Anyone building or renovating a property is subject to building codes. Any new build or upgrading project will require regular visits by a certifier, and any plans submitted to council will be done according to the prevailing code. While building code sometimes seems like a nasty trick to make building or renovating prohibitively complex and expensive, it does have its roots in good intentions.
The history of building codes goes back thousands of years. The earliest known code was made under King Hammurabi of Mesopotamia in around 1790 BC. It was fairly simple. If a builder built a house, the owner had to pay for it (seems reasonable). And if the house fell down and killed the owner or his son, the builder or the builder’s son was put to death. For those wondering, there was no mention of penalties if wives or daughters were killed by falling houses.
These days the building code is not enforced quite so strictly, but the reasons for the code haven’t changed. Building regulations are designed to set standards of construction and workmanship for buildings and dwellings to make sure each one is safe, healthy, energy efficient and accessible. The energy efficient part is relatively new, but the rest of it is timeless.
Building codes are always changing
Fires, disease epidemics or natural disasters like earthquakes have often been the trigger for new or updated building code as regulators try to avoid or minimise the impact of future catastrophes. For example, after the Great Fire of London, regulations were changed so new houses were constructed of less combustible material than wood. Similarly, many earthquake prone areas have specifically defined rules for building large structures.
In the 1960’s Australia had 8 different building codes, one for every state and territory. Unifying the states and territories was first suggested in 1965, and took over 30 years to complete. Since 1998 there has been one overarching Building Code of Australia. In even better news, you used to have to pay (quite a lot) for a copy of the code, but since April 2015 it’s been freely available. This makes it far more accessible for everyone, especially individual trades and DIYers.
Even though the Australian code was based on the English one, it has changed significantly to suit the different climate, materials available, topography and potential disasters which might befall our housing stock. Here are a few reasons why (and examples of how) Australia’s building code differs to those overseas.
Life in a cold climate
Different climates, e.g. in Australia the minimum requirement for roof insulation is R4.1, in Europe it’s the equivalent of R 7.7 (or U-value .13). Wall insulation is similarly required to be a higher level than Australia. This is largely a factor of climate. European houses need to withstand much colder winters than most Australian locations.
Vulnerability to fire
Australian building code now includes detailed requirements on building houses in bushfire prone areas. First you establish your risk level based on location, amount and type of vegetation on the property and near the house and the slope of the land. Then you’re given a bushfire attack level and related regulations to build a more bushfire proof house. Of course, no house is ever entirely bushfire proof, but there are certainly many ways to lower the risk. European building codes aren’t as concerned with these requirements, but American building codes (particularly forest fire prone states like California), are.
Glazing of windows
Windows are recommended (sometimes required) to be double (sometimes triple) glazed in many European countries. It has excellent insulating properties so it’s great for keeping heat in (a distinct advantage during harsh winters). Low emissivity or low E glass is also recommended and sometimes required to meet code requirements in both Australia and overseas. Low E glass emits much less heat than normal glass.
In 2010 the Australian building code reduced the allowable wattage per square metre of floor space in Australian houses from 25w to 5w. This is not to make us all walk around in the dark, instead it’s encouraging us to use the newer, low wattage options like LED lighting. In the UK the rules state that 75% of light fittings must be low energy. Slightly different rules, but with the same intention.
Over the last two decades we have truly changed the way we live and use our houses. Energy footprints of dwellings are shrinking worldwide. We know, according to a study of household energy usage by the US Energy Information Administration (www.eia.gov) over the 30 years to 2009, that residences in the United States reduced their total annual energy use, despite increases in house sizes, number of houses and use of electronics.
No matter what the difference between building codes throughout the world, the aim is still the same, to make houses safe, accessible, comfortable and (increasingly) energy efficient. No matter how frustrating compliance might seem, the intentions are the same. So don’t feel frustrated, be glad you’ve got a code that’s looking out for you. And be grateful you’re not a builder in ancient Mesopotamia.
For more modern day solutions to your building requirements, (all compliant with the latest codes), contact our experts at Evo Build.