• Written by Geoff Hanmer, Adjunct Lecturer in Architecture, UNSW
Compliance with the National Construction Code provides no guarantee that an apartment won't leak. Shutterstock

A prestige apartment building in Sydney built by a well-known developer is undergoing a second replacement of a terrace waterproof membrane five years after replacement of the first one, which had leaked from completion. The second membrane almost certainly complied with the National Construction Code (NCC) and was certified as compliant; the first one might also have complied. Yet, for 15 years, owners and tenants living under the terraces have put up with mouldy walls, carpets and ceilings because the code does not adequately control waterproofing materials and methods.

A key assumption made by governments and regulators has been that confidence will return to the market if apartments are built to meet National Construction Code requirements. As the story above shows, complying with the code alone will not be enough to fix many common defects. Public confidence will still be lacking.


Read more: Lack of information on apartment defects leaves whole market on shaky footings


In 2017, the Building Ministers’ Forum, the group of federal, state and territory ministers responsible for building regulation in Australia, commissioned a report from Peter Shergold and Bronwyn Weir. Their report said there was “… diminishing public confidence that the building and construction industry can deliver compliant, safe buildings which will perform to the expected standards over the long term”.

Since then, the high-profile structural failure and evacuation of Opal Tower on Christmas Eve 2018, the cladding fire at Neo200 in February 2019 and the structural failure and evacuation of Mascot Towers in June 2019 have kept this issue in the media spotlight. If anything, the public crisis of confidence has deepened.


Read more: Housing with buyer protection and no serious faults – is that too much to ask of builders and regulators?


Part of the problem is the code itself

The National Construction Code originated as a minimum standard to deliver structural integrity and fire safety. It was never intended to provide effective control over all the aspects of building work that make houses or apartments liveable and durable. This might come as a surprise to many people, including those in government, but it is inherent to the “minimum standard” approach that underpins the structure and objectives of the code.

The objectives on page 9 of volume 1 of the code, which covers apartments, are instructive:

1) ensure requirements have a rigorously tested rationale; and

2) effectively and proportionally address applicable issues; and

3) create benefits to society that outweigh costs; and

4) consider non-regulatory alternatives; and

5) consider the competitive effects of regulation; and

6) not be unnecessarily restrictive.

In attempting to consider “competitive effects”, avoid being “restrictive” and by encouraging “non-regulatory alternatives”, including self-certification and self-regulation, the code has opened the door to an “anything goes” mentality on many fronts.

Waterproofing requirements for houses and apartments under section F of the code are clearly ineffective, for a start.

The relevant Australian Standards, AS 4654.1 and AS 4654.2, were written with a lot of input from the building materials supply industry. The standards permit the use of unsuitable waterproofing membranes in many situations, particularly where ceramic tiles are directly bonded to an inappropriate liquid-applied membrane. As the example at the start of this article shows, this solution rarely lasts longer than four or five years and considerably less in some cases.

Rectification is expensive and inconvenient. It involves hacking up and replacing all the tiles.

In addition, every apartment building built without a step in the slab at the junction between walls and floors will probably develop leaks within a similar timeframe.

These practices are driven by the desire to save a few dollars in construction cost, not by a commitment to deliver a required standard of durability. Durability is not part of the code objectives.


Read more: Would you buy a new apartment? Building confidence depends on ending the blame game


How can the code be fixed?

We could improve the code in a number of simple ways:

  1. Class 1 (houses) and class 2 (apartments) buildings should both be in volume 2, which would be dedicated to housing intended for sale. Houses and apartments should be required to be “fit for purpose” with a clearly stated objective to provide protection to the buyer. These should include a mandatory minimum statutory warranty of seven to ten years, backed by government.

  2. The required durability of waterproofing membranes and details for all housing, and class 2 apartments in particular, must be clearly stated. Waterproofing should be required to last at least 25 years without significant maintenance, and perhaps 40 years for buildings where access to the waterproofing element requires demolition or is fundamentally difficult. Details that are not durable, including slabs without steps at wall junctions, or terrace and balcony tiles directly bonded to liquid-applied waterproof membranes, should be banned.

  3. The structure of an apartment should be required to last with no substantial maintenance for at least 50 to 60 years. The minimum expectation for durability for any envelope component and associated finishes on buildings over three storeys should be 25 years, and perhaps 40 years for taller buildings.

  4. The “performance requirements” of section F of the code, “Health and Amenity”, should be expanded to ensure apartments are comfortable, economical to maintain and sustainable.


