Pieter Burghout interview New Zealand building and construction Standards


8 September 2010

Standards New Zealand recently spoke to Pieter Burghout, Chief Executive Officer of BRANZ and Chair of the New Zealand Construction Industry Council, about New Zealand building and construction Standards and challenges such as durability, environmentally friendly materials, and what's in store for the industry.

How effective are New Zealand Standards in encouraging economic growth in the building and construction sector and in addressing key challenges, such as durability, quality, and safety?

In my view New Zealand Standards are instrumental in giving practitioners a comprehensive 'recipe book' for how to design and construct buildings efficiently and effectively – while still allowing for innovative practice permitted in New Zealand's performance-based Building Code. The use of Standards is also important to ensure the safety of those working on a project and to help ensure those who use the completed structure are protected from hazards.

New Zealand Standards are well recognised as providing proven industry best practice solutions to building and construction methodologies. Indeed, in the 'good old days' Standards like Timber framed buildings NZS 3604:1999 were considered by the industry to be the New Zealand Building Code. In many cases we are still educating the industry on the role of the New Zealand Building Code (NZBC), the role of compliance documents, Acceptable Solutions such as Standards, and other routes to showing compliance, such as Alternative Solutions.

I don't think that we are yet in the position of having the right link between the NZBC and the right suite of Standards. For an average home, designers and builders need to reference many diverse documents to satisfy Building Consent Authorities (BCAs) – there's merit in narrowing that down to give certainty to BCAs, builders on-site, and designers. A 10% efficiency/productivity gain in the industry equates to a permanent 1% gain in New Zealand GDP – and even if Standards help to achieve a tenth of that efficiency/productivity gain, that's still worth chasing.

I think the sector's ultimate goal would be to have an appropriate suite of documents covering 80% of the residential construction market, without having to look outside that suite to design and build the average Kiwi home. There is already some sector dialogue between the Department of Building and Housing (DBH), the industry, and Standards New Zealand about this.

I also think there is a maturing of the sector required so that, where appropriate, we can have a range of recipe books to deliver industry solutions – right from manufacturer manuals, to industry best practice guidelines, to New Zealand Standards, to DBH compliance documents. All of them have a place in the industry framework.

Durability issues remain an ongoing challenge for New Zealand. What is your view about how Standards and BRANZ can help address this challenge?

Durability remains the biggest challenge for the building and construction industry in New Zealand and the most common problem naturally manifests itself as weathertightness/leaky buildings. While I believe we have the leaky building problem sorted for new buildings, we have work toas a country and an industry to fix the legacy problems. The Government is actively working on that, with a number of new initiatives being progressed with industry and the general public.

For new buildings the NZBC and Standards framework generally gives the right range of solutions. For existing buildings with leaky building problems, we have suffered from not having a good remediation guide for practitioners to reference, and DBH and BRANZ have been jointly working on publishing such a guide to help fix that gap. And what is a 'remediation guide' today may well be converted into a Standard in future, to lock in that best practice right across the industry.

Choosing environmentally friendly materials is important as the building and construction industry has such an important impact on our planet's natural resources. What kinds of New Zealand Standards are needed to support this?

This space is still evolving – New Zealand Standards could well have a role to play in creating a framework for material selection from an environmental perspective, but there needs to be some higher level research and framework development before we get to that step. International Organization for Standardization has environment Standards, and Standards Australia has a framework to look at the lifecycle analysis of a product – to establish what its carbon output and how energy efficient the product is. However, New Zealand's framework for lifecycle analysis has not yet been agreed. Once we agree on our lifecycle analysis framework, robust industry dialogue will be needed on how best to implement the framework in New Zealand, including the role of Standards.

At BRANZ we do research, testing, and knowledge sharing for and with the building and construction industry to help design and build the best buildings we can. We also do product appraisal work for manufacturers, with over 250 product appraisals currently in the market. BRANZ has been working with DBH on a product assurance framework to give designers, builders, and building owners better surety on the products they are using. Once the environmental framework is agreed we will be able to extend the product assurance framework to include that as well, giving industry practitioners a more all-round solution.

How is BRANZ involved with Standards development?

BRANZ realises the critical role Standards and Standards New Zealand play and I am a strong advocate for having a modern, comprehensive Standards suite for building and construction industry practitioners. I have been pretty well involved in the Standards development process over the last 8 years – with BRANZ for the past 3 years, and in my previous roles with the Building and Construction Industry Training Organisation, as CEO of Registered Master Builders, and as Chair of the Design and Construction Industry Advisory Group and the New Zealand Building Standards Board. More recently, I have been on the leadership group that is revising NZS 3604. And BRANZ commits some $200,000 to $300,000 annually in terms of Code/Standards related research and staff input time into the Standards development process.

What do you see is in store for the New Zealand building industry?

I think the sector will go through some fast-paced change over the next 5 to 10 years as we unshackle some of the rules and regulations of the last 10 years and encourage responsible and fit-for-purpose innovation back into the market. The Standards suite supporting the building and construction industry needs to keep pace with those innovations, so that innovation can be locked into (when appropriate) industry best practice. We might need to consider a rolling programme of regularly reviewing a comprehensive Standard like NZS 3604 rather than reviewing and changing it every 5 – 7 years. Regardless, we don't quite yet have the optimal mix of Building Code, compliance documents, and Standards, and it behoves the industry to do the necessary work to get that sorted.

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