Changes to the national building code will add thousands to the cost of new homes, builders say

From October next year, all new homes will have to meet accessibility and energy efficiency requirements in many parts of Australia.

Queensland’s industry-leading body Master Builders said it expected the changes to add an additional $30,000 to an average build.

“It’s the first time buyers who are the most affected, who struggle to put together a down payment, make the repayments, and then the cost of construction goes up,” said Master Builders CEO Paul Bidwell.

“$30,000 is a significant sum.”

Mr Bidwell says the timing is not good for the industry.(Provided)

Under the changes, homes built in Queensland should meet a seven-star energy efficiency rating and be more accessible with at least one step-free entrance.

State government modeling suggested the combined cost would be $6,000.

“What we know is that on average this is expected to increase construction costs by around 1%,” said Energy and Works Minister Mick De Brenni.

“We also have to remember that it’s between 14 and 20 times cheaper than the cost of modifying houses after they’re built.”

A meeting of building ministers voted on Friday to adopt the changes from October 2022, with a 12-month transition period.

However, New South Wales, Western Australia and South Australia had previously indicated they would opt out of the new code.

The accessible home advocates said they’ve been discussing the changes for two decades and the move is well overdue.

An unidentifiable woman in a wheelchair alone at home.
Disability advocates say the changes are key to helping plan Australia’s future.(iStock: Half point)

Margaret Ward, facilitator of the Australian Network for Universal Housing Design, said: “We took a lot longer than we should have.”

“There was a lot of misunderstanding about what it meant and there were governments that just weren’t interested in the idea and the housing industry had undue influence,” she said.

But Mr Bidwell criticized the delay.

He said it would put additional pressure on an industry already struggling with a 30% increase in supply costs and a work pipeline starting to slow.

“It’s incredibly stressful,” he said.

“[Builders] are going to have to change the way they do business.

“October 2023 is not that far away and right now they are facing all kinds of other pressures.

“They just don’t need it now.”

How different will the design of the house be?

According to the changes, new homes would have to be built to a “silver standard” of accessibility.

This meant, in addition to at least one step-free entrance to the house, increasing the width of interior aisles to accommodate a wheelchair or walker, and toilets at the entrance level.

“The changes are critical,” Ms Ward said.

“The UK did it in 1999.

“Everyone from ministers to ministers has accepted the fact that we need to have housing in the future that will include all people, the elderly, pregnant women, small children, that all these people can be safe in their own home.”

Mick de Brenni walks down a hallway holding papers at Parliament in Brisbane.
Mr de Brenni says the changes will help the government get to net zero by 2050.(PA: Dan Peled)

Mr De Brenni said they had taken a sensible approach to the changes, with exceptions for locations in North Queensland.

“There are reasonable exemptions from the accessible housing provisions for steep blocks, for houses built on stilts to accommodate surface runoff from heavy rains,” he said.

“These exemptions mean that iconic designs like the Queenslander with a staircase at the front will be exempt from some of the provisions.”

Double-glazed windows, more solar energy on the roof, and lighter colored roofs and walls were among the energy efficiency measures required.

The new code was expected to reduce emissions by 1.64 million tonnes and would help Australia reach its goal of net zero by 2050.

The changes were expected to save the average household $185 a year in electricity bills.

A half-finished house.
Master Builders says it will be difficult to implement the changes during the 12-month transition period.(ABC News: Elizabeth Pickering)

Master Builders said the cost-benefit analysis carried out by the Australian Building Code did not add up.

“It failed,” Mr Bidwell said.

“The costs outweigh the benefits both in terms of energy efficiency and accessible housing.

“It beggars belief that the Australian building code council recommended this and ministers supported it.”

Meanwhile, advocates would now focus their attention on promoting a higher “gold standard” for accessibility.

“With tenacity, ordinary citizens can effect change,” Ms Ward said.

“It’s ordinary people who are trying to build ordinary houses that will suit their families now in the future and it will be this group that speaks out again.”

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