Operating Protocol – Referencing standards in the Building Code system

Criteria have been developed to support decisions about how standards are used in the Building Code System.


This protocol outlines the approach used to guide decisions about the referencing of standards, developed within New Zealand and internationally, within the Building Code acceptable solutions and verification methods.

This protocol was developed in 2021 and will be applied in subsequent decision-making. The criteria are a guide and the specific context of a standard and the document in which it is proposed to be referenced will also need to be considered.

When to use the Protocol

This protocol is intended to support the selection of content from standards for incorporation in acceptable solutions and verification methods. The information regarding requirements for inclusion in the Building Code will be a useful resource for committees when developing standards. The principles of the protocol would also apply to other types of information being considered for incorporation into the acceptable solutions and verification methods.

Why standards are used in the Building Code System

A standard is a consensus-based technical document that sets a benchmark for how to do something. Provisions for the development and revision of standards in New Zealand are set out in the Standards and Accreditation Act 2015.

Standards are created by bringing together all relevant parties such as manufacturers, consumers and regulators of a particular material, product, process or service. All parties benefit from standardisation through increased product safety and quality as well as lower transaction costs and prices.

The standards process has been used both in New Zealand and internationally for decades, predating the current Building Code system. Standards are used to inform a number of aspects of building design, and utilise expert knowledge to consider how to ensure safety and quality in building performance.

How standards are used in the Building Code System

Standards are one of the sources of information that MBIE draws from when developing acceptable solutions and verification methods (documents that detail a pathway to comply with performance criteria in the Building Code, see How the Building Code Works).

Section 405 of the Building Act 2004 recognises that standards may be used for this purpose, and enables a standard to be incorporated into acceptable solutions and verification methods by reference. Referencing a standard avoids the reproduction of detailed technical information within the document itself.

Standards may also be referenced in non-mandatory materials that seek to provide examples of good practice or in alternative solutions for complying with the Building Code, developed by the sector.

An acceptable solution and verification method must make reference to the specific version of any referenced standards, and it is this version that has legal effect. If a standard is updated, the reference needs to be amended in the acceptable solution or verification method for the updated version to take legal effect. This process also requires public consultation, in accordance with Section 409 of the Building Act 2004.

When a standard that is referenced in an acceptable solution or verification method contains references to other standards, these are commonly referred to as “secondary references” in the Building Code system. Management of these secondary references, including how to change their citation when they are updated, also needs to be considered.

Criteria to support decisions on referencing a standard in the Building Code system

The Building Act 2004 section 25(2) specifies that:

An acceptable solution or a verification method must not contain a provision that
(a) relates to contractual or commercial requirements; or
(b) relates to regulatory approvals, dispensations, or waivers; or
(c) is inconsistent with the Act or regulations.

In our role as the building and construction regulator, MBIE selects the standards content that is suitable for incorporation into an acceptable solution or verification method. Any content to be included should therefore also meet these tests. Alternatively, the content of the standard to be incorporated can be modified by specifying the replacement or removal of particular sections with the citation. However, this can be confusing and should be avoided where possible.

In addition to the Act requirements listed above, when deciding to incorporate a new or updated standard by reference in an acceptable solution or verification method, the degree to which the following criteria have been met will be considered:

  • Alignment to the Building Code
    • Technical content aligns with the Building Code's Objectives and does not duplicate or contradict them.

    • Technical content does not include key risk settings or requirements that involve a subjective decision on the minimum level of building performance. The societal cost of risks and consequences associated with minimum levels of building performance is to be considered in the development of the Building Code itself, either in regulation or acceptable solutions or verification methods, and not documents referenced within them.

    • Adherence to the standard will result in meeting the performance requirements of the part of the Building Code that the acceptable solution or verification method relates to.

    • Technical content refers to methods appropriate for the type of compliance pathway (acceptable solution or verification method) and be written to match the level of professional expertise of the intended readership. All content is written in plain English.
    • Technical content uses the same definitions and terms as those used in the Building Code, and is consistent with those used in other related standards and documentation.
  • In scope. Content that goes beyond scope of the Building Code will be stated explicitly in the standard and organised into a separate part, such as an informative appendix, or excluded from the citation.
  • Clear. For a standard to be suitable for the Building Code it should differentiate clearly between normative content and explanatory content. "Shall" and "Must" are used for normative content requirements, "May" is used for situations permitted in the normative content. "Should" is used only for informative content statements. Standards shall not require compliance with any Building Code clause, acceptable solution or verification method (to avoid circular references).
  • Specific. Content contains complete and unambiguous statements that clearly specify what is necessary to comply with the requirements, and provide no opportunity for departure from these. Requirements are expressed in precise and quantifiable terms wherever feasible.
  • Implementable in New Zealand. The standard is able to be complied with in New Zealand.
  • Available. The standard is publicly available at the time of reference in the Building Code system.

These criteria apply to New Zealand and international standards, including those developed jointly by Standards New Zealand and other international standards bodies. It is recognised that for standards developed internationally, with no input from New Zealand, there is no opportunity to ensure the content meets all these criteria.

Nevertheless, to be referenced within the Building Code system, they should comply with the above to the extent that is practicable.

See Table 1 for examples of statements that do not meet these criteria, with explanations. These types of statements should be avoided in standards intended to be referenced in the Building Code.

Table 1: Examples of statements that the regulator will avoid including in its documents

Examples of statements that do not meet criteria for referencing Explanation
The work shall comply with the requirements set out in B1/AS1 Duplicates and could contradict Building Code requirements, also if this standard is to be referenced in B1/AS1, this creates a circular reference.
This level of performance is adequate to protect building users from the risk of xxx Makes a subjective assumption about the risk settings associated with minimum performance levels.
An inspecting engineer shall be engaged to... Outside the scope of the Building Code, as it is prescriptive about a role in the building process, rather than the performance of the building.
The work must be sufficient to allow adequate... Not a specific requirement, ambiguous and open to interpretation.
The contract for the work shall ensure... Relates to contractual arrangements.
The work shall use product X made by manufacturer Y Requirement to use a specific product relates to commercial requirements.
The product shall be maintained to achieve durability requirements of the Building Code Duplicates and could contradict other Building Code requirements, also not a specific requirement.
Loading shall be determined in accordance with NZS 3604 or AS/NZS 1170 Makes reference to acceptable solution and verification method standards: only one type of compliance pathway can be referenced by a standard, to match the type of document in which the standard is referenced.
The work should be carried out in accordance with xxx "Should" can only be used for informative content statements, does not infer a requirement.

Standards New Zealand provide further general information on the use of standards by regulators 

This information is published by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s Chief Executive. It is a general guide only and, if used, does not relieve any person of the obligation to consider any matter to which the information relates according to the circumstances of the particular case. Expert advice may be required in specific circumstances. Where this information relates to assisting people: