More than often, changes in behaviour and legislation are influenced by a recent crisis, which usually could have been averted by future planning, forward thinking and cooperation. A similar situation is in the building and construction industry in Australia, which is currently changing its laws because of situations that could have been avoided. Opal Tower in Sydney, Lacrosse tower fire in Melbourne, and the Neo200 building fire are just a few cases driving the change in the industry.

The Shergold Weir report that was published recently, proposed 24 changes that could improve the National Construction Code. All changes would help with integrity, compliance and other issues. The report was commissioned by federal and state building ministers, and it was unveiled in April 2018, at Australian Building Ministers Forum. Unfortunately, the report wasn’t implemented fast enough to prevent problems in Neo200 and Opal tower. Furthermore, there were no changes regarding climate-proof buildings.

On May 1, a new National Construction Code has come in effect. However, what the recent issues have shown is that there are inadequate construction standards, increasing the pressure from the public even more. The current situation may seem bad, but it provides an opportunity to solve the problems in the construction industry, future-proof Australian cities and restore the confidence of the public in the industry.

The purpose of construction codes is to eliminate what is called “worse practice”, but the industry should try to make them “best practice”. Australia is already experiencing extreme weather, which means that the time has come to prepare for climate change.

The legislative reform must include higher performance requirements, low-to-zero carbon future and buildings sustainability.

The changes in construction code should happen as soon as possible, to increase safety and to make sure that future developments:

  • Use water to cool public and common areas
  • Use smart technology to manage and monitor buildings
  • Have to use better insulation to reduce the use of energy
  • Have to be prepared for higher energy demands
  • Have to provide enough green space to produce oxygen, create a healthy environment and give shade
  • Have to use materials that absorb heat in cooler areas or to use materials that reflect heat in hot areas
  • Are designed to provide sun and shade at the appropriate times

Some of the leading developers in the country are already working hard on making sure that their projects are highly energy efficient, have a top star rating, are high performance and zero-carbon. However, this needs to be the same for all developers, no matter how big or small, which can be only be done through legislation.

Two great examples of high-performance buildings are One Central Park, Sydney and Tyree Building of the University of NSW. One Central Park has its own water recycling plant and hanging gardens, but its greatest feature is its “heliostat”, which has mirrors that are placed in such a way that they reflect sunlight to areas that would normally be in dark.

There are many high-performance buildings already in use around the world. Great examples are Sohrabij Godrej Green Business Centre in Hyderabad, 313@Somerset in Singapore, and first LEED platinum-rated building in India.

What needs to be changed in the law

Experts say that new building compliance and standards are needed to make sure that high-performance buildings are not rare exceptions. The construction industry needs to follow strict objectives when it comes to materials. They have to account for:

  • How materials are made
  • Where do materials come from
  • Safety levels
  • Recyclability
  • Carbon component

Laws should cover the minimum amount of natural light in buildings, air flow, smart technology, insulation and overall low-carbon building. Experts say that the technology is advanced enough that it can be used to monitor and run utilities of a building to make sure that it is energy-efficient and that it follows health standards.

Sustainable buildings not just a dream of the future

During the last seven years, the Cooperative Research Centre for Low Carbon Living along with its partners funded the research about aspects of low-to-zero-carbon built environment. The research provided recommendations in a few reports, like “Built to Perform”, published by the Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council.

The research projects include:

  • Developing low-carbon communities
  • Creating new tools to measure carbon outputs
  • Researching the effects of heatwaves in Western Sydney
  • Researching ways to cool cities
  • Data produced by 17 living laboratories

What the data provided by the research shows is that sustainable buildings and cities are achievable, even with growing communities. Solar technology and Blockchain can help managing energy needs, while turning energy users into providers at the same time.

The experts believe that we have everything we need to develop low-to-zero-carbon cities now, but there’s still a long way to go.