Alternate Building Technologies

The Assessment of Alternate Building Technologies

This article from the latest issue of AKHANI, the quarterly magazine of the NHBRC, addresses the use of alternate building materials and the legal process as well as the pending changes to their manuals. It is well worth a read.

Paimaan Byron, Structural Engineer for the NHBRC
Paimaan Byron, Structural Engineer for the NHBRC

Assessment of ABT

Any house to be built in an area under the jurisdiction of a local authority falls within the scope of the National Building Regulations and Building Standards Act (Act 103 of 1977), and the regulations made in terms of that act. The regulations include mandatory performance requirements that support the objectives of the act; that is to ensure the safety and health of the persons living or working in any building. Guidance in the application of the regulation may be found in SANS 10400: The Application of the National Building Regulations. SANS 10400 contains prescriptive rules for any form of construction that are deemed to satisfy the National Building Regulations. The application of these rules is not mandatory; therefore the owner of the house is allowed to utilise any means to satisfy the requirements of the National Building Regulations.
There are various non-mandatory ways in which one could comply with the requirements of the National Building Regulations. These are summarised as follows:
• prescriptive “deemed-to-satisfy rules”
• rational design or assessment
• a valid Agrément certificate

 Prescriptive “Deemed-to-Satisfy Rules”

There are various prescriptive standards (codes of practice) that are intended to simplify the application of the regulations.
SANS 10400: The code of practice for the application of the National Building Regulations with “deemed-to- satisfy rules” is applicable for house construction in South Africa.
This code reproduces the regulations and covers provisions for building site operations, building design and construction that are deemed satisfactory. Compliance with the deemed-to-satisfy rules is a direct approach to ensure that the regulations have been applied. However, deemed- to-satisfy rules are not regulations and therefore not mandatory.
SANS 10401: The code of practice for the construction of dwelling houses in accordance with the National Building Regulations specifically covers the deemed-to-satisfy rules for housing and includes:
• conventional housing
• incremental housing
• informal housing
And lastly the National Home Builders Registration Council (NHBRC): Home Building Manuals.
The role of the NHBRC is to enforce compliance with National Building Regulation requirements by the homebuilders in the home building industry. The NHBRC home building manuals are compiled in line with SANS 10400 and SANS 10401. The NHBRC manuals have been simplified and the deemed-to-satisfy rules are more user- friendly.
Any revisions to the codes are reflected in the home building manuals. Therefore, compliance with the NHBRC manuals ensures that the regulations have been applied. The rules contained in the manuals are not regulations and therefore not mandatory. The current NHBRC manuals are Revision 1.
The NHBRC’s Technical Division is currently busy with the review of the manuals in line with the revision of relevant SANS standards and codes of practice.

Rational Design or Assessment

The purpose of rational designs is 
to ensure “fitness-for-purpose” of
 the elements covered by the design. Rational designs are required in
 respect of housing systems or components, which comprise materials and/or elements whose properties, characteristics and behaviour may be known or unknown. In both cases, a competent person (as defined under the Engineering Profession of South Africa Act, Act 114 of 1990) is required to produce the rational design.
The rational design would include
a detailed structural analysis and detail design of critical members and connection design details.
The NHBRC’s Technical Division reviews the rational designs and once 
it demonstrates compliance to National Building Regulations a letter of approval is issued to the system owner. The performance of alternative systems
 is reviewed annually and the letters
 of approval renewed, provided that NHBRC has not received any reports of system failure.

Valid Agrément SA Certificate

Agrément SA is an independent organisation established by the Minister of Public Works and housed at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Reseach (CSIR) premises. Their primary business focus is the certification of non-standardised or innovative building products through technical assessments that verify whether the products and systems are fit for purpose. Agrément certifies products where no national standards are applicable and their certification process is performance-based. A valid Agrément certificate will comply with the National Building Regulations and hence is accepted by NHBRC for enrollment of non-standardised and alternate housing construction.

