Building materials sector drives ‘safety first’

Suppliers in the Australian building materials sector are now, more than ever, working to ensure leading health issues within the industry are being addressed and the correct precautions are being taken – from the removal of asbestos, to the prevention of silicosis, and the right building materials utilised within bushfire zones.

MaxiWall and MaxiFloor walling panel and flooring solutions offer solid and fire-resistant qualities that are ideal for properties requiring specific fire ratings.

After the devastating bushfires decimated thousands of homes throughout New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia this summer, those wishing to rebuild in bushfire prone areas are now being warned to design for the long term with non-flammable materials.

The Dean of UNSW Built Environment, Professor Helen Lochhead said while it is possible for residents to rebuild in bushfire affected zones, the designs need to be well located and in line with the Australian Standard AS3959, for construction of buildings in bushfire-prone areas and using best practice planning principles.

“In the majority of cases we can design much better, more fire resistant, more sustainable and climate responsive houses than what we are doing today,” Professor Lochhead said.

One of the first considerations in rebuilding is assessing the suitability of the site, she said.

“There are locations where it is probably not appropriate to rebuild. For example, if your home is in a remote location with one road in, surrounded by bush and without any support infrastructure, or any potential for a fire break, that is obviously a very vulnerable location to rebuild,” she said.

Professor Lochhead also said that those planning to rebuild in fire affected areas should consider a range of factors, such as an adequate clearing around the house, self-cleaning gutters and fire-resistant decking on verandas. 

The underside of buildings should also be enclosed so embers do not get trapped underneath the floor, and in more isolated areas there should ideally be adequate stored water, whether tanks, pools, ponds or dams, to fight fires if they do occur.

“(Other considerations include) using fire resistant materials including non-flammable materials such as masonry, brickwork or rammed earth, and concrete as opposed to timber. This does not mean you cannot use timber, but you might use it on the inside rather than the outside of buildings in these of locations.”

Professor Lochhead also pointed out that these design considerations are more sustainable and cost effective in the long term and local architects are already onboard and designing this way in fire prone areas.

“We are not promoting buildings that are beyond the reach of the average person. We are just talking about designing sensibly, sustainably and for the long term acknowledging the climate and environment which we live in,” she said.

Professor Lochhead is also President of the Australian Institute of Architects, which provides free access to its acumen practice notes – found at www.architecture.com.au – a resource base for building in bushfire prone zones. The institute also provides pro bono architectural services, found at www.architectassist.com.au for bushfire affected homeowners.

Bushfire resistant products

Big River Group is one company dedicated to safely rebuilding in bushfire-prone areas, and continues to promote its cost-effective, non-combustible Autoclaved Aerated Concrete (AAC) superior walling panel and flooring solutions, including MaxiWall and MaxiFloor. 

Both products now offer solid and fire-resistant qualities that are ideal for properties requiring specific fire ratings, according to the company. While AS3959 is Australia’s building standard for bushfire-prone areas – which covers everything from sub-floor supports and floors to roofs, verandas and gas pipes – MaxiFloor and MaxiWall may be used in the highest Bushfire Attack Level (BAL) areas: Flame Zone. 

Both products are classified as 100 per cent non-combustible building materials, are resistant to fire up to 1,200 degrees Celsius and achieve a two-hour fire rating when installed with approved systems.  

“MaxiWall and MaxiFloor are also lightweight, easy to handle and quick to build with, which reduces labour costs, construction time and on-site mess. This also helps reduce the total cost of the build. An entire MaxiWall exterior could be completed in a fraction of the time compared to rendered brick or block. Its contemporary rendered finish allows for a multitude of different rendered finishes, ensuring any design choice can be accommodated,” Big River Group General Manager of Sales and Marketing, John Lorente said. 

For the homeowner, MaxiWall and MaxiFloor often offers a more comfortable home living experience not only due its high fire protection, but also its insulation and soundproofing qualities, according to the Big River Group. 

Mr Lorente also pointed out that one of the greatest contributors to the building cost is the national energy rating requirements, as bushfire prone areas can be both quite cold in winter and very hot in summer.

“With four times greater thermal resistance than standard house bricks, the amount of energy required to heat or cool is greatly reduced, providing savings to homeowners. MaxiWall and MaxiFloor also have excellent acoustic insulation, up to seven decibels greater per surface area than other solid building materials of the same weight. This is particularly important in multi-residential housing as well as semi-detached and terraced houses where soundproofing is critical,” Mr Lorente said. 

