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    How code changes for timber construction are reshaping the Australian sustainability landscape

    By now, the Australian construction industry has recognised that sustainability concerns are here to stay. In 2016, in response to mounting concerns about the environmental impacts of contemporary construction practices, the Australian Building Codes Board (ABCB) announced a number of landmark changes to the National Construction Code (NCC). Arguably one of the most critical components of the revised NCC is the recognition of timber as a viable, code-compliant construction material for midrise buildings.

    Per the revised NCC, buildings in construction classes 2, 3, and 5 and up to 25m – effectively, 8 storeys – high can now be constructed from lightweight and massive (i.e. CLT) timber. The code changes directly impact apartments, hotels, and offices, and are a major step towards more sustainable building forms and practices.

    The changes came as the result of a two-year consultation process spearheaded by Forest and Wood Products Australia (FWPA), and opened up new possibilities for meeting growing demands for urban density while minimising negative environmental impacts. Timber’s strong sustainability credentials and unique ability to sequester carbon have facilitated new scope for Australian designers to construct mid-rise buildings using an environmentally responsible material, and are paired with notable cost efficiency; WoodSolutions estimates that savings of up to 25 percent can be achieved for timber constructions, provided the appropriate building design principles are followed.

    The move towards mid-rise timber construction reflects the ongoing issues of climate change and greenhouse gas emissions, both of which remain topical in Australian construction. The code changes are a timely response to growing industry demand for construction materials and methodologies that reduce carbon footprints without sacrificing performance or compliance with national codes and regulations. Timber construction excels in this regard: an average 50 percent of the weight of any timber member is comprised of stored carbon, and timber is renowned for its strength, durability, and longevity. Following the 2016 amendments to the NCC, it is also now recognised as a realistic solution for meeting the environmental demands of contemporary construction.

    Beyond this, the green light for timber construction on mid-rise projects is a leap toward a more economically sustainable, cost efficient construction culture. According to research conducted by WoodSolutions, timber construction can reduce the total cost of residential construction projects by up to 15 percent*. Other sources echo this sentiment, noting that CLT in particular can offer savings of up to 10 to 12 percent in comparison with traditional construction materials. 

    The effects of the code changes have been far-reaching. Primarily, the changes have sparked a much-needed nationwide discussion about the role of timber in the construction industry and have legitimised timber solutions on a large scale. Across the country, novel solutions such as Wood Encouragement Policies are gaining ground as the industry attempts to entice governing bodies to increase their forestry production and funnel the yield of this into new construction.

    The first Wood Encouragement Policy (WEP) was passed in December 2014 by La Trobe City Council in Melbourne. At present,  twoLocal Government Authorities, 15 Local Councils and 1 state (Tasmania) have adopted WEPs. The policy encouraged local design and construction professionals to recognise the potential of timber construction to deliver faster, cheaper, and more efficient buildings and pledged to commit more resources to ensuring a lively local forestry industry. It is hoped that similar policies will become commonplace across Australia in the near future.

    To learn more about the code changes and for more information about their practical implications, explore the extensive WoodSolutions library of technical resources and guides

    * In comparison to traditional reinforced concrete construction. More details are available in the Technical Guide “Rethinking Apartment Building Construction - Consider Timber’  

    Image Credit:
    BHP Billiton Workplace, Brisbane by BVN
    CFJ Photography

     

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