The Forest and Wood Products Australia (FWPA) proposal to allow taller timber buildings to be built in Australia under the National Construction Code (NCC) could lead to construction cost reductions of 10-15 per cent, preliminary economic modelling from the group suggests.

Now available for download HERE and open for public comment, the proposal was submitted to the Australian Building Codes Board (ABCB) earlier this year, and seeks to create a voluntary deemed-to-satisfy (DTS) 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, or approximately 8 storeys.

The modelling also suggests net benefits over 10 years of approximately $103 million – $98.2 million in direct construction cost savings; $3.8 million in reduced compliance costs; and $1 million in environmental benefits – while new material options create new scope for architects and designers.

Over the past two years, FWPA has developed its Proposal for Change to the NCC Volume 1 in consultation with representatives from the timber, building and insurance industries, regulatory bodies, and fire and emergency authorities. It believes that the DTS solution will mean that building with structural timber becomes more commercially viable and accessible for all types of projects.

At the moment, timber building systems are restricted to three storeys under the NCC’s DTS provisions, with taller buildings requiring the design and documentation of an ‘alternative solution’ to gain approval.

But while practical for larger projects, these alternative solutions are often found to be too costly for smaller builds, especially when things like extensive fire engineering is necessary.

“One of the advantages of this proposal is its element of deregulation,” Ric Sinclair, Managing Director of the FWPA told A&D last year.

“A deemed-to-satisfy requirement allows a safe harbour – if you meet the criteria, then it’s accepted by the building inspectors.”

RELATED: Australian Construction Code (NCC) could allow timber buildings up to 25 metres tall by 2016

The proposed solution will cover both traditional timber framing and innovative massive timber systems such as cross laminated timber (CLT) and Glulam, and comprises the use of appropriate layers of fire resistant plasterboard and sprinkler systems.

“The proposed changes to the Code will not only bring Australia up to pace with much of the rest of the world, but will deliver a wide range of benefits to local residents, property buyers and the building industry,” says Boris Iskra, FWPA’s National Codes and Standards Manager.

These benefits extend to lower costs, as well as increased opportunities for innovative design and construction, faster build times leading to reduced truck movements and local disruption, and improved environmental outcomes.

“This is just one of the emerging opportunities for architects, engineers, building designers and developers to take advantage of the benefits of traditional and innovative wood products,” says Sinclair.

“A look at international trends and design competitions shows the global sector is embracing wood and wood products in a broad range of structural and decorative applications. In Australia, this Code change has the potential to expand the options for designing and building a whole class of structures.”

A copy of the proposed changes to the National Construction Code can be found on the ABCB website, with the NCC 2016 Volume 1 Public Comment Draft giving NCC users advance notice of the proposals that may take effect from May 1, 2016,

Public comments on the proposal can be made via the Australian Building Codes Board (ABCB) website until Monday August 3, 2015. 

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Lead image: The Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology and Arts building in New Zealand by Irving Smith Jack Architects was constructed using the world's first commercial EXPAN Pres-Lam engineered timber structure. Photography by Patrick Reynolds