Both products are also pollutant-free building materials, sourced from world class production facilities using German technology and automated processes to ensure every MaxiFloor and MaxiWall panel delivers optimum quality and consistency. By using reduced raw materials, it helps reduce around 30 per cent of environmental waste compared to traditional concrete and 50 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions.

MaxiWall and MaxiFloor products are also fully compliant with current Australian standards and have Australian Codemark Certification.

Tumultuous weather boosts insulation sector

As one of the most respected names in the industry, Knauf Insulation prides itself on producing products primarily made using innovative German technology.

While the company also recognises Australia as a major insulation market, Knauf Insulation Marketing Manager, Claire Cunliffe, said she hopes both the local DIY customer and professional installers can benefit from the many features of its Earthwool® range. 

ECOSE® Technology is ultimately what sets Knauf glass-wool insulation apart from its competitors.

“ECOSE® Technology is ultimately what sets our glass-wool insulation apart from our competitors. This revolutionary binder technology uses no added formaldehyde, and means our products are super soft and easy to handle. This solves many of the pain points for those familiar with traditional glass-wool insulation batts. The technology follows years of intensive research and testing, supporting our ongoing commitment to innovation, and meeting the growing market demand for more sustainable construction materials,” Ms Cunliffe said.

As Australian summers become hotter, and weather events become more unpredictable, there is also an increasing need for consumers to improve the way they keep their homes cool and warm across the seasons, she said.

“Consumers have become more aware of the year-round benefits of insulated walls, ceilings and floors. Well-insulated buildings can also reduce our everyday carbon footprint and combat increasing energy costs,” according to Ms Cunliffe.

“Due to the increasing demand for insulation in Australia and the region as a whole, we also look forward to opening a new manufacturing plant later this year. The new state-of-the-art facility will be one of the most efficient and sustainable insulation plants in the Asia Pacific region, using up to 80 per cent post-consumer recycled glass in the manufacturing process,” she said.

The new plant will also utilise the company’s patented high compression packaging, enabling more product per pack, creating greater efficiency for transport and delivery.

‘Asbestos Finder’ launched as awareness remains critical 

Asbestos was officially banned in Australia in 2003, after Australia boasted the highest rate of asbestos use up until the mid-80s. This saw most houses built in Australia, before 1990, having some form of asbestos in it.

Late last year the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) warned NSW residents to be more vigilant than ever when renovating or building, warning that “asbestos lurks in more places than you would think”.

With over 3,000 products containing asbestos used in Australian homes and workplaces before asbestos was banned in 2003, it is little wonder that the EPA needs to remain vigilant with its warnings. Asbestos or asbestos-containing materials can still be found in most dwellings built before 1990, including roofing and gutters, gables and eaves, walls, vinyl, carpet and tile underlay, lining behind wall tiles, brick cladding, fencing sheds and splash-backs.

EPA Acting Executive Director for Hazardous Incidents and Environmental Health, Arminda Ryan said the EPA will continue to urge DIY renovators and tradies to be aware that asbestos can lurk in more places than they think. 

“You cannot always tell what products contain asbestos just by looking at them. It can be hard to tell the difference between products with and without asbestos as some companies manufactured identical-looking products after the asbestos ban. The EPA is continually encouraging DIYers to find out where asbestos can be found. It is best to be vigilant, take precautions and seek the help of experts,” Ms Ryan said.

“An asbestos check from a licensed asbestos assessor can advise where asbestos might be in a home and how to safely and legally dispose of it to protect workers, family, neighbours and community,” she said.

Workers in the building, construction and vehicle trades, as well as plumbers, electricians and DIY renovators of older homes, are especially at risk of encountering asbestos, according to Ms Ryan.

“Left undisturbed, asbestos material in a stable condition poses a low health risk. When released and inhaled, asbestos fibres can cause a range of deadly diseases, including mesothelioma, asbestosis and lung cancer. It is estimated over 4,000 Australians die from asbestos-related diseases each year,” she said.

Late last year the Asbestos Finder was launched on the asbestos.nsw.gov.au website, allowing users to search for products that may contain asbestos or by locations where asbestos may be found.