Want to Develop in Timber? Changes to the Construction Code Make It Easier


The adoption by Australian states and territories of the National Construction Code 2019 will see new changes that allow buildings of all classes to be constructed with timber building systems.

The changes for buildings up to 25 metres — typically 8-storeys — marks an exciting opportunity for developers looking at exploring the use of different materials in their projects.

In 2016, the NCC moved into a three-year amendment cycle, which signals significant change for residential building practice. The code’s previous amendment in 2016 permitted the construction of fire-protected timber building systems to an effective height of 25 metres, typically 8-storeys, for class 2 (apartment), 3 (hotel) and 5 (office) buildings. However, this year, these concessions have been extended to include all building classes.

Timber building systems — such as traditional lightweight timber framing, cross laminated timber (CLT), laminated veneer lumber (LVL) and glue laminated timber (glulam) – will be approved for use in a range of new buildings, including retail, aged care accommodation, schools, and hospitals.

The change has been welcomed by industry professionals, including builders, engineers and developers.

Vistek Structural and Civil Engineers business manager Robbie Svars says that although material costs may be higher for timber, the costs are made up in the time savings in the construction schedule.

“Savvy developers are looking to change their business model and capitalise on the reduction in schedule time working with timber provides – this allows them to release their working capital far more quickly and move onto the next project,” Svars said.

“For example, projects with exposure to bank interest can see over 30 per cent reduction in build program by using timber, which can equate to hundreds of thousands of cost savings.

“Mass timber is also one of the most dimensionally accurate structural systems on the market, and it produces a very high-quality build. Its precision to 5mm has flow on effects in making joinery and finishes easier to execute to a higher quality.”

La Verde Apartments (Adelaide, South Australia)/ Building company Morgan and Hansen/ Proske Architects.
La Verde Apartments (Adelaide, South Australia)/ Building company Morgan and Hansen/ Proske Architects.WoodSolutions

Under the NCC changes, timber can be used as a deemed-to-satisfy (DTS) solution in buildings up to 25 metres. Under these amendments, developers who want to work with timber face a less time-consuming and expensive process to gain building approval, and designers now have access to more building combinations, such as mixed-use timber buildings.

Due to timber’s lightweight but solid properties, the material can be used to build on top of existing buildings and improve the use of space, while ensuring precision in design.

As a building material in framing, flooring and fixtures, wood can also enhance the visual, physical and tactile characteristics of an indoor environment.

“BIM goes hand-in-hand with prefabricated solutions like timber, due to the precision in the manufacturing process,” Svars said.

“This means that a mass timber building can be completely resolved down to the last screw in the design phase and consumers can have more confidence that all systems in the building have been executed just as the design intended, without the need for any ad-hoc changes on site due to construction errors,” Svars said.

The rigorous processes behind the 2019 NCC code change should instil confidence in active developers and builders in Australia that building taller in timber is possible, safe and something that developers can start implementing now instead of into the future.

La Verde Apartments (Adelaide, South Australia)/ Building company Morgan and Hansen/ Proske Architects.
La Verde Apartments (Adelaide, South Australia)/ Building company Morgan and Hansen/ Proske Architects.WoodSolutions

Although wood has not always been viewed as a competitive or innovative resource in the mid-rise market, largely due to its perceived fire risk, the 2016 NCC DTS amendments require that new timber buildings constructed must use fire-protective grade plasterboard and install automatic fire sprinkler systems.

Heavy timber structures also have inbuilt fire resistance, aided by the thickness of wood elements.

Using timber in built environments is quickly gaining momentum on the back of positive impacts on the health, wellbeing and productivity of occupants, similar to time spent outside in nature.

Thoughtful construction can help extend people’s innate relationship with nature into the built environment where we work, rest and play.

“Mass timber naturally regulates humidity and reduces the risk of mould while producing healthier and more pleasant internal environments,” Svars said.

“These details, while good for our health, can also be especially important in higher-end projects where people are looking at buying new a new townhouse or apartment for over $1 million.”

Many countries have already taken advantage of extended timber buildings heights and created progressive and pioneering designs.

Countries such as the United States, Norway and Finland all currently allow timber building structures up to 18-storeys.

Responsibly sourced, certified timber is a renewable building material, making it an asset for sustainably-minded developers.

As a result, materials such as CLT and LVL have become primary structural components in multi-level building construction, and these new DTS provisions are making it easier for these buildings to navigate the approvals process.

The recent changes to the NCC signal an opportunity for developers to utilise more progressive materials and incorporate sustainable designs into a new range of buildings.

Click here for more information about incorporating wood into mid-rise projects and what the NCC amendments could mean for your development.

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