Episode 12: What will change in the building industry next year?

It’s been a massive year for us at Outlier, and we wanted to take this last episode of the podcast for the year to reflect a bit about some highlights and milestones, and also look at some massive changes that we will be facing next year.

The National Construction Code will finally upgrade to a 7 star minimum energy rating, but that is not all! There are also some exciting new upgrades to the energy rating software – and we also have a few news ourselves!

Episode Transcript

Sandra Redlich  00:36

All right, last episode of the year, this is going to be an interesting one because it allows us to reflect a little bit on what the last year, this year – still 2022 – has happened for us. And we’ll also want to look a little bit into the future and see what new changes we’ll have to deal with come next year. But yeah, it’s a little bit of a reflection episode for both of us, Anthony. We did have a big year. I kind of remember the start of the year, we decided to launch our research department. So focusing on building science a little bit more. That was quite exciting. It’s headed by you. And by Brad, our employee who’s taking care of a lot of the blower door testings and stuff. Can you talk a little bit about what it is that you do with the research department?


Anthony Jenkin  01:29

Yes. So the research department was… I suppose the instigator for that was, we really wanted to make sure that we were providing as built verifications on our designs, and working with builders to help educate them on how to improve airtightness in the home. And also, yeah, just overall, checking that the energy rating is being verified, is what was assessed theoretically. So that’s what kind of instigated it. And then we were really fortunate to get a assistance from the local council, they had a grand scheme. And with that grand scheme, and combined with some of our own funds, we were able to acquire a blower door and a thermal camera, as well as training courses. So yeah, what we do now is we provide, I suppose, three types of services: One, we do a lot of consulting with builders and clients who are undertaking a high performance build, being able to advise them on how to get those details right. And the second would be testing existing homes to see, you know, how leaky they are, and then providing some commentary on how they could improve the efficiency of the home and just make the home more comfortable. And lastly, we do the as built verification of an energy rating, which is one of the big things that may be coming into effect in the near future.


Sandra Redlich  02:47

Oh, let’s just get right into that. We can get back to all the other stuff that we did last year later on, because that’s the juicy and the interesting bit, what are the changes that are gonna come next year?


Anthony Jenkin  02:59

Well, this has probably been the most significant change to our National Construction Code to date, especially around energy efficiency provisions. But I’ll start with a few other ones that are probably – they’ve been around for a while. So there’s one about livable housing. So this is about aging in place. So Australia has the baby boomers, as they are formally known in Australia, they’re all getting to an age now where they probably want to remain in their home for longer rather than maybe have to go into an aged care facility or such. And to do that, they just need a little bit of assistance. So this guideline has been in effect for some years, they’ve now adopted the silver level of this into the National Construction Code. And it’s about things such as step free entries, provision to be able to fit off handrails, larger circulation space in toilets and bathrooms. So that’s one of the really big changes. I’d say that is one of the biggest because it also has a slight cost increase to do some of these things comparative to say how some homes are built currently. Other things such as condensation management, really great to see, you know, better enforcement around that. So things such as where the truss heel and the external wall meet. Now we’ll say for example, need to have a bit of a baffle to allow airflow over the top and amongst other things, drainage cavities and ventilated cavities, probably nothing new to some of our listeners. What we do is pretty much a staple. And then the big one that everyone’s talking about is that increase to 7 stars. So this has, along with the livability guideline adoption, has been pushed to October 2023 before it’s mandatory, so they’re giving us a grace period. But the 7 star increase is yeah, it’s what we’ve all been wanting for a long time. It’s been a long time coming, and then here it is. And what I think it’s going to see happening a lot more is thermal or energy rating assessments done very early in the design process. Rather than maybe the compliance check that it’s currently being used by most at the very end of the design phase, or when the construction documentation and engineering, everything’s done. That’s just not going to cut it for a lot now, they’re gonna have to get in there very early.


