Australia’s building ministers at their meeting on April 30 decided to include minimum accessibility standards in the 2022 National Construction Code (NCC).
This is a significant decision that will shape our housing for generations to come.
The new standards will come into effect in September 2022 and reflect the fact that our housing needs are changing as our population ages.
The ministers said that a regulatory approach would “result in significant and lasting benefit to Australians who need access to homes with accessible features”.
The 2022 NCC will ensure that all new homes include at least some accessible features to meet the current and future needs of the nearly 6 million people likely to have a mobility limitation within 40 years.
Building ministers agreed to the Livable Housing Design Guidelines (LHDG) Silver level, which includes seven accessible design features.
These include a safe continuous and step free path of travel from the street entrance and-or parking area to a dwelling entrance that is level; at least one, level, step-free entrance into the dwelling; internal doors and corridors that facilitate comfortable and unimpeded movement between spaces; and a toilet on the ground or entry level that provides easy access.
Other features are a bathroom that contains a hobless shower recess; reinforced walls around the toilet, shower and bath to support the safe installation of grabrails at a later date; and stairways are designed to reduce the likelihood of injury and also enable future adaptation.
The ministers acknowledged the cost implications of implementing the new standards—especially in the context of economic recovery and the Covid-19 pandemic—and decided that states and territories would be “free to determine whether and how the new provisions will be applied”.
The new regulatory approach replaces voluntary guidelines on accessibility, long supported by Australia’s building industry due to perceptions of accessible features as being overly expensive or difficult to incorporate into new builds.
However, two recent studies by the Summer Foundation and La Trobe University indicate that many accessible features are already being incorporated in new homes, and that the expense and difficulty of including many of the features in homes are low.
The first study audited 20 popular homes being built by volume builders in Australia, and found that all of the homes already included some accessible features as standard.
The second study asked access consultants and architects to rate the relative cost and difficulty of incorporating 28 accessible features into new dwellings.
Respondents rated nearly half of the features as being “virtually cost neutral” and “not difficult at all” to include across all types of new housing.
Together, these studies demonstrate the relative ease of incorporating some accessible features into new builds.
They also show how accessible features can create long-term value that outweighs short-term costs.
Including the seven Silver-level LHDG features as standard in all new homes will transform housing in Australia.
It will greatly improve the quality of lives of the millions of Australians who are wanting to age at home, or who have a temporary or permanent mobility limitation.
The decision from the ministers makes perfect sense to ensure our homes can