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While Australia’s planning laws and standards for building product manufacturing are notoriously stringent, there is widespread concern that a growing amount of dodgy imported building materials are being used across the country.
The safety risks and financial problems associated with substandard or non-conforming building products are well known, and of late, well documented (see related material), but the environmental risks posed by specifying non-conforming products are now also slowly coming to light.
Evidence of the direct-impact that non-conforming products have on the environment is currently rather lean however there is a case for arguing that the widespread replacement of faulty building products in Australia is unsustainable in itself, and we’re seeing quite a lot of that lately.
Quite simply, the problem is that these products won’t perform as specified, which means that buildings won’t perform as designed and your building isn’t as environmentally friendly as first thought.
Below are some environmental risks associated with non-conforming building products including ways to look out for them and who to contact:
PLYWOOD: HIGH EMISSIONS AND VOCS
A 12-month market surveillance of structural ply samples taken at point of sale by Engineered Wood Products Association’s (EWPAA’s) revealed that 70 per cent failed to meet Australian Standards and that the failed products were largely imported. The Australian Industry Group’s 2013 report ‘The quest for a level playing field: the nonconforming building products dilemma’ explains that the difference between imported and domestic plywood products is that “all domestic producers of structural plywood are third-party certified, regularly audited and the incidence of non-conforming product from domestic supply is very low to non-existent.”
Non-conformance issues associated with imported products of this type include higher than acceptable formaldehyde emissions. The EWPAA recommends purchasing plywood products that have their ‘Green Tick’ for emissions safety which are only handed out to EWPAA members and to products that been tested to meet or better formaldehyde levels demanded by health authorities .
The labels promote the safety of EWPAA member products that are tested to emission standards of Super E0, E0 and E01.
There are also two voluntary standards that make specific reference to formaldehyde in pressed timber products and include emission limits. These voluntary standards are:
- AS/NZS 1859.1:2004: Reconstituted wood-based panels – Specifications – Particleboard
- AS/NZS 1859.2:2004: Reconstituted wood-based panels – Specifications – Dry-processed Fiberboard
Engineered Wood Products Association
WINDOWS AND GLAZING: COUNTERFEIT AND UNRECOGNISABLE CERTIFICATION
Problems associated with non-conforming windows and glazing products include air-leakage, incorrect thermal performance, streaky finishes, incorrect and dangerous shattering, and falling glazing units.
The Australian Window Association (AWA) is receiving a growing number of requests by Australian surveyors and state and territory building authorities to validate window and doors products that come with international certificates. The fact that many products have certificates isn’t enough to ensure that the products are actually fit for their purpose and they may not have been tested correctly or even at all. The AWA says that fraudulent documents are also showing up regularly.
The AWA works with bodies like SAI Global and the National Association of Testing Authorities (NATA) to determine the validity of window and doors products available to the Australian market. To limit the issues associated with non-conforming imported products the AWA recommends you take the following precautions when specifying window products:
The products must have a schedule as well as a certificate. Check the sample certificate provided on this document for you and then read the certificate you receive carefully as fraudulent copies often lack details like:
- Licence number
- Licence expiry date
- First certified date
Australian Window Association
PVC PIPES AND FLEXIBLE DUCTS: DANGEROUS STABILISERS, VOCS AND INSULATION PROBLEMS
Problems associated with non-conforming PVC and flexible ducting includes the use of banned compounds as well as underperforming thermal insulation.
In 2013, independent testing by Australia’s Think Pipes Think PVC (TPTP) revealed a number of imported PVC pipes and fittings to be non-compliant with the relevant standards. TPTP says that the most common reason for non‐compliance is failure to comply with the composition requirements of AS/NZS1254 (Stormwater) and AS/NZS1260 (DWV), which state that compounds based on Lead, Cadmium and Mercury shall not be used.
Some imported DWV and Stormwater pipes and fittings are also unlikely to comply with the Green Building Council’s Best Environmental Practice (BEP) PVC guidelines, says TPTP.
But the issues with non-compliance in this industry is not confined to imported products.
The 2014 Insulation Australasia-commissioned ‘A Survey of Thermal Performance of Flexible Duct’ revealed that nine similar, commercially available insulated flexible duct products in Australia failed to comply with mandatory energy efficiency performance standards.
The survey, conducted by Dr Cameron Chick from Acronem Consulting Australia, sought to find out if the samples actually achieved their claimed thermal efficiency ratings of R1.0, the legislated national minimum requirement.
However, tests on all nine of the ‘like’ samples carried out at CSIRO Infrastructure Technologies, Thermal Test laboratory revealed that they achieved an average R-value of just R0.763 (m2K/W) with a standard deviation of 0.10 (m2K/W). The products’ outer sheath, polyester thermal insulation material and inner core with metal wiring removed were assessed.
These poor results contravene the regulatory requirements of the National Construction Code, Building Code of Australia and Energy Efficiency provisions, which necessitate that insulation provided on ductwork shall comply with the requirements of AS/NZS 4859.1 Materials for the Thermal Insulation of Buildings
Think Pipes Think PVC
STEEL: HIGH RECURRING EMBODIED ENERGY
Problems associated with non-conforming structural steelwork includes safety risks and the financial and environment cost of replacing defected products. Structural steel is also high in embodied energy, made worse by replacing faulty steelwork within years after it was erected.
Australia’s third party certification scheme specifically for structural steelwork is gaining momentum on the back of a spate of reported defects with non-compliant building products in the construction industry .
The National Structural Steelwork Compliance Scheme (NSSCS) was introduced to combat observable defects with imported non-complying products such as substandard welding that needed to be ground out and replaced, laminations in plate that could cause catastrophic failure, substandard corrosion protection affecting the life of an asset and generally poor workmanship have unfortunately become commonplace with imported structural steelwork.
It’s not just NCP, but fraudulent behaviour with examples such as deliberate attempts to disguise poor quality through such measures as:
- Falsified test certificates
- Welds made with silicone rubber and then painted
- Attachment of bolt heads with silicon rather than a through bolt
- Water filled tube to compensate for underweight steelwork
The NSSCS encompasses a holistic approach supported by four pillars, which are
- Fabrication Standard
- Conformity Assessment
- Construction Categories
- Steelwork Compliance Australia (SCA)
Australian Steel Institute (ASI)
Australasian Certification Authority for Reinforcing and Structural Steels (ACRS)
ELECTRICAL CABLES: MASSIVE REPLACEMENT COSTS
Problems associated with non-conforming electrical products includes safety risks and the financial and environment cost of replacing defected products.
Probably the most documented case of the issue of non-conforming building products is the Infinity electrical cable saga of 2013, which saw a recall of fraudulent “Infinity” electrical cabling to 40,000 homes and businesses, but the use of fraudulent and substandard electrical products is rife in Australia and poses massive safety risks to electricians, home owners, building occupiers and the public alike. Because of the high account of imported products advertising fraudulent standards certification, the Electrical Regulatory Authorities Council (ERAC) in Australia introduced a new Electrical Equipment Safety System (EESS) and a single, Regulatory Compliance Mark.
The EESS is a fundamental change to the electrical safety landscape for products sold in Australia and New Zealand as suppliers are now required to register their details on a national database. As part of the registration process, suppliers must make a declaration that all the equipment they sell meets relevant standards and is electrically safe. Evidence of compliance is required and is graded, based on risk.
The Electrical Regulatory Authorities Council (ERAC)
National Electrical and Communications Association
Electrical Equipment Safety Scheme (EESS)