Sandra Redlich  05:25

That’s super, super exciting news, I still I keep having to bring up some like anecdotes out of my own surroundings. Because that always helps me personally to understand and maybe some listeners as well. I live in a rental unit in a townhouse that we were the first people to move in here. It was constructed, I believe in 2020, or just finished during COVID. There’s still a lot of… it’s a development happening in the west of Melbourne. And there’s still a lot of houses being built here. And the amount of defects I found in this house, especially when it comes to thermal performance, is insane. It would have been built to this current 6 star, 6 stars that are in the building code. And because you mentioned condensation, we’ve had so many issues, we actually have water damage that’s happened here. We’ve had issues with the door not being sealed correctly. So when it was raining, we had literally a puddle forming on the inside under the door because there was water coming through and we had to call a tradie for that in. And the bathroom, the extractor vents are not performing in a way they should. So we are starting to have some mold issues, which is very unfortunate. And the number one thing for me what they’ve done in this development, probably due to pricing at the time, is they’ve used steel frames. So instead of the normal, you know, wooden frames that they’ve put up, they’ve used steel, and there’s actually a building across the road happening right now, we can see it and I will have to take some pictures and post it in our story so people can see and include them on the landing page for this podcast. And then on some cold mornings, you can see it on the outside of the building. You can see where the trusses are, where the steel trusses are, because there’s condensation forming on them. And yeah, it just all of these little details just speak to how thermally uncomfortable this home is, even though it is matching the six stars. And I’ve actually just had a friend from Germany come over, unfortunately for her in the most horrific spring weather we’ve ever had, like massive rain and just cold, it was hailing the other day. And yeah, she was just saying how cold it was in our house and how you walk in from the outside. Unfortunately, it’s also, I think it’s facing west. So no solar gain happening downstairs either. So there’s a lot of stuff that went wrong in this particular build, even though it is a code building at a six star. So yeah, very exciting to see that finally there’ll be some changes to that. And there’ll be a seven star increasement happening very soon.


Anthony Jenkin  08:12

I think that’s just so relatable to so many people, they’re probably sitting there going, I have a leak, I’m cold. I’ve visited and seen the construction site you’re referring to. And it’s a perfect example of why you would not be able to get that through now with the new construction code adoption. So those steel frames would need to have a thermal break of some description, probably a thin insulated, permeable blanket on the outside or such as air cell to stop that from occurring. And in this case, it’s also direct fix as well. So it would most likely have to have a ventilated cavity on that wall system in that climate zone. So good to know that things are improving there as well.


Sandra Redlich  08:56

Yeah, that’s really comforting to know. Another thing that’s very comforting to me is to see that the energy rating softwares, we’ve talked about in a previous episode, the NatHERS software, and other software out there, they are improving as well. So they’re putting out an update. And there’s some very exciting new functionality built into that, that allows us to do a little bit more with what we do in our construction details. Can you explain that a little bit?


Anthony Jenkin  09:26

Yeah, so nothing new to anyone who’s using PHPP. You know, it has a new climate data introduced in there as well and a new update for those who are interested in the Passivhaus planning package. But for NatHERS software, there’s a significant amount of change. We were presented with some examples certificates from FirstRate5. And in that certificate, it now has an as built verification checklist. Although it’s voluntary, it’s there now. Now that’s a good indication for me because that means that at some point in the near future, as built verification is very likely to become mandatory, which is fantastic. And for those who are interested, a quick Google search, or maybe we can put a link into the show notes of what that FirstRate5 example certificate looks like. And you can also present that to your designers or builder and say, hey, I want to do this. Can we do it? And it’s there for you to do now. So that’s great. Another thing, I’m going to jump back to the airtightness aspect. We are using Hero personally in the office here on our concept designs to help us in the designing process and understanding you know how to get those best outcomes.


Sandra Redlich  10:45

That’s a software as well, just to explain to people who haven’t… We do consider ourselves heroes sometimes. But hero is the name of a software that basically allows us to do the energy reading assessment.


Anthony Jenkin  11:01

Exactly, yeah. We think it’s just so critical now that you must do that. And we adopted it ourselves. But it does have the ability in this software, NatHERS software, energy rating software, to input a blower door result. So it was a massive deal for me. Because I wanted to see where it assumes airtightness levels, I wanted to see what’s going to passive house airtightness levels of 0.6 air changes at 50 Pascal would put us. Now we’ve seen up to a 0.6 star increase on certain designs, by inputting that 0.6 air changes. Anything from sort of 0.3 to 0.5 is most common, but there’s definitely an increase in there. And we also have the ability to import it. I have been told that that will become something that will be available come October 2023 for all software packages. So keep an eye on that and reach out to your energy raters and just ask them to see if it’s available for you. Because now you can go and get a blower door done on your home. And then you can get that result and go back to your energy rater and see if your star rating has increased. So I recommend everyone has that conversation or reaches out to their energy rater. And if you weren’t certain who that was, reach out to your builder and see if they can get you in contact with them to try that out. And then give us a call or anyone else out there offering a blower door service and have your home tested because it could be performing better than you initially thought on paper. It’s also likely to become a mandatory thing. If we look around the world, everyone is blower dooring. It’s a mandatory requirement, blower dooring buildings and determining what the airtightness factor is of that home. And Australia, it’s all leading towards having that become mandatory. And let’s see, I think 2025 NCC release, I think we may find that blower door tests will become mandatory for all buildings. Just my thoughts. Which would be exactly what we’ve been pushing for amongst others out there. And then the other big thing is new climate data for NatHERS software as well. So this has been very significant. For those who are concerned about trying to achieve 7 star energy ratings. So far, our very preliminary tests have indicated that this climate data is probably going to benefit most in a big way on improving their energy rating or star rating. I know with Bendigo, we really do border on about 3 different climate zones under the National Construction Code. And then it goes down to fluctuate a lot. You know, we have everything from a 6, a 7 and a 5 around us and they can fluctuate. So we’ve been using Ballarat’s climate under our assessments for some time. And that’s looking likely that that’s going to be now its own. New climate data will be more applicable to what we have, and therefore probably see better results. I know I often see a very significant difference between assessing under Ballarat and say Melbourne’s climate in energy ratings, and even PHPP as well. So climate is everything.


