Please note, this article was originally written before the VBA announced an extension to the transitional arrangements for the livable housing requirements and the updated energy efficiency requirements. It has since been amended to reflect these changes. For more information on the changes, see this update.
It was announced last year that the new National Construction Code 2022 will require some key changes for new buildings – adopting a minimum standard of 7 stars under the Nationwide House Energy Rating Scheme (NatHERS) assessment, and increased livability standards. Here, we’ll be covering the livability standards changes. To find out more about the NatHERS-specific changes, see our other blog post.
These changes apply to different building classes, with livability changes applying to single dwelling or terrace-style housing (Class 1a buildings) and domestic apartment buildings (Class 2 buildings).
The new livability requirements as set by the NCC are based on Livable Housing Australia’s Livable Housing Design Guidelines, in which they set silver, gold and platinum standards. The standards that the NCC are requiring are based on the silver-level requirements.
The transition period to have all homes adhere to the new standards will end on May 1st, 2024. This means that from this date, all new-build residencies within Class 1a or Class 2 classifications must adhere to the new standards. This transition period exists to allow the construction industry to make necessary adjustments to eventually bring all new projects in line with these higher standards.
Creating liveable housing design revolves around ensuring the homes we design are easier to use, and more easily adaptable to the needs of occupants. This can mean reducing steps where possible, creating more spacious bathrooms, having wider doorways, and ensuring there is enough structural support for future adaptations such as grabrails.
A main overview of the changes includes creating a step-free access path to the dwelling; a clear opening and landing area at the dwelling entrance, with threshold requirements to consider; clear and wide doorways and hallways to make them easier to use for those with reduced mobility; a requirement to have at least one sanitary compartment on the ground or entry level of a dwelling; at least one shower must have a step-free entry; and, there must be wall reinforcing in select bathrooms and toilets, to make installation of grabrails easier if they are needed in the future.
According to Manager | Building Design at Millar Merrigan, Liam Barnett, the changes are “fairly simple in the scheme of things. The more complex parts to work through will be thresholds, ramps and driveway grades. Some elements you won’t see, but there will be visual differences like hallways and door sizes.”
Why make these new standards?
The changes are important to increase the amount of accessible housing available in Australia, to help support not only those with a disability or limited abilities, their families, and carers, but to support older Australians in our ageing population. With the proportion of people aged 65 and over expected to double in the coming decades, it’s important that the homes available are suitable for all populations to live in.
In future-proofing the homes, we are ensuring that homes stay accessible, and have the ability to add things such as railings if required. For those who want to retire and age-in-place, these changes ensure they can make the necessary adjustments to their home at a cheaper price. It’s 22 times more economically efficient to prepare for these changes now, than to retrofit when the need arises.
Further, by having more accessible homes more widely available, people with disabilities, limited mobility, or those who are part of the ageing population have more options when choosing a home to rent.
Who’s going to benefit from this?
Not only do these increased livability standards clearly positively impact the lives of those who need the changes, but as Liam points out, they can make simple day-to-day tasks more easily completed. For example, by having wider hallways and doorways, moving furniture throughout the home will become easier.
Even though you may be a while off being part of the ageing population yourself, you may be affected by temporarily limited mobility.
If something were to happen, and you needed a wheelchair for 6 months, would you be able to get into your home with ease, let alone get around it? We never know what’s going to happen to our health, but it would be reassuring knowing our homes are ready.
Additionally, while these changes may not be relevant to you now, they may be in the future if you decide to age-in-home. Or, they may be relevant if you choose to support someone you love in your house, such as your parents as they age, or if their health declines and they need extra care.
It’s much easier to add a grabrail on a wall when the supports are already in place, rather than ripping up a wall and upgrading the structure to then install that grabrail.
Similarly to the changes in the NatHERS standards, benefits for buyers come in selling the home once again in the future. In having these livability changes made in your home, you are widening your potential buying audience to also include someone who wants to downsize where they could potentially retire and age-in-home, someone with a disability or limited mobility, or those who are wary of what the future may bring for them or their loved ones.
With these changes coming into effect soon, it’s important to consider how to best implement them now.
At Millar Merrigan, we are on the pulse of industry changes and updates, to ensure we can successfully navigate these for all our projects. If you are looking for advice or support for adapting your projects to the new NCC changes, contact us today.
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Green couch image via RDNE Stock project on Pexels.
Crutch image via Gustavo Fring on Pexels.