Legislation Updates News

NCC update: “Brace yourselves”

That was the message from Mike Dodd, senior policy officer at the Australian Building Codes Board (ABCB), at the recent Future of HVAC Conference. He presented an update on the changes to Section J of Volume 1 of the National Construction Code (NCC), which will be published in February 2019 and come into effect in May, pending approval from the ABCB board in November.

The NCC sets the minimum acceptable standards for all new construction work in Australia. Since 2005, it has included provisions in Section J for energy efficiency, including many relevant to HVAC equipment in new commercial buildings.

Over the past few months, there have been suggestions that Section J of the 2019 NCC will contain much stricter energy-efficiency standards.

“Change is indeed coming to the NCC,” Dodd confirmed, “and it is time to start thinking about what it means to you.” He urged the audience to review the public comment draft that was released earlier this year to get a sense of the changes.

Key impacts for HVAC

Dodd highlighted some of the proposed revisions, including:

– Certified Green Star projects and buildings with a NABERS commitment agreement targeting 5.5 Stars can use the work completed demonstrating compliance with these programs as verification of their Section J compliance

– New Chiller Deemed to Satisfy compliance provisions which are aligned with the US building code’s minimum acceptable standards

– New Deemed to Satisfy compliance pathways for fans and pumps, and for pumps, in alignment with European Union MEI (minimum efficiency index) levels

– Changed modelling of HVAC systems when following a JV3 compliance pathway

– Changes to other areas of Section J relevant to energy metering, facades, boilers and lighting.

“These are reasonably significant changes,” said Dodd, “and will mean some adjustment to some of your working practices and what equipment you are able to specify and install.”

The ABCB plans to develop advice and education materials to help with the transition. These include the creation of calculators to determine if a fan or pump system design would be compliant, general handbooks on the intent of the provisions and guidance on the use of performance solutions.

One specific issue Dodd flagged was the use of an alternative standard to show compliance with the new Chiller Deemed to Satisfy Provisions.

Changes for chillers

“Through our consultation we know that there is likely to be new product coming into Australia that will be certified under the EuroVent standard. Our chiller Deemed to Satisfy (DTS) provisions are based on the AHRI testing standard, but as the NCC is a performance-based code, it is possible to show compliance with any DTS provision that references a given standard, through reference to an equivalent standard via a performance solution. In this instance, it gives you the ability of using the EuroVent standard to demonstrate compliance, as long as it is done to the satisfaction of your building certifier.”

Dodd acknowledged that it is not a straightforward conversion between the two standards, but said the ABCB is working with the MEPs team at the Department of the Environment and Energy to ensure that the final provisions are acceptable.

On the topic of minimum energy performance standards  (MEPS), Dodd indicated that the ABCB is working with the Department to try to align the NCC with MEPS for the 2022 update of the NCC.

“If they do align, DTS requirements for Chillers would become redundant going forward,” Dodd said.

Stakeholders have their say

Dodd also described the consultation process that has been running since the beginning of this year. This has incorporated a line-by-line revision as well as extensive industry consultation (including peak bodies such as AIRAH, AREMA, the Fan Manufacturers association of Australia and New Zealand and the Pumping Industry Association), monthly working groups and 10 weeks of public comment on the draft provisions.

“No consultation process is going to be perfect,” said Dodd, “but we’ve done our best to get the word out there on what we’ve been doing.”

Dodd stressed, however, that the ABCB is not in itself the regulator. It is the states and territories who give the NCC its legal force by referring to it in their respective building regulations. This may occur immediately or after a grace period.

AIRAH represents the HVAC&R industry on the Building Code Committee – the peak technical advisory committee to the ABCB. AIRAH representative Phil Wilkinson, F.AIRAH, also flags big changes ahead.

“The new facade and window requirements mean that the way we design buildings is going to have to change. We will no longer be able to work in silos. Compliant buildings are going to have to be a team effort – so get out and buy an architect a coffee!

“AIRAH has been advocating for low-emission HVAC systems and applauds the ABCB for moving towards this. AIRAH continues to advocate for a focus on building commissioning and maintenance too.”

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