ABCB Backtracks the Contentious Changes Proposed to Energy Performance (Section J)

Thankfully, the Section J Industry Working Group and experts (such as Integreco) who commented on the proposed 2016 version of the National Construction Code (NCC), have pressured the Australian Building Codes Board (ABCB) to avoid some of the drastic changes proposed to Section J. Indeed, the final NCC 2016 was released this week, and it backtracked on almost all of the contentious changes proposed for energy performance requirements of Section J. For a detailed discussion of these changes please refer to the Fifth Estate’s excellent article from mid-2015:

The ABCB has seemingly responded to industry concerns and left almost everything as it was in the NCC 2015, with the exception of a few small changes. For example, as a positive change, Class 2-9 buildings will now be required to add slab-edge insulation to improve thermal performance, under some circumstances.

Overall, the changes for the NCC 2016 Section J do not contain any significant sustainability improvements. However, at least they haven’t made things worse, which it very nearly did, in spectacular fashion.

Indeed, some of the original proposed changes to the National Construction Code were so drastic, that the modelling protocol would have allowed some apartments to pass, even with a ZERO NatHERS star rating, according to testing by leading ESD practitioners. To put this in perspective, most states require apartments to score an average of 6 stars and a minimum of 5 stars, to pass the 2015 Section J targets. In NSW, these star ratings are less relevant, since heating and cooling loads (and not the stars) are assessed. However, the minimum average performance for an apartment building usually correlates to around 3.5 stars.

The JV3 pathway (which was originally proposed by the ABCB for the NCC 2016) simulates a building against a reference building, but only two climate zones are assumed for glazing for the whole of Australia. To put that in perspective, the current NatHERS tools (BERS Pro, AccuRate and FirstRate 5) actually use 69 climate zones, to approximate the climate details of any given postcode.

The JV3 pathway was so weak, according to leading industry experts, that you could actually design a building entirely out of glass and still comply (even without high-performance glazing). Likewise, as mentioned, a dwelling which scored zero under the NatHERS scheme could still achieve compliance under JV3. The mind boggles! A bullet has definitely been dodged for Australian building sustainability and energy efficiency…