Boris Iskra, the national manager for codes and standards for Forest and Wood Products Australia Ltd., was the presenter for the "Mid-rise timber buildings – Australia's step-change" session at the Wood Design and Construction Solutions conference on Feb. 28 in Vancouver.
Iskra focused on changes to the Australian construction code, which now allows wood-frame buildings up to eight stories high.
Forest and Wood Products Australia (FWPA) is a service provider for the Australian timber industry, and while previously a government body are now a private company.
Canada, Iskra said, has increased the height for timber construction to six storeys, and other nations have made similar moves. Australia was previously restrictd to three storeys, he said, and it was time to update the code.
New engineered timber products are now being used, and FWPA is working with key stakeholders to ensure a consistent level of safety, Iskra said.
"There is a growing demand for wood product in Australia," Iskra said, and added the goal is to match the safety of steel and concrete buildings.
"We wanted to ensure we didn't do major modifications to our code, and instead wanted to make the changes short and succinct to make them easy for key stakeholders to understand," he said.
FWPA also wants systems that are economically viable, consistent and sustainable. A technical guide now provides technical background for mid-rise buildings.
General fire design principles include the use of automatic fire sprinklers, as well as fire-grade plasterboard and use of cavity barriers to prevent fire or smoke spread through cavities. Non-combustible insulation is also used.
Timber systems are predominantly built off-site, then transported and installed. This results in reduced on-site costs and occupational health and safety issues, as well as reduced on-site construction infrastructure such as cranes and sheds.
Iskra said plans are being looked at for wood-frame office construction. Post and beam as well as portal frames allow for a grid-like layout for offices.
Under the code, there is no restriction on what material is used, but one has to match the fire resistance standards. The Australian code is concerned only with safety, not property.
Prefabricated cassette floor systems are being used, as they provide for very fast installation times and reduce "falls from height" considerably.
One of the issues raised, Iskra said, was the performance of light weight wood products in a fire, so the FWPA has undertaken full scale fire tests and found they could accomplish the minimum 90-minute resistance to fire that is required.
Manufacturers conduct their own tests with massive timber systems, as "we couldn't come up with a generic test for all the manufacturers across the world," Iskra said.
FWPA also provides tutorials and other web based learning through an online resource called Wood Solutions, along with paper-based technical design guides.