New building regulations provide great opportunities - if we take advantage of them - Brandskydd, Ventilationsbrandskydd, nödbelysning - Briab

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New building regulations provide great opportunities - if we take advantage of them

31 May, 2021

In December 2019, the Committee for More Modern Building Regulations issued its final report with a proposal to create more modern building regulations for greater predictability, flexibility and simplification [1]. The National Board of Housing, Building and Planning (Boverket) was commissioned to review the current rules for construction and construction. This has led to recommendations for restructuring of the Building Regulations being published for consultation (2), including a proposed restructuring of the ‘noise protection’ provisions as an example. The sector has until 9 April to submit a response to the consultation on the proposed revision to the noise protection rules and on the proposed regulatory model itself.

Stepping back a bit, the initial response from the construction and real estate sector to the report from the Committee for More Modern Building Regulations has been varied. Some see opportunities for improvements in construction, refocusing the system to better address the life cycle perspective of buildings, broader societal perspectives, and creation of value. Others see challenges, such as uncertainty as to whether functional requirements alone adequately reflect society’s demands, and whether removal of general advice and reference standards from the regulations might increase the variability in designs and verification of compliance.

No right or wrong

We believe that neither perspective can or should be said to be completely right or wrong. It should not be assumed that building regulations can be made “perfect”.  Finding the balance between flexibility and innovation, and the level at which to describe functional requirements to achieve clarity and certainty is challenging. In each regulated area, differences in available data, tools, and methods for analysis and for verification mean that we already have a considerable variation across the different areas.The change in the regulatory system can bring significant benefits. It is an opportunity for the authorities and the sector to analyse what works well and what does not, why this is the case, and what can be done better. It opens the door to shifting from a centrally managed structure to a more sector-driven system: from a “you must” approach to a “what can we achieve?” approach.

From compliance to motivation

New building regulations and their application can engage new actors and motivate existing ones to increase innovation, while ensuring society’s objectives and requirements are met. Restructuring also creates an opportunity and scope for dialogue between a wide range of interest groups and stakeholders, with the aim of developing a regulatory system that is both flexible and robust, that facilitates innovation while providing assurances, and that shifts the focus from regulatory compliance to creating value and achieving lifecycle performance.

In order to explore the perspectives of different stakeholders, a series of Regulatory Talks with representative groups started in autumn 2020 [2]. The discussions were constructive and predominantly positive. From the conversations it is understood and accepted that we are facing a major change with new challenges, but with this comes significant opportunities to develop a modern and robust building regulatory system in Sweden.

Some of the most important points from the meeting series are:

  • A change to the building regulatory system can be good, but should not be rushed – we can learn from the journey made in the electricity sector in this regard.
  • A focus on functional requirements provides the greatest flexibility to reflect society’s objectives and expectations, without limiting the market’s opportunities for innovation.
  • The level of detail of functional requirements may depend on the complexity of the area, knowledge maturity, and the involvement of the sector. Where in a sector there is broad consensus on the definition of required function and how it can be achieved, concise qualitative requirements may suffice. For other sectors, where differing views and approaches to verification, detailed requirements and quantitative criteria may be needed.
  • Verification methods do not have to be part of the building regulations to be effective and accepted within the regulatory system. However, it is crucial to have clear linkages to the functional requirements in the regulations. Ultimately, the acceptance of verification methods depends more on the confidence they gain from the sector – including by regulators and enforcement officials – than on the methods being set out in the building regulations.
  • The change to the building rule system requires robust data, tools, and methods for performance, design, and verification. The change in building regulations can promote innovation and development in these areas.
  • Above all, it is necessary to shift from a reactive focus on compliance to the regulation at the time of design, to a proactive focus on achieving societal and user expectations of building performance throughout the building’s lifetime. The societal benefit can be significant if we change the mindset from “the minimum to meet the rules” to “how best can we create value and meet societal expectations throughout the building life cycle”.
  • A transition from independent disciplines working in ‘silos’ to a more integrated and holistic approach can bring great benefits. Transitioning to a paradigm where regulation and design is viewed more as an ‘integrated whole’ instead of ‘my piece of the project’ can help minimize the potential for competing objectives and result in better overall building performance.
  • Success requires a change in operating culture and approach to building design and construction. More proactive, integrative collaboration is needed in order to achieve a better whole. A wider range of experts need to develop the system together, including better integrated standards, guidelines and verification methods. Modifications in related areas may be needed as well, including insurance, contracts and agreements. Ultimately, changing the approach from “compliance with the minimum level of building regulations” to “achieving higher quality, better performance, and greater value” requires the buy-in from, and cooperation between, all actors involved.

Significant change to a regulated area can be complex, challenging, uncertain, and uncomfortable. However, such changes can yield significant benefits to society and to the sector. The best way forward with the changes proposed by Boverket is to work together in a constructive way to manner in order to jointly and collectively understand the challenges and opportunities.  This can result in a system that increases the opportunities for innovation and improves the quality and performance of our buildings, while assuring that such societal expectations as safety, resiliency and sustainability are achieved.

Dr Brian Meacham, International Researcher in Functional Building Regulatory Systems, Meacham Associates

Michael Strömgren, facilitator, ”Regulatory Talks”, public affairs manager, Briab

 1. More modern building regulations – predictable, flexible and simplified, Final report by the Committee for More Modern Building Regulations, Stockholm, ISBN 978-91-38-25012-9, p30.

 2. The National Board of Housing and Urban Development. (2020). Building regulations of opportunity. New model for the Swedish National Board of Housing and Urban Development’s building and construction regulations. Report 2020:31.

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