Sandra Redlich  14:20

Yeah, we’ve had a fun day of playing around with the different climate data that is now adapted in the new version when we were trialing it out, and also inputting the different blower door results and just seeing how the star rating changes and seeing how it affects it at the end of the day, and that was just so interesting to see, and very apparent how important climate zone is. So very cool to see that they’re adapting it, that they’re breaking it down a little bit more and it’s now yeah, you can be more detailed in your assessment by putting in where you actually live. So very happy about these changes and just so everyone understands: We’re doing that in-house, we’re still working with an energy rating assessor who is accredited and who’s at the end of the day issuing the final, official energy rating that you need to pass all your permits and start construction. But we’re doing that in-house to see if our design details are working, if what we’re coming up with on paper is actually, you know, providing the performance that we want. And also, if I might say, there’s some nerds in the office that really enjoy the building science and the fact side of things. So yeah, that’s been a lot of fun and very insightful for us as well. So we’ll definitely keep continuing to do that. And just have that preliminary assessment done and give us a little bit of a direction, if what we’re doing is working. And another big thing that happened, well, that was specifically for us, but it kind of goes hand in hand with what we just talked about with the performance and the research side of things and the update to 7 stars, is we had our very first open house. It’s very exciting for us, I think you’ve heard us talk about the hybrid home methodology before. And we’re finally able to show the real life version of it. Because we have one of our projects currently under construction with David from Ecowise homes, the builder who has been on before and probably will be on again. We just love David. And we’ve been documenting that build. So keep an eye out for more to come on that one. I know we’ve given some sneak peeks here and there. And then we had our first open house. So opening the doors, to show what the hybrid home methodology is all about. Actually doing a live blower door test and had an amazing result of 0.45 air changes. So even under Passivhaus standard, which we’re very happy with. Can you maybe just explain quickly what it is that makes that project and the hybrid home so special?


Anthony Jenkin  17:01

Yeah, the biggest thing for the hybrid home methodology is that we don’t work off of some set specification for every single project. It’s very much climate driven, site driven, budget driven. But we always think that we can do better, there’s always something, airtightness is such. It can be considered and achieve at very affordable amounts, or it’s very economical to do. And we’ve been able to, I guess, showcase, and then verify that in the Lyttleton Street project. And, you know. that was such a milestone for us to be able to say, look, this is what we’ve been working towards. And then when we blower doored it and got that result, which was 0.48, sorry, airchanges an hour at 50 Pascal, it was a very, yeah, smiles all around. So that’s been a really, really exciting time for us. Other aspects of that I suppose – it can be applied to almost any situation. So as I mentioned, budget is a big factor. So if budget doesn’t allow for, you know, the specifications for that example, that project, we can, you can just do the best you can do. So just working within what you can, what you have available. So that’s a big part of it. But the other thing too, that we were able to do is test out a few different systems that probably haven’t really been done a great deal in Australia. So in particular, we focused on taping the external wrap a little bit more, but then at the top plate, where it meets the ceiling line inside, we transferred our airtight layer in using some plywood, so we’re able to stick a bit of plywood on the top plate of the wall frame and then the trusses on top. And then we’re able to, from the external wrap, tape to that plywood and then move inside and then fix our plaster ceiling to that plywood. Now, there are two ceilings in this project. There’s one plaster at 2.7 meters. And then we lowered the ceiling underneath, so that’s our airtight layer at 2.7. Then we lowered this ceiling underneath that to 2.530 using off cuts of the 140 millimeter studs, blocks, and we were able to then keep our HRV, our heat recovery ventilation system, or continuous mechanical ventilation duct work, inside that airtight and thermal layer. So lots of details. As you said, we’ve been documenting it heavily. Some of this may be sort of flying over people’s heads. But sure enough, there’ll be some visuals to check that out and see. So that’s the first time that we’re aware of it someone may have done that in Australia, very few have done in Australia. So as we said the results, the proofs in the pudding, the results were phenomenal. So yeah, that’s been a really economical way to get airtightness very quickly, because labor does come into play. So that’s a big tip from us and look forward to showcasing more of that and maybe sharing more details and how we’re achieving these things moving forward.


