Changes to the National Construction Code (NCC) that will allow timber construction in taller structures have been endorsed by architects. 

Effective from May this year, the NCC changes will enable construction of timber buildings up to eight storeys without the need for expensive ‘alternative solutions’ to gain approval. The NCC changes apply to both modern engineered timbers and traditional timber frames.

James Fitzpatrick of Sydney architecture firm Fitzpatrick and Partners described the initiative as an exciting step forward for architects and their clients. Architects will not only have new material options to create innovative design solutions for their clients, but can also deliver more environmentally advantaged and sustainable developments. He added that the code change will potentially mean quicker, more cost effective and environmentally friendlier construction of apartment, office and hotel buildings.

Preliminary economic modelling indicates potential savings of up to 15 per cent depending on build type, primarily due to shorter construction times. The modelling also suggests net benefits to the Australian economy over 10 years of approximately $103 million including $98.2 million in direct construction cost savings, $3.8 million in reduced compliance costs, and $1 million in environmental benefits.

Managing Director of Forest and Wood Products Australia, Ric Sinclair says that the changes to the code would deliver a wide range of benefits to local residents, property buyers and the domestic building industry. These changes have been developed in consultation with representatives of the timber industry, insurance companies, regulatory bodies, the domestic building industry, and fire and emergency authorities.

Noting that the building property industry can take advantage of the environmental and cost benefits of domestic timber construction, he believes the initiative will bring Australia up to pace with much of the rest of the world.

Enumerating the benefits of timber construction, Sinclair says wood offers quicker build times; creates less noise and disruption for neighbours; and facilitates innovative design approaches. International trends reveal that the global building industry is embracing both traditional wood and modern engineered wood products in an increasingly broad range of structural and decorative applications.

The code change in detail

Currently, timber building systems are restricted to three storeys under the NCC’s deemed-to-satisfy provisions, with taller buildings requiring an ‘alternative solution’ to be designed and documented to gain approval. While practical on larger projects, alternative solutions are generally too costly for smaller jobs.

The new code creates a voluntary prescriptive performance (previously known as a deemed-to-satisfy solution) for the use of timber building systems in Class 2 (apartments), Class 3 (hotels) and Class 5 (office) buildings up to 25 metres in effective height.

Covering both traditional timber framing and innovative massive timber systems such as cross laminated timber (CLT) and Glulam, the new solution requires use of appropriate layers of fire resistant materials and sprinkler systems.

Image: Exterior of The Green in Parkville, Melbourne (Credit: Frasers Property Australia)