Correct use of building products and appliances

The products and materials you use in buildings and building services must be ‘fit for purpose’. Use of the wrong products can cause significant additional cost – ranging from repairing and replacing products, to life safety risks and building failure.

What is a non-conforming building product (NCBP)?

Non-conforming building products (NCBPs) are products and materials that:

  • claim to be something they are not;
  • do not meet required standards for their intended use; or
  • are marketed or supplied with the intent to deceive those who use them.

For example a building product that is labelled or described as being non-combustible but which is combustible.

What is a non-complying building product (NCP)?

Non-complying building products (NCPs) are products and materials that are used in situations where they do not comply with the requirements of the Building Act or other relevant law. This may include products that comply with the relevant standards for a particular use, but have been used in a way they are not suitable for.

An example of a NCP would include a building product that is combustible, and described as such, but is used in a situation where a non-combustible product is required, so it is not fit for purpose and is therefore a non-complying product.

A building product or material can be non-conforming, non-complying or both.

ACT building, electrical, plumbing and gasfitting laws

Building work

The ACT Building Act 2004 requires that for all building work, even work that does not require a building approval:

  • the materials used in the building work must comply with the standards under the building code for the materials in buildings of the kind being built or altered
  • the way the materials are used in the building work must comply with their acceptable use under the building code for buildings of the kind being built or altered
  • the building work must be carried out in a proper and skilful way.

For work that requires a building approval, the work must also be carried out in accordance with the approved plans. This means that if a particular product or material, or a standard that a material or product must meet, is specified in the approved plans, the builder must use complying products.

An application for building approval must include sufficient information for a building certifier to be satisfied the proposed work will comply with the Building Act, which includes the building code. The building code is the Building Code of Australia (Volumes 1 and 2 of the National Construction Code) as modified by any ACT-specific additions, variations or regulations.

The National Construction Code is performance based and does not necessarily mandate that all products meet relevant Australian Standards as long as they are suitable for the purpose they will be used for. However, some compliance pathways may require products to be compliant with prescribed standards.

In all cases both the Building Act and the building code require that products and materials used in building work are fit for purpose. Types of evidence that can be used to verify that a product conforms and or complies with relevant requirements include:

  • CodeMark Certificate of Conformity;
  • Certificate from a product certification body accredited by the Joint Accreditation Scheme of Australia and New Zealand (JAS-ANZ);
  • Report issued by a registered testing authority

Other documentary evidence may also be acceptable. There are a range of methods and schemes that can be used to test a building product or material is genuine and will do what it is made to do.

A detailed list and description of each of the schemes can be found in the Australian Procurement and Construction Council (APCC) Procurement Guide on the APCC website.

Plumbing products

In the ACT, the plumbing code is the Plumbing Code of Australia (Volume 3 of the National Construction Code) as modified by any ACT-specific additions, variations or regulations.

The National Construction Code is performance based and does not necessarily mandate that all products meet relevant Australian Standards. However, some compliance pathways may require products to be compliant with prescribed standards. The National Construction Code also requires that certain plumbing products must be certified under the WaterMark Certification Scheme. Compliant products will have a WaterMark Certificate of Conformity.

You can search for certified products in the WaterMark Product Database at www.abcb.gov.au/Product-Certification/WaterMark-Certification-Scheme.

Prescribed electrical equipment and wiring

All electrical wiring work must meet AS/NZS 3000. Prescribed articles of electrical equipment must also be certified before they can be installed in the ACT. There are nationally consistent requirements for certification of prescribed articles, which are coordinated by the Electrical Regulatory Authorities Council. For more information on the electrical equipment safety system and to search the certified product database go to www.erac.gov.au/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=102&Itemid=551

Gas appliances

An appliance that uses natural gas or LPG and is manufactured, adapted or designed for connection to a consumer piping system must meet and be approved and certified against relevant Australian Standards before it can be sold or installed in the ACT.

For more information on appliances standards or to search the National Database of Certified Gas Appliances and Components see the Gas Technical Regulators Committee website at www.gtrc.gov.au/

Consumer product safety laws

The safety of consumer products and product-related services is governed by the Australian Consumer Law (ACL).

In simple terms:

  • Consumer goods are things intended for personal, domestic or household use or consumption; or likely to be used for personal, domestic or household use or consumption.
  • Product-related services are services for or relating to: installation of consumer goods; maintenance, repair or cleaning of consumer goods; assembly of consumer goods; or delivery of consumer goods.