Read more: Australia has a new National Construction Code, but it's still not good enough


Some developers are already delivering well-designed apartment buildings that are durable and fit for purpose. They are to be commended. The problem for buyers is identifying these amid a sea of dross.

For new houses and apartments, we need to ensure the National Construction Code matches community expectations on fitness for purpose and durability. This requires a return to more active and interventionist regulatory framework, including putting independent “eyes on the site” to inspect work during construction.

Geoff Hanmer has received research funding from the Building and Construction Council (BACC) NSW.

Authors: Geoff Hanmer, Adjunct Lecturer in Architecture, UNSW

Read more http://theconversation.com/to-restore-public-confidence-in-apartments-rewrite-australias-building-codes-126678

All You Need to Know About Trenchless Technology

For many years, the traditional sewerage lines and pipe developments were not enough due to the long wait and cracking. The traditional sewer pipe repairs involved cracking the earth to find the par...

News Company - avatar News Company

Before we rush to rebuild after fires, we need to think about where and how

A primary school in East Gippsland was burnt down in the current bushfire crisis. While Premier Daniel Andrews immediately committed to rebuilding the school as it was, media reported the local CFA ca...

Mark Maund, PhD Candidate, School of Architecture and Built Environment, University of Newcastle - avatar Mark Maund, PhD Candidate, School of Architecture and Built Environment, University of Newcastle

Australian sea lions are declining. Using drones to check their health can help us understand why

Australian sea lions (Neophoca cinerea) are one of the rarest pinnipeds in the world and they are declining. Jarrod Hodgson, CC BY-NDAustralian sea lions are in trouble. Their population has never rec...

Jarrod Hodgson, PhD Candidate, University of Adelaide - avatar Jarrod Hodgson, PhD Candidate, University of Adelaide

With costs approaching $100 billion, the fires are Australia's costliest natural disaster

It’s hard to estimate the eventual economic cost of Australia’s 2019-20 megafires, partly because they are still underway, and partly because it is hard to know the cost to attribute to de...

Paul Read, Climate Criminologist & Senior Instructor/Lecturer, Faculty of Medicine, Monash University - avatar Paul Read, Climate Criminologist & Senior Instructor/Lecturer, Faculty of Medicine, Monash University

In cases of cardiac arrest, time is everything. Community responders can save lives

Cardiac arrest can occur with little or no warning in people who were previously healthy, including young people. From shutterstock.comEach year more than 24,000 Australians experience a sudden cardia...

Bill Lord, Adjunct Associate Professor, Monash University - avatar Bill Lord, Adjunct Associate Professor, Monash University

So the government gave sports grants to marginal seats. What happens now?

When Australians pay their income tax, they assume the money is going to areas of the community that need it, rather than being used by the government to shore up votes for the next election. This is...

Maria O'Sullivan, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Law, and Deputy Director, Castan Centre for Human Rights Law, Monash University - avatar Maria O'Sullivan, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Law, and Deputy Director, Castan Centre for Human Rights Law, Monash University

The Olympics have always been a platform for protest. Banning hand gestures and kneeling ignores their history

It is the year of the Tokyo Olympics, and the International Olympic Committee was quickly out of the blocks with new guidelines regarding athlete protests. The IOC is worried the biggest stories of...

David Rowe, Emeritus Professor of Cultural Research, Institute for Culture and Society, Western Sydney University - avatar David Rowe, Emeritus Professor of Cultural Research, Institute for Culture and Society, Western Sydney University

Where Can You Get Weed By Ordering It Online?

Nowadays, everyone wants to get their hands on some weed. Marijuana has become legalized in a lot of countries worldwide. People wait in lines for days to buy some. You couldn’t have imagined that...

News Company - avatar News Company

Hidden women of history: Catherine Hay Thomson, the Australian undercover journalist who went inside asylums and hospitals

Catherine Hay Thomson went undercover as an assistant nurse for her series on conditions at Melbourne Hospital. A. J. Campbell Collection/National Library of AustraliaIn this series, we look at under...

Kerrie Davies, Lecturer, School of the Arts & Media, UNSW - avatar Kerrie Davies, Lecturer, School of the Arts & Media, UNSW

Sick and Tired of Your Dead End Job? Try Teaching!

Tired of the same old grind at the office? Want an opportunity to impact lives both in your community and around the world? Do you love to travel and have new experiences? Teaching English is the perfect job for you! All you need is a willingness to ...

News Company - avatar News Company

The Impact of an Aging Population in Australia

There’s an issue on the horizon that Australia needs to prepare for. The portion of elderly citizens that make up the country’s overall population is increasing, and we might not have the infrastructure in place to support this. Australians h...

News Company - avatar News Company