Sandra Redlich  20:04

Yeah, that’s a really good segue into the next big announcement or something that we’ve been working on for, I think it’s almost over a year now, which is a course, a course describing our hybrid home methodology. You just said, we have heaps of visuals and all of these details that kind of explain how you can get to that performance level without having that big cost outlay that maybe a passive house or the certification process has, and using kind of standard building techniques to still achieve a really high and good performance for your home. And that’s what we’re working on at the moment. We’re in the last stages of the course, super exciting. It’s one of the passion projects that Anthony and I have been working on for so long. And we’re hoping to get it to you come the New Year, start of next year. So basically, what it will be is it’s a video based online course with a lot of documentation and visuals and real life examples. So being on a construction site and talking through these details and explaining what it is that we’re doing, following these principles that we’ve set for the hybrid home and explaining what you can do for your house or your renovation or for your project, whatever you’re working on, to get it up to the performance you want it to be, without having to invest that much money, and just shining some light on like the research behind it, the data that’s built into this methodology. So yeah, that’ll be a course that will be available to purchase via our website, we will put links and everything out on our socials whenever the time has come to finally release it. As I said, we’ve been working on this for a long time. So it’s a big, big, big, big step for us to put that out there. But we love working on it. We love exploring these methodologies and learning ourselves and continuously proving that what we come up with is actually performing. So we don’t just want to, you know, preach and talk about the designs that we’re doing on paper, we actually want to see it really assessed and hold ourselves accountable that what we’re doing is actually working. So that’s going to be a big thing for us. We will definitely let you know once that’s finally available.


Anthony Jenkin  22:21

Exactly. And that’s part of the hybrid home methodology, right, is that it has to be tested as built. So I will mention that that is one thing that is part of that methodology, is that test to make sure that, you know, when it’s constructed, that it’s doing what it should be doing on paper. It’s been amazing creating this course, it has just been such an amazing experience for us, it’s allowed us to share that with others, we get a lot of questions from people, you know, how can we do this? Or how can we help educate our team or builder or designer on these things, and with this course, you’ll be able to one, learn yourself by taking the course and to share that information with your designer and your builder. And you know, help them out. The system, the details will be there, the understanding there, maybe they want to take the course themselves as well, just to do a bit of upskilling.


Sandra Redlich  23:17

Yeah, exactly. So it’s kind of catered to both industry professionals who are looking to explore other techniques or new options of adding some more scientific basis to their building methodology. But also people who want to build their own home, who want to renovate, like DIY builders, people who are planning on constructing a home in the future and just want to make sure that, you know, they have enough knowledge that they can communicate with their building team and find the right designer. We even have some visuals and documentation in there that you can literally print out and take – or just saving some paper, showing on your laptop or your tablet – to your building team and say, Look, this is what you could do to, for example, install the window and make sure they are sealed and airtight. And it’s very, very easy documentation or as easy as possible to make sure that everyone, not only people who have been upskilling in the realm or in the area of high performance, can actually achieve this. So that’s the thought behind it, keeping it affordable, keeping it easy and educating ourselves. So it’s been a learning process for us as well, which is what has been taking so long. We keep, you know, looking back at it and going over it. So it’s a work in progress. But yeah, that is very exciting.


Anthony Jenkin  24:31

And yeah, I’ll hint at the fact that there’ll be a support group for any of those who do take the course. And we are there to always improve it. So yeah, that will allow you to reach out, have access to us and our and our network and our team for that ongoing support as well. And also feedback. So if you do think there’s something missing in there, you’ll get the opportunity to get that as well.


