Clarifying the SDA Classification Confusion

As more people slowly gain confidence in the potential to deliver SDA and start to design and even build, a new source of potential confusion is emerging around gaining a building classification.

In this technical SDA article we will explore what classification is all about and what it means when considering delivery of SDA.

The SDA Rule outlines the Building Type and the corresponding “Typical Building Code of Australia Classification” that a building must be certified for to be eligible to be registered as SDA. In summary these are:

Apartment                              Class 2
Villa/Duplex/Townhouse        Class 1 (a) (i) or (ii) or Class 3
House                                      Class 1 (a) (i) or 1 (b) (i) or Class 3
Group Home                           Class 1 (b) (i) or Class 3

Note that the Building Code of Australia is now known as the National Construction Code, or NCC (we will overlook the outdated reference by the NDIA) and it provides some interesting insight into various classifications. Let’s firstly look at Class 1. The NCC states that Class 1 buildings are houses. Typically, they are standalone single dwellings of a domestic or residential nature. They can also be horizontally attached to other Class 1 buildings such as terrace houses, row houses, or townhouses. In these situations, they must be separated by a wall that has re‐resisting and sound insulation properties.

A Class 1a building is a single dwelling being a detached house; or one of a group of attached dwellings being a town house, row house or the like.

A Class 1b building is a boarding house, guest house or hostel that has a floor area less than 300m2, and ordinarily has less than 12 people living in it. It can also be four or more single dwellings located on one allotment which are used for short-term holiday accommodation.

At face value, the above classifications seem fairly straight forward and it is not difficult to fit SDA within the descriptions depending upon the style and size of the SDA. However, things start getting confusing when Class 3 is added to the mix. The definition of Class 3 is as follows.

Class 3 buildings are residential buildings other than a Class 1 or Class 2 building. They are a common place of long term or transient living for a number of unrelated people. Examples include a boarding house, guest house, hostel or backpackers (that are larger than the limits for a Class 1b building). Class 3 buildings could also include dormitory style accommodation, or workers’ quarters for shearers or fruit pickers. Class 3 buildings may also be “care-type” facilities such as accommodation buildings for children, the elderly, or people with a disability, and which are not considered to be Class 9 buildings.

The last paragraph above almost ensures that most building certifiers / surveyors will gravitate to Class 3 when considering the classification of SDA. However, the mention of Class 9 adds a further source of confusion. The NCC states that Class 9 has three sub-groups. 9a are generally hospitals or clinics, Class 9b are typically schools, universities, churches etc and Class 9c are aged care buildings.

Class 9 cannot be registered as SDA.  If your certifier, surveyor or local council is heading towards SDA being Class 9 you have a major problem and you should not proceed without further advice.

Finally, and for completeness, Class 2 buildings, or apartments, are defined by the NCC as apartment buildings. They are typically multi-unit residential buildings where people live above and below each other. The NCC describes the space which would be considered the apartment as a sole-occupancy unit (SOU). Class 2 buildings may also be single storey attached dwellings where there is a common space below. For example, two dwellings above a common basement or carpark.

A further source of confusion creeps in relating primarily to fire considerations depending on the classification. Most states have various additional requirements around buildings that house persons with a disability or persons whom may require assistance in an emergency evacuation. The provisions can vary between the various NCC classes. Typical provisions include:

  • Higher fire resistance ratings for internal walls and fire separation walls (or Party walls)
  • Self closing doors
  • Treatment of any and all walls, floors or ceiling penetrations (for example where pipes may pass through a floor)
  • Fire sprinklers (almost a certainty in most SDA however there is an additional SDA payment for sprinklers of 1.2% for apartments and 1.9% for all others)
  • Exit signs
  • Fire alarms (back to base), evacuation procedures and training
  • Fire hydrants

If you attended the SDA Masterclass workshops in June this year you would have listened to some of the recent case studies where people have been caught out by various classification related issues resulting in some expensive rework or even not being able to register finished dwellings for SDA.

It is vitally important when in the early planning stages for SDA that you have a team of experienced professionals including a building certifier that understands SDA, a LHA assessor and in some cases such as apartments where SDA may be salt and peppered through-out, DDA Access Consultants will also be necessary to ensure the entire development satisfies all requirements to accommodate people with a disability.