A building revolution is beginning in Western Australia as builders reconsider their traditional double brick walls and the concrete suspended slab model for double-storey houses.

The HIA’s State Outlook Report has forecast a 21.3 per cent decline in new dwelling builds for the 2015/16 financial year, with roughly 24,500 new homes to be constructed. This followed a record year for builds in 2014/15, when more than 31,000 dwellings were started.

The report also predicted new constructions would continue to contract for a further two years, bottoming out at approximately 20,800.

Residential construction has many drivers. The WA boom population growth of up to 90,000 per year during the past seven years has come back down by about two thirds, and consequently the growth in house prices has slowed or even slipped into negative territory in many areas.

costsWhat are builders to do in a contracting market but find cost savings and compete on price? Among the efficiencies available is to change the way they build. Suspended concrete slab construction in Western Australia has for a long time, been the most expensive of any state in Australia.

The above graph shows clearly that a real incentive exists for builders in WA to change the traditional masonry construction paradigm in favour of the timber frame construction methodology that we have come to expect and accept on the eastern seaboard.

However market perceptions are slow to evolve. Buyers come to expect a certain standard and are wary that they may not be getting value if that standard is not met. As any builder will tell you, the difference between concrete and timber framed construction is not just cost. Depending on the framing system used, the systems can ‘feel’ very different underfoot. Timber systems can be ‘bouncy.’ If one is not used to this, it can be off-putting.

One Perth builder,  s leading the way and countering market bias toward concrete by choosing to adopt the stiffest timber structural system in the market – and then saving construction costs even further by building with prefabricated cassettes, saving considerably in construction time. Express is the first WA project builder to adopt the system.

Express confirms that this floor frame system has the feel of a concrete floor in terms of stiffness, rigidity and strength. Beyond that, the flooring can be walked on immediately after it is laid. This saves time over concrete slabs, which typically take 30 days to set and cure.

This innovation may be considered part of the Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) movement being championed by Amy Marks, president of US-based XSite construction consulting. With MMC, components of the construction process are manufactured off-site. Intelligent materials, components and modules are incorporated.

Speaking at an industry event last year, Marks acknowledged the slow rate of development of the off-site industry in Australia. She pointed to the prefabrication hub now forming in our region across Singapore, China and Malaysia and compared this to a small Silicon Valley full of very innovative companies.

The move to a prefabricated cassette system by Express is a clever marketing strategy. Not only are they able to be more competitive by using a cost saving system, but with the proprietary system they have chosen, buyers will be hard pressed to identify the difference with concrete when they visit the display homes.