Sandra Redlich  24:57

Exactly. We’re all learning here. So yeah, let’s work together. I think that’s one of the big things that we’ve discovered this year as well, just how much fun it is to work with other people and to share knowledge. And yeah, just getting better by working together. Another thing that’s going to be happening next year, and the focus we will still be setting is, we’re going to work on additional solutions for the building science, for our research department. So that’s definitely going to continue to be a big focus point and just, you know, continuously trying to be verifying what we’re designing, what we’re building, as much as possible. We’re also looking at potentially offering a few products that could help you improve the performance of an existing home. So for people who might not be able to build something new, but want an affordable, small solution for a small problem in their home. We’re looking into that, because, as I said, affordability is a huge factor. High performance should not just be something that’s available to people who have a lot of money, it should be available to everyone. So we’re looking into that as well. And yes, something else I want to shout out and give a mention to is that within our team, the Outlier team, which is – I’m just going to name everyone to give everyone a little shout out. So obviously, Anthony, you know him, he’s kind of the head and the founder of our business. And I take care of the marketing side of things and any business development stuff that we’re looking at. We have a massive team in the background who do great work with the building design and performance. So we’ve said Brad who’s taking care of our great imagery that you can see on our socials and who’s also part of the research team. So he’s performing blower doors and assisting with all of the building science aspect of things. Then we have Heidi, who’s our lovely building designer, and Evangelia as well. So the two of them are taking care of providing these beautiful designs and working with our clients very closely. And we also have Harvest, who’s our interior designer, so she’s in charge of anything interior, and providing gorgeous designs as well, I must say. So these are the people kind of behind Outlier. And yes, something that we’ve focused on as well, is that kind of everyone has their own personality, of course, and everyone has their own passion projects, as we like to call them, they’re working on. And a big thing for us has been Evangelia’s passion project, which is waste management. And our last episode, if you’ve listened to it, was all around that topic because of her prompt. So she’s very passionate about recycling, we’ve established a waste management plan for our own office in-house as well. And yeah, it’s becoming more and more of a topic for building sites, making sure that we recycle and find ways to reuse what we’re using, and not just chuck it out. So that’s been a big thing as well. And something we definitely want to encourage everyone to look into, and that we’re going to be working on with our builders and with our team further down the future as well.


Anthony Jenkin  28:08

That’s been a really big one. I just want to add to I just noticed that with the fallout of all the soft plastics for anyone who’s local to us at the moment, that we have got a connection with Rob from Tiger bins, who was on our podcast previously. Just if anyone wants to get in contact about disposing of your soft plastics, we have a collection happening at the moment to give to Rob. That then gets sent to Melbourne and recycled and then returned to Bendigo to be used in paving and asphalt, etc, around the area. So also note that the council are underway with creating their own one at the moment, as we move to a circular economy up here.


Sandra Redlich  28:45

That’s overdue and very exciting at the same time. So there’s a lot of stuff happening and a lot of things moving. And as I said, something that we subscribe to at Outlier is just continuous learning. We never stop learning and looking into new aspects of the whole building and design side of things. So yeah, we’re always happy to have input from everyone around us as well. And like, you know, if you have feedback or other things that you want us to focus on a little bit more in this podcast or in general, as I said, collaborating and working together is such a blessing, and it’s just going to make us all better. So that’s definitely something we look forward to, which is also why we will definitely continue with this podcast. This is actually our anniversary episode. I think we’ve been doing this for pretty much a year now. And I think it’s fair to say we like it. We do enjoy it. It’s, again, it’s beneficial for ourselves because we learn and it’s one thing that always gets me, is I get excited about other people being excited about things. So you’re sharing a passion and sharing information and just  showcasing what you’re doing. I think it’s such a beautiful aspect of working together and even if you’re not within the team, but you know, you’re in the same industry, we’re all on the same planet. So it’s definitely important to keep doing that. So yeah, we will continue the podcast, it might get a little bit of an upgrade here and there. And yeah, maybe last thing to mention for next year is also, we are currently working with an amazing designer who is helping us to give Outlier a little bit of a new look. It’s not going to be massively different. But just refining it, having a little bit more of a purposeful way to communicate what it is that we’re doing. And yeah, she’s doing an absolutely amazing job at working with us. So we’ll definitely give her a shout out whenever we have something to show for that. That’s something that’s happening behind the scenes as well. And that’ll come to you next year.


Anthony Jenkin  30:48

Well, fantastic. I just want to say thank you to the team as well, as you’ve just mentioned, everyone, and thank you to our clients for your ongoing support this year. We have such absolutely phenomenal homes in the mix, and we really look forward to taking that into the new year. I wish everyone a safe and happy break over Christmas. And yeah, I look forward to get talking again next year.


Sandra Redlich  31:17

Nothing more I can add there. Thanks for listening. Thanks for following our journey, and we’ll talk to you in the new year.