Property development trends across Australia indicate an increasing preference for timber construction in the medium rise housing segment. Timber frame and engineered wood construction is expected to be the future method of building affordable medium rise housing, according to some of the largest property developers in Australia.

This offers a staggering opportunity for market growth in the supply of structural timber and engineered wood construction systems to commercial building developments that could consume more wood products than the entire detached dwelling market does at present.

The key driver for this ‘new thinking’ in residential construction is the push by planning in many State Governments to increase the density of housing in the inner and middle suburbs.

For developers, this increased density for medium rise housing is economically viable at around five levels of building height to give adequate financial returns required to cover high land costs. Buildings of this height using timber framing have been underway for many years by builders in other countries, but have now become attractive to developers and builders in Australia.

The construction of a 5-level building on a typically cramped inner suburb building site changes the dynamics of cost, with timber offering cost benefits over the traditional materials of steel and concrete.

Australand Property Group recently completed a 57-apartment 5-storey building in Parkville in only 11 months using prefabricated timber panel systems. This project was a topic of discussion at the Frame Australia 2014 Conference and Exhibition held at Park Hyatt Melbourne earlier this month titled ‘Prefabricated Timber and Engineered Wood in Construction’.

Craig Muse, Australand’s Development Director - Built Form explains that the lightweight prefabricated timber framing and floor cassette system is a fast and safe method of structural erection that results in a significant reduction in construction programming, and lowers overall development costs.

According to Craig, this method of construction takes full advantage of utilising domestic labour and materials, which in turn produces more cost effective building developments for large scale residential projects. He adds that they are able to achieve savings in the order of up to 25% when compared to concrete; this cost advantage will bring more medium rise, pre-fabricated timber apartment buildings to the suburbs and revitalise sites previously unviable, making housing affordable to middle Australia.