Understanding the National Construction Code’s accessible housing standards

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Housing accessibility has long been a debated issue for the disability sector, but the introduction of new Livable Housing Design Guidelines (LHDG) for 2023 means new home builds will be accessible to a wider range of people.

Key points:

  • Mandatory housing accessibility standards will be introduced into the National Construction Code in 2023
  • New homes must incorporate seven key elements to meet minimum accessibility standards, including step-free entries and easy access bathrooms
  • Most States and Territories have opted into the new guidelines

A study by the Melbourne Disability Institute (MDI) found that 80 percent of participants faced housing accessibility issues both at home and when visiting others.

But the new guidelines, which will become a part of the National Construction Code (NCC), will mandate the inclusion of several key accessibility features. These changes to housing accessibility standards will benefit people with disabilities, older Australians and people with mobility issues.

What is the National Construction Code?

The National Construction Code (NCC) is Australia’s design and construction standards and regulations for all buildings that are built. It is produced and maintained by the Australian Building Codes Board.

NCC standards are in place to ensure there are minimum guidelines for required levels of safety, health, amenity, accessibility and sustainability in certain buildings.

The Livable Housing Design is a key focus of the Code, providing minimum accessibility standards for new builds across Australia. The new standards were first published by Livable Housing Australia (LHA).

Other changes included in the NCC 2022 include a minimum 7-star energy efficiency rating on new builds and the provision of base infrastructure for charging electric vehicles.

Who does accessible housing standards benefit?

People with a disability and many older people will benefit greatly from the implementation of accessible housing standards in their State or Territory as many homes in Australia are not considered accessible.

Mandatory accessibility standards, at the base Silver Level, are designed to provide versatile benefits for wheelchair users and people with disability hoping to live at home for longer.

Many people with disability often find they may have to move to more suitable accommodation because their home isn’t accessible or doesn’t meet their needs.

In-built accessibility requirements will be required in single dwellings, like houses, as well as flats, apartments and townhouses.

Which States and Territories have signed up?

Queensland, Tasmania, Australian Capital Territory and Victoria have all signed on to deliver accessible housing solutions under the NCC.

South Australia and Northern Territory have also agreed to adopt the new standards after previously opting out due to increased costs for the building industry and homebuilders.

New South Wales and Western Australia have not signed on for minimum accessibility building standards as part of the NCC, citing the additional building costs as a concern, which would be passed on to the client.

When will the changes come into effect?

LHDG Silver Level accessibility standards in the NCC will come into effect from May 1, 2023. The new standards will also be available from October 1, 2022, allowing for an early adoption of requirements.

There will be a transition period from May 1 – October 1, 2023, to allow for the building industry to adjust and adapt to the new silver standard of accessibility.

Understanding the Silver, Gold and Platinum Levels

LHDGs feature three levels – Silver, Gold and Platinum. The Silver Level is what will feature in the NCC and is considered “basic” accessibility. All LHDG level design guidelines can be adopted in a new home or added to an existing home.

There are a total of 15 criteria and a minimum of seven core livable housing design elements must be met to achieve Silver. The core criteria provide versatile and widespread benefits for a range of people with disabilities or mobility issues.

Silver Level criteria includes:

  1. A safe continuous and step free path of travel from the street entrance and / or parking area to a dwelling entrance that is level
  2. At least one, level (step-free) entrance into the dwelling
  3. Internal doors and corridors that facilitate comfortable and unimpeded movement between spaces
  4. A toilet on the ground (or entry) level that provides easy access
  5. A bathroom that contains a hobless shower recess
  6. Reinforced walls around the toilet, shower and bath to support the safe installation of grab rails at a later date
  7. Stairways are designed to reduce the likelihood of injury and also enable future adaptation

Meanwhile, twelve criteria must be met to achieve a Gold Level standard, with the additional criteria outlined as:

  1. The kitchen and laundry space is designed to support ease of movement between fixed benches and to support easy adaptation
  2. There is an entry level bedroom, or a space on the ground level that can be used as a bedroom
  3. Switches and power points are located at heights that are easy to reach for all home occupants
  4. Home occupants are able to easily and independently open and close doors and safely use tap hardware

The highest accessibility code, Platinum Level, can be achieved with the full 15 criteria, including these other recommendations:

  1. The family/living room features clear space to enable the home occupant to move in and around the room with ease
  2. Window sills are installed at a height that enables home occupants to view the outdoor space from either a seated or standing position
  3. Floor coverings are slip resistant to reduce the likelihood of slips, trips and falls in the home

There will be a technical referral pathway supporting the transition to the new Silver Level, although builders can adopt Gold or Platinum standards if they choose.

Have you had any experiences with searching for accessible housing or renovating your home to be more accessible? Tell us your story in the comments below.

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