Technical Update – December 2020

Aerial view of construction site
In this issue, find out about our Code of Conduct for Building Surveyors, EPS fire research, timber framing concessions, new enforcement templates and much more.

With Victoria’s construction industry winding down for the summer, the past 12 months have certainly given us much to reflect on.

2020 was a year filled with challenge and opportunity, but our collective response to the coronavirus (COVID-19), combined with our passion for building and construction, means we are now driving Victoria’s economic recovery.

On a practical level, economic stimulus programs have triggered a dramatic surge in future building activity. Victoria already accounts for one-third of all HomeBuilder grant applications, while the Victorian Government’s $5.3 billion investment in social housing will see 12,000 new homes built across the state in coming years.

This building activity will create and protect jobs and put pressure on the supply of building materials, practitioners and specialist trades.

As always, the VBA will be playing a lead role – undertaking proactive inspections, enforcing building and plumbing regulations, and ensuring the industry consistently produces the high-quality buildings Victorians expect.

Code of Conduct for Building Surveyors commences on 1 January 2021

In a few weeks’ time, Australia’s first Code of Conduct for Building Surveyors will commence.

Driven by industry demand and a recommendation in the 2018 Shergold–Weir Building Confidence report, the Code is the first of many that will be implemented in the industry over the next 18 months.

To help building surveyors understand their obligations and responsibilities under the Code, the VBA has worked closely with industry associations and building surveyors to explore the extent of the Code and how it will affect their conduct and work practices.

We also held our first panel discussion on the Code of Conduct to address questions and concerns about the Code directly with registered building surveyors. If you weren’t able to attend, you can catch up via our on-demand recording.

Many of you will also have seen our Code of Conduct video series, which explores the benefits of the Code, how building surveyors can handle complaints and conflicts, and the role of building surveyors in enforcing compliance.

Additional events and education resources will be available in the New Year.

In early December, the Australian Building Codes Board (ABCB) released its National Model Code of Conduct for Building Surveyors, which sets out minimum expectations for building surveyors performing statutory functions.

The VBA has worked closely with the ABCB to ensure the Victorian Code of Conduct aligns with the national model in all areas and avoids conflicting requirements.

One key difference, however, is the type of building surveyor to which the models apply. The Victorian model includes consultant building surveyors in its scope, while the national model does not.

There are two primary reasons for this. Firstly, consultant building surveyors will play an increasingly important role in the Victorian building industry, given the Victorian Code of Conduct’s focus on limiting the relevant building surveyor’s involvement in the design process. And secondly, the conduct of all building surveyors reflects on the profession, so it is important to set expectations that apply to everyone equally.

The ABCB’s National Model does not apply until it is adopted by the relevant state or territory. Therefore, the Victorian Code of Conduct for Building Surveyors takes precedence.

Rendered expanded polystyrene (EPS) wall systems

In response to mixed opinions on the fire behaviour and risks associated with rendered expanded polystyrene (EPS) wall systems, the VBA engaged the CSIRO to undertake a literature review on the fire safety of exterior insulation finish systems and insulated sandwich panels as external wall systems.

The literature review identified, amongst other things, the lack of testing or other evidence for the façade fire spread performance of EPS as is typically installed in Australia for buildings of Type A and B construction. The VBA subsequently engaged a full-scale façade test of a rendered EPS wall system to better inform industry.

An Industry Update (PDF, 552.42 KB) published on the VBA website summarises the test findings and confirms the understanding that fire can rapidly spread, and that EPS poses a similar risk to 100% PE core aluminium composite panels.

Timber framing concessions for Class 2 and 3 buildings

Following industry feedback on the need for clarity on the VBA disciplinary approach to the use of the timber framing concessions for Class 2 and 3 buildings, the VBA has developed Practice Note 15 (PDF, 557.29 KB) on the topic.

The Practice Note addresses:

  • the interpretation of the concession contained in BCA Spec C1.1 clauses 3.10 and 4.3
  • the importance of the preconditions associated with the concession
  • considerations when assessing the danger to life or property of existing buildings that may have used the concession
  • the VBA’s approach to discipline involving misinterpretation of the concession.

It is important to note that combustible cladding cannot be considered “deemed to satisfy” when applying the concession, and that building fire safety should be assessed on individual building characteristics.

2021 Building Surveyors’ Conference

If you haven’t already, make sure you block out your diaries for the VBA’s third Building Surveyors’ Conference, which will be held on Monday, 22 February and Tuesday, 23 February 2021.

