March, 2022|System change

New timber opportunities secured for mid-rise buildings

Responding to a successful, evidence-based submission by Forest and Wood Products Australia (FWPA), the National Construction Code Volume One (NCC) 2019 extends the use of fire-protected timber construction systems in all nine classes of buildings covered by the Code – including multi-residential, hospitality accommodation, schools, retail premises, hospitals, office buildings and aged care facilities – up to an effective height of 25 m.

In 2016, following extensive work and a successful submission by FWPA, the company behind the WoodSolutions Program, a deemed-to-satisfy solution was introduced to the NCC permitting, for the first time, construction in fire-protected timber building systems to an effective height of 25 m (typically 8 storeys) for Class 2, 3 and 5 buildings.

In 2019, these concessions were extended to include all classes of building, meaning that builders and developers wanting to use timber no longer have to undertake time-consuming and expensive ‘performance solutions’ to gain building approval, as long as their designs meet the deemed-to- satisfy requirements.

This change opens the door to a wide range of options and combinations. For example, designers can now create mixed-use mid-rise timber buildings, with residential upper levels and office space or retail on lower levels.

Timber building systems include traditional stick or lightweight timber framing and newer mass timber options, such as cross-laminated timber (CLT), laminated veneer lumber (LVL) and glue-laminated timber (glulam). Under the NCC 2019, the ‘deemed- to-satisfy’ solution for timber construction requires the use of fire-protective coverings like fire-grade plasterboard on timber structural materials.

The requirement for sprinkler systems in timber structures had previously affected their competitiveness with concrete and steel buildings, but the NCC 2019 includes compulsory sprinkler systems in all Class 2 and 3 buildings between four and eight storeys in height. This is a win for everyone, because the effectiveness of sprinkler systems in saving lives and buildings is well documented.

The option to build using pre-fabricated timber systems, rather than traditional steel and concrete, brings a number of advantages, including faster construction, greater safety on the worksite, lighter buildings and footings, and the environmental benefits of using timber – a sustainable and renewable building material.

The combination of these factors and the NCC 2019 amendments have created new market opportunities for suppliers of timber building systems, and added sales volume as builders and developers around Australia have responded to the Code changes by building taller timber buildings.