Australia's peak wood and forestry industry group is confident that the latest timber building materials are more than safe enough to be used for mid-rise construction in Australia.

Efforts to promote the usage of timber in mid-rise buildings are fast gathering momentum in Australia, with the submission of a proposal for changes to the National Construction Code by timber industry group Forest and Wood Products Australia (FWPA).

FWPA, which first indicated that it would seek increases to the height restrictions on timber buildings toward the end of last year, submitted its proposal-for-change (PFC) to the Australian Building Codes Board at the beginning of February.

The release of a Public Comment Draft is expected around the middle of this year, with the implementation of any approved amendments expected by May 2016.

Boris Iskra

Boris Iskra

FWPA national manager of codes and standards Boris Iskra said the goal of the PFC is to raise the restriction on the effective height of timber construction systems to 25 metres, equivalent to approximately eight storeys.

“We’d like to see the provision of a deemed-to-satisfy option for mid-rise timber buildings that is both economically viable and can facilitate sustainable construction practices,” said Iskra, who will be sharing his expertise on timber codes and standards at the Frame Australia Conference and Exhibition on engineered wood construction systems in June.

The proposed height change will be applicable to both fire-protected lightweight timber frames and massive timber systems such as cross-laminated timber that incorporate the use of appropriate layers of fire-grade plasterboard and sprinklers.

If approved, the NCC amendment will permit the usage of such timber construction systems for mid-rise apartments buildings, hotels, and office complexes.

While concerns about the combustibility and fire risks of timber building materials have long hampered their usage in multi-storey structures, Iskra said the latest developments in timber building methods and technology should allay any such fears.

“We’ve done a whole lot of fire analysis to prove that timber is at least safe as other construction materials for high-rise building purposes,” he said. “It’s for this reason that we want to see timber as another option for developers and architects.”

Iskra said that if the proposed changes to the NCC are approved, they should provide a major boost to the usage of timber by architects and developers for mid-rise building projects, given wood’s appeal as a sustainable and economic construction material.

He pointed in particular to the spate of heightened interest in timber triggered by the unveiling of Lend Lease’s Forte apartment project.

Forte, Melbourne

Forte, Melbourne

“We are confident that the systems will be taken up,” said Iskra. “When Forte was announced by Lend Lease several years ago, I had at least one to two architects a week calling me up for information on the products two to three months subsequently.”

Lend Lease’s Forte apartment complex in Melbourne’s Victoria Harbour is currently the world’s tallest timber apartment building, consisting of 10 storeys with a total height of 32 metres.

The apartment complex is the first in Australia to have been built using Cross Laminated Timber – a form of massive timber product that is considered to possess enhanced fire resistance due to its charring properties.