Sustainable Building & Design – Local Requirements

Sustainability Requirements in Design and Architecture

The design and building industry is evolving, and sustainable design, building and architecture is no longer just a ‘good to have’, in many cases it’s a given.

Globally, the International Energy Agency (IEA) reports that property contributes about 39% of emissions; 10% construction, and 17% from housing, so it’s the new frontier to significantly slash our environmental impact. As a country, Australia is just 0.33% of the global population, yet we are one of the highest emitters of greenhouse gas emissions per capita.

One of the game changers for our country this year is the National Construction Code (NCC) 2022, which means all new homes will need to meet a better standard of thermal performance.

Work is being done to reduce the ingrained greenhouse gas emissions in construction, and to offer financial incentives for sustainability and environmental initiatives, and as energy prices keep rising, it’s hoped the benefits of sustainability and financial imperatives will strengthen. While there are variations to the code across some states for logistical and rollout reasons, experts state the NCC 2025 update should push for electrified buildings across the board – no more gas in new builds.

Upgrading existing homes and rental properties, and changing the ‘lowest price’ mentality of the construction industry are part of the bigger challenge. It’s also assumed that this year’s record floods, and the recent years bush fires will have a massive impact on addressing sustainable settlement, and no go zones for building codes and policy.

So if you are considering a revamp or a new build, you need to know that many designers and builders are now capturing the power of the digital and electric world to create buildings and spaces that are more sustainable, resilient, efficient and user-friendly.

The Future of Sustainability and Livability is Here.

The main changes across the code address the following:

  • Livable housing – which requires new buildings to consider accommodations, provisions and accessibility for young children, families, the elderly and people with limited mobility.
  • Masonry constructions – outlines the limitations in using the cavity brickwork and the single skin masonry provisions.
  • Condensation management and waterproofing – waterproofing changes for both internal and external waterproofing
  • Energy efficiency – the overall objective of the compliance pathways is to ensure a building can facilitate the efficient use of energy for artificial heating and cooling in relation to the location and surroundings of the dwelling (or building). The floor, wall, roof, windows, etc. of the buildings will be constructed so the house maintains a certain level of thermal comfort naturally by design and with materials to reduce the amount of cooling and heating required.

Around the Grounds

One of the best parts about changes to the design and building sector is that consumers are a driving force for the changes, outside of authority, policy and government requirements. Communities, families and people want to live responsibly, and sustainability has become an increasing consideration for decisions around investments and even tenancy.

Some of the great things that are happening are:

  • ACT – The national capital is tackling the rental market as part of its reform package, by setting a minimum standard for roof insulation to existing dwellings, and it’s assumed other jurisdictions will follow. They are also increasing focus on electrified buildings powered by renewables, with no gas going into new suburbs. The Powering Canberra plan sets a pathway for the city to be almost entirely powered by renewable electricity by 2045.
  • Victoria – the state’s Gas Substitution Roadmap will ban the requirements for gas to be put into new builds.
  • Western AustraliaEsperance is Australia’s first community that voluntarily removed itself off gas.
  • New South Wales – Updates to the state environmental planning policy (SEPP) in line with the NCC 2022 comes into force on October 1 2023. New homes and renos will require a 7-star rating on the Building Sustainability Index (BASIX), which could include adding solar panels to roofs, increased insulation or converting hot gas hot water systems to heat pump systems.
  • Queensland – our diverse and varied landscape and climate zones have always spoken to design and architectural standards for the state. The Modern Homes initiatives are upholding the NCC standards already. Many of our universities advocate for the importance of these initiatives for our ecosystem and health, and architects, designers and builders are also adopting sustainable practices with many projects ahead of the game.
  • Tasmania – the apple state also lives and breathes sustainability. They will be adopting a tailored approach to the two major NCC reforms. Hobart was the first Australian city and council to commit to act on climate change in 1999, and was the first city council to declare a climate and biodiversity emergency in 2019.

Adapting is what we humans do, and as the pandemic has shown, we can do it pretty quickly when the need arises. Recognising that climate action is the shared responsibility of consumers, professionals and governments is the first step towards reaching zero emissions.

We can change our lifestyles, the value of our environment and our communities, but we have to start somewhere, and the homes that embrace us will have a substantial impact moving forward. We need a new normal for the design, architecture and building industry, and we need it fast.


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