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The ABCs of IBTs

ABCs of IBTs

The South African housing shortage continues to worsen amid the delivery of homes that are still more focussed on quantity rather than quality. The government and the Department of Human Settlements’ stakeholders had committed to deliver 1,5 million housing opportunities by 2019.  

The Department of Human Settlements tasked the National Home Builders Registration Council (NHBRC) to play a more prominent role in piloting innovative building technologies (IBTs) in the subsidised housing sector for low-income persons, and to contribute towards finding solutions for performance issues. 

ABT or IBT? 

The construction industry uses the terminology of either alternative or innovative building technology (ABT or IBT) interchangeably, to describe the new technology of a building. The NHBRC has taken the position that the term IBT) is more inclusive.  

It is defined as any form of building that utilises building systems, methods, materials, elements or components that are not fully covered by existing standards and specifications or codes of practice, and/or that are not described or referred to in “deemed-to-satisfy” rules of the National Building Regulations. 


Although the benefits are not guaranteed, the following factors may determine whether non-standardised construction is chosen: 

Economic factors  Construction factors  Environmental factors 
  • Improved upfront costs. 
  • Improved market value. 
  • Improved profitability in the long term through lifecycle costing or cost benefit analysis of the total building. 
  • Improved rate of construction and reduced labour costs. 
  • Ease of construction. 
  • Lower maintenance. 
  • Improved energy efficiency. 
  • Improved embodied energy. 
  • Less wastage. 

Public vs private 

IBTs can provide solutions to both the public and private sector.  

Public sector: A major concern of the government is the housing backlog and slum conditions. Alternative solutions need to be found to address the housing backlog through innovation, which is why the NHBRC is focussing on the performance of IBTs. 

Private sector: Homeowners mostly use standard technical building solutions due to the accessibility of materials, technical knowledge and available labour skills. The relevant benefits of IBTs, however, could entice homeowners as an interesting option for building homes. 


The performance-based regulations of the South African National Building Regulations are focussed on providing the required level of performance of a building system or material, rather than stipulating how this level will be achieved. The strength of performance-based regulations lies in their flexibility, thereby encouraging the diffusion of innovative materials and technologies. 

The development of performance-based regulations worldwide is generally modelled on the Nordic 5-level system. In line with the National Building Regulations, the NHBRC parameters are in accordance with a 4-level hierarchy framework to establish both the performance descriptions and performance parameters, as indicated in Figure 1

These include structural strength and stability, serviceability, materials, behaviour in fire, drainage and stormwater management and water installations, in relation to the warranty scheme. 

Figure 1: Framework for assessing the performance of a system, element or component of a house (NHBRC Home Builder Manual: 2015).


Greater efforts need to be made to raise the uptake of technological innovation in housing in South Africa, as societal progress is essential to improving a country’s living standards. The NHBRC’s view is that IBTs can assist in addressing the government’s subsidy housing dilemmas with regards to the national housing backlog, and the quality of such homes. Over time, innovative building technologies will become more streamlined to be environmentally friendly. 


Issue: Backlog of housing in South Africa. 

Solution: IBTs offer benefits that may provide the answer for both the public and private sector. 


Full acknowledgement and thanks go to for the information in this editorial. 

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