Beyond The Building Code
Building codes play a significant role in determining a building's long-term quality, safety, and energy efficiency. In Australia, this is fulfilled by the National Construction Code (NCC), which specifies the minimum necessary requirements for safety, health, amenity, and sustainability in the design and construction of new buildings (and new building work in existing buildings).
Design and construction choices affect operational performance and maintenance costs during the lifetime of the building. Building codes, such as the NCC, help designers and builders “get it right” from the start. Once installed, some building components may be replaceable or upgradeable, but some aspects of how the building performs are “baked” into the design. This is especially the case for plumbing and waterproofing.
Due to various factors—from stronger fire safety regulations to higher expectations for liveability—building regulations have grown more onerous in recent years. This, along with increases in the cost of materials and labour, has seen the cost of construction rise to some of the highest levels we have ever seen.
“Chasing the minimum” is the default stance many architects, designers, and builders take when faced with the need to increase margins and deliver projects on schedule. This practice involves constructing buildings to the bare minimum, following the regulatory requirements to the letter, and making no attempt to exceed the performance level or specification set by the standard—even if doing so would result in better building performance over the long run. Is this a mistake?