Behind the code change - industry-wide consultation
The changes to the National Construction Code (NCC), due to come into effect on May 1st, that will make it easier to design and construct mid-rise (up to 25m) buildings using timber construction systems were the result of extensive consultation over more than two years. FWPA managing director, Ric Sinclair, explains in this interview.
Behind the code change – an industry-wide consultative approach
“This is the biggest market opportunity for the wood products industry since the change from green hardwood to kiln-dried pine framing about 30 to 40 years ago. It’s that degree of significance,” says Ric Sinclair, Managing Director of FWPA, explaining the upcoming change FWPA was instrumental in securing to the National Construction Code (NCC).
This new change will create voluntary deemed-to-satisfy (DTS) provisions in the National Construction Code (NCC), Building Code of Australia Volume 1 (BCA), allowing the use of timber construction systems in Class 2 (apartments), Class 3 (hotels) and Class 5 (offices). This means buildings up to 25 metres – or around eight storeys – will feature in Australia in the not-too-distant future, aligning our cities with international best-practice.
The idea for the Code change started over three years ago, from a discussion about the Building Code and the timber industry, explains Ric. “We realised the move to three storey timber buildings was significant, but it needed to go further.” The team, lead by Boris Iskra, National Manager – Codes and Standards for FWPA, Paul England from EFT Consulting, and Andrew Dunn from Timber Development Association of NSW, set about formulating a strategy for their Proposal for Change. The key aim was to take an evidence-based, consultative and inclusive approach.
But they had to get moving, explains Ric. “In 2014, they announced the Code was going to change every three years (rather than annually), so we had to accelerate our activity and consultation.”
The team initially focussed on Class 2 and Class 3 but later expanded to Class 5 buildings. “We looked at including other Classes but decided to limit the scope of the Proposal to increase its likelihood of success,” says Ric.
The new changes cover both traditional ‘timber-frame’ and new ‘massive timber’ systems such as cross-laminated timber (CLT), a result far from accidental. “We knew that CLT was a ‘sexy’ topic and more likely to gain attention,” explains Ric, “but we wanted this change to benefit a wide range of the sector so we tied the two together and put solutions up for both.”
The solution is based on the use of appropriate layers of fire-resistant plasterboard – fire-protected timber – and the use of compliant fire sprinkler systems.
Consultation was wide-ranging and inclusive, an approach Ric credits to the success of the proposal. It was developed in conjunction with representatives of the timber and building industry professional bodies, regulators and fire and emergency authorities.
We used international fire research and where necessary undertook our fire tests of key elements to ensure that we were working on the best available evidence. The research was even peer reviewed by leading independent researchers such as José Torero, Professor of Civil Engineering at the University of Queensland.
“Another important key success factor,” explains Ric, “was that we had already built relationships with the key building specifier groups under our Wood Solutions program.” This meant groups like the Australian Institute of Building Surveyors, Engineers Australia, and the Property Council of Australia were consulted and their needs accommodated leading to a better proposal: one more likely to achieve the desired Code change and to be more workable and well received into the future.
“I’d also like to thank the Australian Building Codes board because they were also very receptive to our process,” Ric adds.
“Many people were sceptical that we would be able to secure this change, but we were successful because our approach was strongly evidence-based, and we were very consultative and inclusive with stakeholders. We are hopeful we can continue to build these relationships and utilise this same successful approach to secure future changes to the Building Code,” he says.
For the timber, design and construction industries, Ric says the benefits of this change will be wide-ranging. “The Australian property industry can now take advantage of the cost and environmental benefits of timber construction, quicker build times, and this will lead to benefits to the timber industry and the wider community.”