Some building products and materials may not be covered by the ACL product safety system if they are not ordinary consumer goods.

The ACL is adopted nationally through state and territory fair trading legislation. Information about the national consumer product safety system is available on the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission Product Safety website.

Ensuring building products conform and comply

To help reduce and mitigate risks and issues associated with non-conforming and non-complying building products, it is important to be aware of the relevant codes, technical standards and local laws.

Everyone involved in the manufacture, supply or installation of building products has a role to play in ensuring the right products and materials are used in the right way in a building project.

You may also have specific obligations or duties to check and assure that the right products and materials are used, and are used correctly. For example, licensed builders, electricians, plumbers and gasfitters have specific responsibilities to ensure the products they use meet relevant laws and may need to rectify any work that is not compliant. Building certifiers also have responsibilities to approve, inspect and certify building work, which may include checking the compliance and suitability of some building products for the work they will be used in.

If you are directly involved in the purchasing of products and materials, either as a homeowner, or as an industry practitioner, you need to have a clear understanding of the various requirements that apply to those products and materials and the evidence required to demonstrate compliance and conformance of those components.

Some measures that can be taken include:

  • Manufacturers
    • Be aware of the requirements of compliance and conformance of products and materials and be able to demonstrate that their goods comply with the NCC, standards and local laws.
    • Clearly specify how a product should or should not be used and be able to supply the necessary compliance and conformance information, including any limitations, for each product and material.
  • Importers, wholesalers, distributors and retailers
    • Consider how the product can be sued and whether any of those possible uses will breach trade or consumer laws or industry-specific requirements for safety or performance.
    • Obtain conformance information including any limitations for each product and material.
  • Architects, building designers, engineers and other specifiers  
    • Ensure that any products, materials or systems specified or approved for use in your designs are appropriately approved, ‘fit for purpose’, and meet the performance requirements of the building elements in which they are used.
    • If a specific product or product standard is required in a particular element, make sure you have clearly specified this and made any inspection or verifications requirements clear.
  • Developers, builders and other installers
    • Only deal with suppliers with a good reputation and can be easily contacted if you have a question or a concern.
    • Look for materials, products and systems that have widely recognised industry certification or accreditation, or where appropriate, that have CodeMark or WaterMark certification.
    • Check the product or material supplied and installed is what is nominated in the approved plans and specifications and that appropriate evidence of conformity and compliance for the use is provided.
    • Eeither undertake inspection or testing if evidence of conformity is not available or appears suspect or don’t use the product.
  • Building owners
    • As the people that ultimately pay for building and construction building owners also have a responsibility for ensuring that achieving a cost-effective result does not lead to using sub-standard products or unsuitable products.
    • Building owners should ask questions of the builders and trades they engage about the suitability of the products and materials that have been used and seek evidence of the suitability of the products that have been used.

What is being done nationally?

On 23 June 2015, the Australian Senate referred the issue of non-conforming building products to the Senate Economics Reference Committee. The Committee released its interim report ‘Safety – not a matter of good luck’ on 4 May 2016. The Senate Committee is due to hand down its interim report by 31 August 2017 and the final report by 31 October 2017.

Health and safety risks posed by non-conforming building products also continue to be a priority for the Building Ministers’ Forum (BMF). It is for this reason that the BMF established the Senior Officers’ Group (SOG) to focus on strategies for addressing NCBPs and report on ways to minimise the risks to consumers, businesses and the community associated with the failure of building products to conform to relevant laws and regulations and at the point of import.

The SOG is comprised of senior officers from the building policy and regulatory agencies from each State and Territory Government as well as from the Commonwealth Government. Work the SOG is undertaking includes improving collaboration between consumer law and building regulators, developing education strategies, improving information provision and data sharing between the Commonwealth and the States and Territories about NCBPs, improving the availability of and access to more independent and quantitative research relating to NCBPs (including supply chain analysis and risk evaluation), and reviewing Australian Standards related to high risk building products.

Download a copy of the Implementation Roadmap of the SOG’s strategies for addressing NCBPs.

Contact

If you are concerned that a building product used or installed in the ACT does not meet relevant ACT laws it is recommended that you first contact the supplier, licensee or practitioners involved in the relevant work. If you cannot resolve the issue contact Access Canberra on csbinvestigations@act.gov.au

Other information and resources

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