AUST – HENDRY building surveyors advise building owners and managers need to be aware that a majority of buildings do not comply with the current Building Code of Australia (BCA) or building regulations. Each year various aspects of the BCA are enhanced or amended according to industry and community consultation and feedback, and also according to the agenda and direction identified and adopted by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG). Recent examples of these are the enhancements to Bush Fire protection requirements, the adoption of the Disability Access provisions within the BCA, and the inclusion of energy efficiency provisions for commercial and residential buildings.
Since premises are designed and constructed to comply with the BCA applicable at the time (as an absolute minimum), it stands to reason that as each new edition of the BCA is published, there will be a growing list of building elements that will, in compliance terms, become outdated.
As these buildings become increasingly non compliant with the current BCA, factors such as whether the building still serves the original designed intent, and whether the building elements in question are still ‘fit for purpose’ and still provide for the health, amenity and safety of the building occupants sufficiently enough, come into question.
These questions are generally considered when a particular trigger initiates the review process, culminating in the need for either, or all of, an update to the building itself, a change of building classification, or an update to the procedures practiced within the building.
Following are some of the most common triggers and outcomes for building updates:
Council Notices, Building Notices or Building Orders
Building notices or building orders can cover the broad aspect of public health and safety such as dangerous buildings, fire report matters, and closure of unsafe public assembly buildings, and only a local authority (because of the restrictions in legislation) can serve building notices or building orders in relation to public safety measures provided in an existing building.
Building notices provide the means by which the municipal building surveyor can require the building owner to show cause as to why an existing building should not be subject to building work in order to provide a level of public safety which meets with community expectations. An existing building does not have to be upgraded to the same standard as is required for new buildings under building orders or building notices.
If the owners do not respond satisfactorily to building orders or building notices by undertaking the required works, then the municipal building surveyor/council can proceed to issue building orders or take court action which, if not complied with, will ultimately incur penalties, or even closure of the building.
While most building control legislation is not retrospective for existing buildings, some State legislation does contain provisions that can trigger an upgrade of an existing building.
Where alterations to a building exceed more than 50 per cent by volume (within a three year time-frame in the case of Victoria), the event can trigger a requirement for the whole building to comply with all the current regulations (the whole BCA). Other states have no time limits applicable, and calculations may vary in the interpretation of the volume. For example, some building surveyors include simple partition changes in the volume calculations, while others only calculate the volume associated with a refurbishment which includes significant modifications to services.
An upgrade to fire safety and/ or structural capacity may also be determined because the modifications to services may compromise the essential safety measures contained in the building, and may be determined to be inadequate to protect persons using the building. Upgrades may be determined to facilitate egress from the building in the event of a fire, and/ or to restrict the spread of fire from the building to other buildings nearby.
Recent moves to improve the commonality of the disability access provisions for buildings in the Building Code of Australia (BCA) and the Disability (Access to Premises – Buildings) Standards 2010 have substantially harmonised the BCA with the Disability Discrimination Act. As a result, the integration of the disability access code with the BCA carries significant implications for building owners, tenants, and property managers and hotel engineers.
The Premises Standards contain detailed disability access information specifying the circumstances and types of building where the Standards apply, and they apply to a new building, a new part of an existing building, and the affected part of an existing building.
For disability access, the affected part of a building means:
- The principal pedestrian entrance of an existing building that contains a new part and
- Any part of an existing building that contains a new part, that is necessary to provide a continuous accessible path of travel from the entrance to the new part.
Generally speaking, the affected part of a building must comply with the new access requirements where alterations and/or additions are proposed to an existing building, and the proposed work is subject to a building permit/complying development certificate or a construction certificate/building permit.
The affected part of the building, relative to disability access, does not apply to:
- Existing parts of buildings outside the area of the new work and the affected part upgrade
- An accessway from the allotment boundary, from any accessible car parking space on the allotment or between other buildings on the allotment.
Upgrading works for an affected part may include the following disability access works:
- Accessibility of upper floors to new work
- Providing lift access features such as Braille or tactile buttons
- Removing a step at a building entrance
- Upgrading handrails on a ramp
- Minimum width requirements of doorways or passageways, including passing and turning spaces.
As a consequence of the new disability access provisions, the BCA more extensively covers features such as lifts, stairs, ramps, toilets and corridors in buildings such as office blocks, shops, hotels, motels, and common areas of new apartment buildings.
Energy Efficiency Compliance
Energy efficiency requirements, as detailed in Section J of Volume One of the Building Code of Australia (and applicable to all building Classes 2-9, unless otherwise stated), apply to the construction of all new buildings, as well as the refurbishment, alteration or extension of any existing building.
The energy efficiency requirements allow commercial and public buildings to achieve minimum levels of energy efficiency compliance through the performance-based provisions of the BCA.
In essence, these measures are designed to reduce the use of artificial heating and cooling, improve the energy efficiency of lighting, air conditioning and ventilation and reduce energy efficiency loss through air leakage.
Assessments generally cover building elements such as the building fabric, external glazing, building sealing, air movement, air conditioning and ventilation systems, artificial lighting and power, and access for maintenance.
Energy efficiency compliance with the BCA can be achieved by complying with the deemed to satisfy requirements of the BCA or by developing an energy efficiency alternative solution that demonstrates that the proposal meets the relevant BCA performance requirements.
Where energy efficiency alternative solutions are sought or additional information is needed, software-based energy efficiency analysis can also be deployed to assess the energy contribution of various building components such as building fabric, air filtration and natural ventilation, internal heat sources, air conditioning systems and vertical transport systems.
Emergency plan development, emergency response procedures, evacuation diagrams, emergency procedures training, and emergency response exercise program implementation are just some of the requirements of the emergency planning obligations under AS 3745 – 2010 ‘Planning for emergencies in facilities’. When a building undergoes alterations, some or all of these requirements can be impacted by the changes in the building, and building owners need to give due consideration to ensuring their emergency planning remains effective, up to date and AS 3745 – 2010 compliant, in order to provide a safe work environment for staff, building occupants and visitors alike.
While the basic intent of the BCA is to ensure the provision of safe buildings for occupancy that provide a level of amenity commensurate with public expectations, the application of the BCA can be open to interpretation. Building Surveyors are quite often called upon to provide expert advice or witness , and to provide sound planning advice in maximising your building asset.