Reforming building codes to combat water leaks

Major code overhaul proposed

Reforming building codes to combat water leaks


By Mina Martin

Engineers Australia has advocated for significant modifications to the National Construction Code (NCC) to tackle the predominant issue of water leaks in Australian buildings.

These defects, predominantly water-related, represent 80-90% of all building defects and impose financial burdens up to $3 billion annually.

Proposed changes to the NCC

A collaborative effort between the Watershedding Community of Practice and the Australian Building Codes Board has led to the development of four pivotal changes aimed at reducing water leak issues:

  1. Utilizing gravity: Emulating ancient Roman techniques to manage water flow naturally by collecting, redirecting, and draining water efficiently.
  2. Resolving flat surface issues: Modifying design standards to eliminate flat surfaces on balconies, roofs, and basement floors to prevent water accumulation.
  3. Addressing underground water: Introducing guidelines for outdoor concrete slabs that incorporate preemptive structural features like slopes and edges during the construction phase to enhance water management.
  4. Focusing on concrete durability: Mandating that structural engineers account for potential long-term sagging of concrete slabs to ensure continued effectiveness of water drainage.

Michael van Koeverden, a member of the Watershedding Community of Practice, emphasised the critical nature of these changes.

“Urgent change is required to address building performance and leakage issues,” Koeverden said. 

“Structural engineers play a critical role in preventing building leaks. While membranes typically last 10-15 years, structural designs are intended to last 40-60 years. When membranes fail, the structure must continue to drain water.

“The proposed changes to the NCC 2025 aim to address these issues by improving design and construction processes and enhancing collaboration among all parties involved in building projects.”

Leadership support for the changes

Engineers Australia CEO Romilly Madew supports the proposed updates.

“Engineers Australia is advocating for the proposed changes to the NCC 2025,” Madew said. “Engineers are critical to delivering resilient and safe buildings, and we cannot meet Australia’s unprecedented housing demand without addressing the challenges facing the industry.

“We fully support the government’s efforts to implement comprehensive building reforms. Improving standards is a responsibility that spans the entire industry, including builders, architects, developers, and designers.”

Public engagement encouraged

The proposed changes are currently available for public review on the Australian Building Codes Board website, with Engineers Australia urging stakeholders and the public to provide feedback to refine and strengthen the proposed code amendments further, ensuring they effectively address the pervasive issue of water leaks in construction.

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