Substandard and non-conforming building products pose a huge problem for Australia’s building industry and, by all reports, it’s only getting worse as greater quantities are shipped to Australia every year.

Cheap imported building products – especially the variety which do not live up to Australia’s high compliance standards - have developed a genuine notoriety over the years and have been the subject of many controversies. But the usual cacophony of voices from our outspoken building industry groups appears to be harmonising on this critical issue. And united, they appear to be rising in a crescendo through the year 2015.

Publicity has steadily built around the most alarming cases. For example, the application of imported products has recently been blamed for dangerously fuelling an apartment building fire, for windows falling from buildings, widespread use of faulty electrical wiring, among other instances and products types. The far greater impact though is in the economic and environmental costs caused by poor quality products when they become defective or simply compromise or reduce the lifespan of buildings.

There is often a lack of credible and accurate information available, particularly for imported but also Australian products, to assist those involved in construction projects wishing to verify product compliance and conformance, in order to determine whether or not a product is actually fit-for-purpose.

Politicians take a closer ‘pique’

There are hopes that serious reform could actually be on the way. Much of this pinned to the shoulders of characteristically outraged independent senators Nick Xenophon and Jackie Lambie.

They have called a senate Inquiry into the matter, now scheduled for October, in response to the mounting pressures from all corners of the industry to improve surveillance and certification of non-conforming products.

It was also a major topic when political and industry leaders from around Australia met for the Building Ministers Forum at the end of July. That forum is the body of Commonwealth, State and Territory Ministers responsible for building and plumbing regulation in Australia.

An unprecedented collective of industry groups have been working together to lobby the politicians, from designers, builders and procurers to manufacturers, surveyors and certification bodies, even the unions have stood alongside their usual sparring partners to fight the issue.

The Construction Product Alliance, made up of many of the above membership bodies, wrote on their behalf to all the Ministers to jointly call for a number of actions, including establishing a government/industry task force.

They asked government to look into the feasibility of establishing a single building products register for compliant product based on industry and government certification schemes.

They also suggested that the Australian Building Codes Board (ABCB) undertake a review of the current evidence of suitability criteria in the National Construction Code (NCC) as well as developing guidance material for the use of risk-based assessments to determine the appropriate evidence of suitability under the NCC.

Fire danger of non-compliant cladding in spotlight; Melbourne audits buildings
Non-compliant cladding fuelled Melbourne apartment tower fire
Senate Inquiry tackles non-conforming building products
Calls for a non-conforming products taskforce at Building Ministers' Forum
ACCC to Master Builders: “We’re not responsible for building product regulation”

Environmental impact - and where to find information?

What does it all mean for those designing buildings? Those seeking to ensure the environmental and sustainability more broadly of a project?

In the last couple of years, there have been a rising number of legal cases in NSW and Victoria where the owners of architecturally designed homes have realised that the energy efficient building products are not performing according to the designer’s specifications.

We’re told this relatively new issue growing in prominence as cheaper products are increasingly imported and substituted for the energy efficient solutions that have been specified.

“It’s all very well to specify something … somewhere along the way, you’ve got to ensure it is fit-for-purpose,” explains James Thomson from the construction product alliance, who also explains that many designers and specifiers are justifiably frustrated and confused about what they can do.

One initiative designed to help is the Australasian Procurement and Construction Council (APCC) guide in October 2014 to help the industry better choose compliant construction products. Jointly developed by 30 key construction industry stakeholders, the guide aims to assist procurers, which includes architects, specifiers, engineers and building designers, to gain a more informed understanding of the compliance process and exercise improved decision-making.

This includes detailed explanations of the regulatory environment, the standards and conformance process and bodies, and how to determine whether a product is fit for purpose.

But then, it is virtually impossible to tell if many products and materials are compliant without doing some sort of analytical or physical testing.

We will wait with great interest the government’s decisions later this year. In the meantime , if at all unsure about a products credentials, contact the relevant association.

For more information on product conformance:

Australian Building Products Board (ABCB), BCA, CodeMark and Watermark
JAS-ANZ, Joint Accreditation System of Australia and New Zealand
SAI Global  (certification body)

Cement Concrete and Aggregates Australia

Electrical Equipment Safety Scheme (EESS)

Insulated Panel Council Australasia Ltd


Australian Steel Institute (ASI)
Australasian Certification Authority for Reinforcing and Structural Steels (ACRS)

Australian Window Association

Engineered Wood Products Association of Australasia (EWPAA)