AUST – HENDRY building surveyors advise that Australia’s Building Regulations are principally a set of administrative provisions that call up the technical requirements of the Building Code of Australia (BCA) by reference. The BCA cannot be read in isolation as it is the Building Regulations which amongst other things are exempt from compliance with the BCA, certain types and sizes of buildings. Most Building Regulations also nominate reporting authorities responsible for consenting to applications for building permits/ approvals relating to the individual clauses in the BCA.

Other matters provided for in the Building Regulations that would affect the application of the technical requirements of the BCA include siting controls and alterations to existing buildings.

Building Code of Australia Volumes

The BCA is published in 2 volumes as follows:

  • BCA Volume One deals with all matters relating to Class 2 to 9 buildings.
  • BCA Volume Two deals with all matters relating to Class 1 and 10 buildings.

BCA Performance hierarchy

The BCA is structured in a hierarchy as follows:

  • Objectives – setting out community expectations.
  • Functional Statements – indicating how buildings can meet the Objectives.
  • Performance Requirements – establishing how various building elements are expected to perform to achieve the Objectives and Functional Statements.
  • Building Solutions – setting out the means of achieving the Performance Requirements. Building solutions can be found in the BCA in the form of deemed-to-satisfy provisions which describe tried and proven methods of meeting a Performance Requirement. The deemed-to-satisfy provisions form the bulk of the BCA.

If, however, it is intended to vary from the deemed-to-satisfy provisions this can be done by determining an alternative solution.

In order to prove whether an alternative solution meets a Performance Requirement there are four types of assessment methods i.e., by use of clause 1.2.2 of BCA Volume Two, by choosing a verification method (calculations, tests or any other method), by opinion from a technical expert or by comparison with the relevant deemed-to-satisfy provision.

Clauses A0.6 and 1.0.6 of BCA Volumes One and Two respectively clearly indicate that the Objectives in the BCA do not form part of the Building Regulations but may be used as an aid to interpretation.

The objectives should only be used by practitioners and building surveyors for guidance in the assessment of the performance requirements where alternatives to deemed-to-satisfy provisions are being assessed, and by the various Building Appeals board when hearing appeals and processing applications for modification. 

Where a practitioner wishes to use an alternative to the BCA Volume One deemed-to-satisfy provisions (eg. Clause F1.5) the building surveyor may assess the proposal against the relevant BCA performance requirement (eg. Clause FP1.4) having regard to the relevant Objective and Functional Statement. If the practitioner is dissatisfied with the decision consideration can be given to lodging an appeal to the Building Appeals Board.

In the above instance the Building Appeals Board dealing with the matter may consider the appropriate BCA Objective and Functional Statement to assist in making its decision.

Performance Oriented Building Regulations: BCA

Most Building Acts in Australia give the necessary head of power to make “performance orientated” building regulations.

What are performance orientated Building Regulations? They set out the result to be achieved rather than the means of achieving it. In other words, they provide the objective based on the performance of the building to satisfy people’s needs.

Performance requirements therefore set out the “why” of the Regulations. In the BCA which is called up by the Building Regulations, these performance requirements are usually followed up by “how to achieve” provisions – these being called the “deemed-to-satisfy” provisions. The deemed-to-satisfy provisions are either prescriptive or specification type of requirements or Australian Standard Codes or similar documents.

The BCA is therefore not stripped of traditional “prescriptive” provisions. What happens is that all commonly used practices are included immediately following the “performance” requirement – these prescriptive deemed-to-satisfy provisions can include references to Standards and similar documents.

We therefore have a situation where a designer or builder can, if desired, keep to prescriptive-type provisions in the traditional manner. However, when he wants to “innovate” or deviate from a traditional practice, he has the option where there is a performance-oriented provision to request acceptance of the innovation or changed practice by referral to the building surveyor who must consider the request and decide the question “does the proposal meet a performance requirement?”

It can be seen that the number of “modification” applications heard by the various state Building Appeals Boards could diminish to some degree as the Referees would not consider an application for a modification to a deemed-to-satisfy provision – in such situations the building surveyor is required in the first instance to make a decision as to whether the proposed practice meets the performance requirements of the regulations. The building surveyor’s decision would of could be appealable.

Consider for example 3 Volume One Clause FP1.4 which sets down a performance requirement that “every roof must prevent the penetration of water that could cause –

(a)  unhealthy or dangerous conditions, or loss of amenity for occupants; and
(b)  undue dampness or deterioration of building elements”.

There are deemed-to-satisfy provisions set out in Clause F1.5 relating to traditional roofing methods that are “deemed” to achieve the performance requirements of Clause FP1.4.

To vary from these deemed-to-satisfy provisions – in this instance, specific Australian Standard, means that the building surveyor, if not presented with a Certificate of Accreditation or Conformity to support the variation, must use his own discretion as to whether to accept the variation.

In other words he has to decide whether he thinks the variation would meet the performance requirement. If he decides that it will not, the applicant then has the right of appeal to the building appeals board. 

A deemed-to-satisfy situation also applies to “building products, construction methods, designs, components and systems” for which a Certificate of Conformity or Accreditation has been issued by the National or State Accreditation Authority. These Certificates, which indicate compliance with a specific “performance” provision of the Building Regulations, must be accepted by building surveyors.

Consolidation: Building Regulations

There are numerous Acts and Regulations controlling various aspects of buildings design and construction and use. The logical aim is to consolidate as many of these as possible into as few Acts and Regulations as possible to simplify the process to be negotiated by the developer.

The Building Act and the Building Regulations generally cover matters relating to the building’s structure i.e. to be considered as the “construction phase”.

Not covered are functional matters related to specialised needs which are more appropriately part of the initial and ongoing licensing system. Approval for plan layouts and specific details of such matters as floor and wall finishes, equipment etc. does not fit into the normal documentation process for building permits under the Building Act. 

From the building control point of view, it is apparent that compliance can be achieved in 3 phases i.e.

i) Functional layout
ii) Construction
iii) Functional design details

Phases i) and iii) deal with Registration (licensing) matters and phase ii) deals with the building permit. 

The functional layout phase must be addressed in the initial sketch planning of the project. It is a necessary and prudent preliminary state before proceeding with working drawings suitable for submission for building permit in phase ii).

In this functional layout phase, the designer must approach the appropriate specialist department and ascertain such matters as:-

e.g. Hospital

  • numbers and size of wards
  • arrangement of toilets and bathrooms
  • provisions of operating theatres
  • general layout
  • carparking