With a timely theme of Reset and Rebuild, the conference will be packed with a variety of keynote speakers, Q&A sessions, presentations and panel discussions.

In a departure from previous years, the 2021 conference will be delivered virtually, with a mix of live and pre-recorded sessions.

While we’re keeping the full program under wraps for now, we are delighted to announce that renowned British engineer Dame Judith Hackitt and Victorian Commissioner for Better Regulation Anna Cronin will be keynote speakers.

  • Day 1: Monday, 22 February 2021 – 2 pm to 5 pm
  • Day 2: Tuesday, 23 February 2021 – 9:30 am to 12:30 pm

More information about the conference will follow in the New Year.

VBA building expert on hand to advise on rebuilding after a bushfire

With many residents of East Gippsland, Towong and Alpine shires in the process of rebuilding their homes, the Victorian Building Authority (VBA) is making building expert Peter Collina available to anyone who needs help or advice navigating the rebuilding process.

Peter is a registered building surveyor and domestic builder, and previously assisted residents after the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires and the 2015 Wye River/Separation Creek bushfire.

He is available from 1 pm to 5 pm Tuesday to Friday to provide advice on:

  • building or rebuilding in a bushfire-prone area
  • Bushfire Attack Level assessments (what they are and what they mean)
  • building permit applications and documentation requirements
  • using a registered building designer, surveyor and builder
  • domestic building insurance (also known as builders’ warranty insurance)
  • owner-builder responsibilities
  • Occupancy Permits or Certificates of Final Inspection
  • timelines to commence and complete building work
  • private bushfire shelters
  • emergency accommodation structures (short-term modular housing)
  • building disputes and issues encountered during construction.

To contact Peter, please email peter.collina@vba.vic.gov.au.

The VBA is currently auditing building permits issued for work in bushfire-affected parts of Victoria. We intend to increasingly target our proactive inspections activities towards this work to ensure the best outcomes for affected residents, while maximising education initiatives for the industry and community.

Visit the VBA website for bushfire guides, fact sheets and resources.

Revised enforcement templates for building surveyors

Issuing enforcement notices is one way for building surveyors to ensure building work is compliant, while mitigating risk to current and future occupants.

Recent consultation with building surveyors, however, has revealed concerns over the lack of enforcement of Building Notices and Directions to Fix referred to the VBA.

If a Building Notice, Building Order or Direction to Fix is deemed unenforceable, the VBA cannot pursue further action against the builder concerned. In addition, non-compliant building work may remain unfixed – potentially placing building owners and occupants at risk of structural issues or other defects.

In response to industry feedback, the VBA has released editable enforcement templates that are not only easier to follow and complete, but also comply with the prescribed information outlined in the Building Regulations.

Each template also includes notes that provide additional information in relation to duration, cancellation, penalties and appeal rights.

The new templates should assist building surveyors in enforcing compliance, educating practitioners and leading positive behavioural change across the industry. We intend to hold educational presentations in the New Year to improve the overall effectiveness of the enforcement process.

To download the new enforcement templates, visit the VBA website.

Wrapping up 2020

As State Building Surveyor, I have the privilege of working closely with councils, industry associations, unions and government to understand and address the many problems facing our industry. This is a long process – but one in which we have made solid progress.

While 2020 has been a year of challenge, change and disruption, it has also been a year of unity across the industry. When bushfires ravaged eastern Victoria, you responded. And when COVID-19 forced widespread changes to work practices, you adapted swiftly and with firm determination to keep our sites safe and open.

As the year draws to a close, there is much to look forward to in 2021. The VBA is planning a calendar of educational events and training that will be delivered in partnership with industry and other regulators.

We are also committed to introducing further improvements and reforms that will deliver for the industry and Victorian consumers. We will focus more heavily on the increasing resourcing issues facing building surveyors and other practitioners and look forward to welcoming six building surveying students to the joint-VBA, VMIA and DBDRV Career Pathways program when it commences early next year.

We are also excited about the recent State Budget initiative that provides a subsidy to employ and train 40 new municipal building surveyors, with an emphasis on attracting women and improving the gender balance in the profession.

Finally, as we enter bushfire season, please make sure you follow the advice of your local brigade and be prepared to leave if required. You can also visit our website for information on bushfire protection.

On a final note, the VBA will be closed from 5 pm, Thursday 24 December 2020 and will reopen at 8:30 am on Monday 4 January 2021.

Please take some time out and enjoy the festive season with your family and friends in preparation for another busy year. I look forward to working with you again in the New Year.

Regards,

Andrew Cialini
State Building Surveyor