedule of Specifications, and the Exempt Materials and Products listing, the ABCB Manual will continue as a static document referenced in the PCA.
Finally, it is worth noting that these important scheme documents will be available for download from the ABCB website for free, thereby reducing compliance costs. With the review of the WaterMark Scheme well underway, further updates and improvements to the scheme are expected.
This article was reproduced with permission from the Australian Building Regulation Bulletin (ABRB) 2014. This edition and others can be found on the ABCB website at www.abcb.gov.au/en/education-events-resources/publications/abrb.
A list of amendments can be found at www.abcb.gov.au/about-the-national-construction-code/list-of-amendments.