“Trustworthy buildings” are a goal the entire construction industry needs to achieve, according to NSW Building Commissioner David Chandler,. There are several aspects to this, and major payoffs to be had in terms of productivity, accountability and building your own reputation.
Recent years have seen the Australian construction industry facing hard truths around compliance and defects. It is an area of great concern not only from a reputational perspective but also in terms of profits and productivity. In the How We Build Now 2020 report, the survey found that builders were averaging 18 per cent of their time on rework—adding significant pressure for costs of raw materials and labour.
At the How We Build Now 2020 webinar, Chandler linked this issue to the concept of “trustworthy buildings.” Such buildings are compliant with relevant codes, have supply chain transparency and visibility, and deliver safe and defect-free results for buyers and occupants.
Chandler said there is currently a “great deal of variability in the level of ultimate assurance” for buildings. The NSW Office of the Building Commissioner is tackling this head-on, working to develop a technology-based assurance solution.
“The biggest need is to shift the conversation to the trustworthiness of the completed building,” he said.
Other experts say it is crucial to consider elements contributing to the quality of the finished building, such as the knowledge and credentials of practitioners and the quality of products within the supply chain.
The Right Credentials and Knowledge Matters
CEO of the Australian Building Codes Board Neil Savery believes two things to be most important in making buildings trustworthy.
First of all, the design and construction of the building should be undertaken in accordance with, and comply with, the minimum requirements of the National Construction Code.
The second thing is that “appropriately qualified, competent and ethical practitioners have been involved in all stages of the design and construction of the building, including the commissioning of all of its inter-dependent services.”
The Shergold and Weir Building Confidence report recommended at all states and territories require appropriate professional registration of key practitioners including Builder, Site or Project Manager, Building Surveyor, Building Inspector, Architect, Engineer, Designer/Draftsperson, Plumber and Fire Safety Practitioner. At the moment, requirements for registration vary around the country. Similarly, so do the provisions in state-specific building codes as to whether a Registered practitioner is required for specific tasks. In New South Wales, for example, a company constructing a commercial building does not need to be a Registered builder.
The BCR also noted that most jurisdictions do not register the practitioners who have expertise in fire safety system design, installation or maintenance. In three jurisdictions, even structural engineers do not need to be registered.
Another key recommendation of the report was that Continued Professional Development be undertaken by the key practitioner groups, to support and verify their competence and deepen the knowledge of the National Construction Code and its application.
The ABCB, as part of its response to Shergold and Weir, has been developing a suite of NCC CPD courses. These will be specifically tailored for three key practitioner groups—compliance practitioners, design/engineering practitioners, and construct and install practitioners.
“Many stakeholders report that building practitioners across the industry do not have a sufficient understanding of the NCC or its revisions,” Shergold and Weir noted. “This has led to non-compliance or poor quality documentation of compliance. Misinterpretation or ignorance of the requirements of the NCC is not uncommon.”
A Certifiably Sound Supply Chain
Issues with flammable aluminium cladding and non-compliant Infinity electrical cabling are two high-profile examples of how poor product choices can compromise a building.
“Getting a trustworthy building is all about making the right choices before and during construction,” explained Rodger Hills, Executive Officer of the Building Products Innovation Council.
He believes builders and trades should make it clear to suppliers and sub-contractors that they have “zero tolerance for non-conforming building products and the non-compliant use of products.”
Look for building products that carry “third-party” certification from reputable Industry Associations that comply with ISO/IEC 17065:2013. This is the International Standard for Conformity assessment—Requirements for bodies certifying products, processes and services. Associations and others certified by this standard must themselves meet a rigorous set of requirements that ensures their own processes, and therefore the certifications they give, can be trusted.
Hills also has sensible advice for handling variations.
“Make sure that any building product or material you substitute for the one that was originally specified meets the same performance and conformance requirements.”
At the HWBN forum, Chandler highlighted the potential for blockchain technology to be part of collecting and managing all the relevant product and building system certifications. It could be used to create an “immutable source of truth” for the certification of every part from foundations and structural steel through to sprinkler systems.
“At the moment [that information] is all in silos,” he said. “We need a single source of truth so it is all together.”
Your Reputation Matters
Awards, online product reviews and your own marketing might not be the best way to assure buyers you build trustworthy buildings.
According to Karen Stiles, Executive Officer of Owners Corporation Network, word-of-mouth remains the main endorsement on which buyers can rely.
OCN represents the interests and concerns of buyers and owners of residential strata developments. Many of the issues identified by Shergold and Weir, including high rates of building defects and non-compliant product use like flammable cladding, occur in this sector.
Stiles said there are three things a buyer should consider when looking to buy: Is the project being developed by a longstanding company with a good reputation? Does the builder have a positive history of well-built apartments? Do members of the strata committees and owners in previous projects give good reports?
Those considering off-the-plan purchases may be unable to view a finished example of the product itself. As sales suite collateral may also lack detail around specific fixtures, structural products, certifications and the energy rating of the completed apartment, Stiles suggested visiting some of the developer and builder’s previous projects would be a good strategy for buyers.
The bottom line is—a builder’s reputation is only as good as their last project.
Although there is nothing “tangible” for buyers to consult in this respect, Stiles said, this is already being remedied in New South Wales.
The Office of the NSW Building Commissioner is developing a multi-risk rating tool and single view of project (SVoP) tool that will aggregate information about builders, developers and their projects in terms of quality and compliance.
“This rating system will be a game-changer,” Stiles said.
The ONBC says trustworthy players welcome these new tools “as they will simply illuminate their good practices and governance and, at the same time, shine a light on those damaging the industry brand.”