Assessment criteria

The criteria follow an outline of the information required to perform a rational design assessment:
The system owner is required to provide rational design calculations that satisfy the National Building Regulations. The report must include design assumptions, detailed calculations, references to the necessary design standards and detailed design drawings. The structural design calculations must clearly demonstrate structural integrity and stability, including connection details. The design calculations should have proper sketches annotated in English, using SI notation.
The submission must demonstrate that the elements so designed have adequate performance at the serviceability limit state and at the ultimate limit state.
The submission report to NHBRC should address the following topics and demonstrate compliance:
1.structural performance (strengthand stability) resistance
3.water penetration
4. condensation
5. thermal
6. durability
7. acoustics manual (process)
9.quality manual (quality control)
The submission must be made by the system owner and certified by a competent engineer registered by the Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA) in a professional category in terms of Act No. 46 of 2000.

Kindly reproduced for all Owner Builder and Building Regulations viewers from AKHANI the NHBRC Magazine 2013 edition 2.
For further information on approval of Alternate Building Technologies contact the NHBRC engineer:
Mr. Paimaan Byron, on +27 (0)11 317 0087 or email:




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  1. Hi I am looking for Building Regulations on Shipping Container Homes.

  2. Hansa there are no building regulations that have been drawn up for shipping container homes. The National Building Regulations apply to all construction work – but they are not intended to be a manual for construction. If you are using a shipping container for a home, or part of a home, you will need to have plans drawn up, just as for any other type of dwelling. And in terms of the NBR, a competent person must do this. All the various elements will need to be adhered to – e.g. ventilation, plumbing, drainage etc. Things like distance from the boundary are governed by the local authority. You might find a book that appeals to you – here’s a link to Amazon where you will see a number of books about shipping container homes. A suitably qualified “competent person” will be able to adapt what you like to comply with the building regulations. Good luck.

  3. Hansa, I have been looking at this way of building for a while. I have been running into a brick wall as far as the local council is concerned. They want an Agrement Certificate, about R100000 to obtain, before they will consider my plans. My advise would be to pay a visit to your local council first before you appoint either an engineer or an architect. There are two examples, that I know of, in JNB. One is the Jerusalem childrens home and the other is an apartment block in Windsor JNB. I dont know how they managed to get past their respective councils.

  4. Hi Marita,
    This story about Alternate Building Methods is by an Engineer with the NHBRC his contact details are: Mr. Paimaan Byron, on +27 (0)11 317 0087 or email:
    To find the available systems that have been granted Certification for polystyrene building systems go to this link: and search for “polystyrene” there are a few systems to choose from. Then once you have the system that has an Agrément Certification then get your design done and submit the plans to council with a copy of the relevant certificate. Then the Council cannot refuse to approve your plans. On the other hand if you are manufacturing your own system then by law you have to go through the costly exercise of getting Agrément approval.

  5. Building regulations, regarding straw bale construction, Ethekwini municipality.

  6. Shane were you in a hurry when you asked the question, or do you actually speak like this? I presume you mean:
    What are the building regulations regarding straw bale construction. My local authority is the Ethekwini municipality.
    The National Building Regulations relate to the entire country. Durban is no different. In terms of straw bale construction, because this is an alternative type of construction method, so you will need a valid Agrément certificate for the structure which must, of course, comply with the National Building Regulations. Like all homes, it must be designed by a competent person and the plans must be approved by the municipality. I am aware that some people have had problems getting approval, but there are a number of legally approved straw bale houses in SA – so it can be done.

  7. Hi I am looking at making an addition to an existing house using a 12 meter shipping container. Any advice on Building Regulation in this regard, I reside in Johannesburg.

    Kind Regards


  8. If you are going to incorporate a container into a house you will need an agrement certificate. This is defined and covered in Part A of SANS 10400:
    Agrément certificate
    certificate that confirms fitness-for-purpose of a non-standardized product, material or component or the acceptability of the related non-standardized design and the conditions pertaining thereto (or both) issued by the Board of Agrément South Africa
    Board of Agrément South Africa
    body that operates under the delegation of authority of the Minister of Public Works

  9. Hi I would like to manufacture offices/clinics/abulultions using agrement certified materials. Any suggestions?

  10. Hi Chris, Just having a look at your website it would seem like you have access and hands on to all the SABS/ISO approved products.

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