History is unfortunately full of examples of building and construction legislation that came too late. The use of combustible cladding offers several recent examples, including the London’s Grenfell Tower fire which killed 72 people, or the fires in Melbourne’s Lacrosse Tower and Neo200 building just this February. Combustible cladding on a tower block is an accident waiting to happen and stronger legislation through building codes could have prevented these tragic incidents. All too often it takes a crisis to trigger a response from lawmakers.
Protecting the building and its occupants are rightly central to the discussion around building codes but the building and its occupants are not always the victims in the failure of building codes. Sometimes legislation needs to be developed to stop the building causing trouble for others. In the story of climate change, for example, the building is the bad guy and we need stronger legislation to protect the world from its environmental impact.
Buildings consume 40% of global energy production, more than transport, industry, or any other single comparable sector. Buildings offer some of the lowest hanging fruit for the reduction of CO2 emissions through simple energy efficiency measures that would have a huge impact if applied as standard. The effects of climate change could still be mitigated if we have stronger environmentally responsible building regulations.
Some however, do go beyond the minimum regulations to create environmentally responsible, low-carbon, high-efficiency buildings. While many buildings employ these strategies to develop a “green” brand identity or attract the millennial generation, it is the carbon reduction that counts. Building stakeholders should also remember that worsening climate change will impact their properties too.
“Many leading developers are taking the initiative to ensure projects include high-performance, zero-carbon, highly energy-efficient buildings, with top star ratings, but action needs to be across the board. This can only be done via tough legislation and enforced compliance,” says Deo Prasad, Scientia Professor and CEO, Co-operative Research Centre for Low Carbon Living, UNSW.
“Laws covering low-carbon building design are imperative, setting standards for geography, maximizing natural light, air flow, insulation, and smart technology. Technology can monitor and run a building's utilities to ensure it's not only energy-efficient but also delivers a health standard that's adaptable to the future pressures of climate change,” Prasad continued.
The advanced cooling technologies that shelter residents of Abu Dhabi and Dubai during their blistering hot summer months, may have to become standard in many other parts of the world. Storm resistant buildings, like the most advanced new builds in Miami, will be necessary for many more cities as hurricane-scale storms become stronger, more frequent, and more widespread. Flood resistance will have to increase in many of our low-lying urban areas and that includes preparing for the worst by redefining the lower floors of buildings.
As we say so often, on so many topics, we already have everything we need to make the changes required, we just need to make them. We can introduce stronger legislative building codes now to tackle this issue.
“We have the data, expertise, tools, and knowledge to make safe, low-to-zero-carbon cities part of our future but there’s much work to do,” concludes Prasad. “We still need to implement this knowledge, use the tools, change behavior and instill 100% trust in the design and construction process. There’s no time to waste.”