Good news for suburban apartment buyers: New timber rule set to reduce emissions and construction costs

Monday, 1st Feb 2016

Good news for suburban apartment buyers:
New timber rule set to reduce emissions and construction costs

Changes to the National Construction Code allowing timber construction in buildings up to eight storeys high could make mid-rise suburban apartments both more affordable and environmentally friendly.
The changes – to be introduced on 1 May – follow a two-year consultation and research process spearheaded by industry group Forest and Wood Products Australia (FWPA), and will allow mid-rise timber buildings that meet specified new requirements, including fire sprinkler systems.
Using timber instead of conventional materials can reduce construction costs for suburban apartments aimed at ‘middle Australia’ by up to 25 per cent, while meeting or exceeding fire safety and thermal performance of traditional building methods.
The Managing Director of FWPA, Ric Sinclair, said both local and overseas fire and thermal engineers, fire authorities and other specialists had contributed to the changes.
“Developers will now be able to look at new options for affordable mid-rise domestic buildings which are more environmentally friendly, quicker to build and cost no more – and, we believe, will cost less – than conventional materials.
“We expect the savings available today to increase over time as timber becomes more widely-known as a quality building material in suburban mid-rise apartments, not just houses. It is going to be an exciting time for apartment purchasers. It’s also great news for the timber industry, and a real opportunity for the domestic building industry.
“Internationally, timber apartments are very well received and trends indicate their share of the market is growing as they find popularity with an increasing number of investors and residents.
“We believe the environmental advantages and liveability of these apartments will be attractive to a wide range of buyers in the suburbs, including downsizers and first homebuyers. For neighbours, the faster build-time with timber construction and the less associated noise is a plus,” he said.
The changes apply to both modern engineered timbers made from sustainable plantation timber, such as that used in Lend Lease’s Forte development in Melbourne’s Docklands – one of the world’s tallest modern residential timber buildings. They also apply to traditional ‘stick’ timber, as used in The Green, an apartment complex, in Parkville by Frasers Property Australia (formerly Australand).
In an article in the Fifth Estate in May 2014, the developers of The Green said average build costs per apartment were 25 per cent less than in a conventional apartment construction.
Then Australand General Manager, Robert Pradolin said: “Creating affordable, denser buildings that become viable in the middle and outer suburbs is something Australand has been working on for over 10 years now. The cost savings allow medium rise apartment developments in the suburbs to be offered at a price that middle Australia is able to afford.”
Before the code change, developers who wanted to build higher than three storeys in timber needed to use a more complex ‘alternative solutions’ model to get approval.
The Victorian Executive Director, Property Council of Australia, Jennifer Cunich, welcomed the change to the building code.
“This code change will encourage domestic builders who are prepared to innovate and upskill their teams a real opportunity to reach new markets on suburban sites which may not previously have been viable,” she said.
“We expect a substantial impact on the viability of suburban infill developments with the increased apartment design and build options available. This new mid-rise construction methodology will add value to the property industry and the general community as the need to increase density at an affordable price increases especially in the middle and outer suburbs. We’ll be working with the industry to ensure that training and information is available to enable domestic builders to take advantage of this code change,” she said.
The CEO of leading environmental group Planet Ark, Paul Klymenko, said timber buildings typically had a much lower carbon footprint than similar structures built with conventional materials, as discussed in their recent report Housing, Health and Humanity.
“Planet Ark is focussed on helping people make decisions that have positive benefits for the environment. Choosing apartments in timber mid-rise buildings has the potential to reduce the environmental footprint of the built environment without any increase in costs. It’s the perfect outcome. Creating and transporting timber building materials not only creates fewer carbon emissions than alternatives, but wood stores or sequesters carbon for the life of the building,” he said.


Did you know?

About 6% of Australia’s 147 million hectares of native forests are public forests potentially available for timber harvesting. Timber is harvested from about 1% of those public native forests each year.