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Force of Nature

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Housing takes a look at some of the construction techniques and products that will help you create high-endurance homes that will weather the weather for years to come. 

Gabrielle Chariton


Contributor to Housing

The Australian landscape is one of the most diverse on earth, and building to withstand the variety of temperatures and extreme weather conditions can be a challenge for industry. Depending on where you live, environmental threats to the longevity or performance of buildings include dry, scorching summers and high UV exposure; sub-zero winters; floods and heavy rainfall; fire; intense humidity; termite attack; high winds; or corrosive salt air. 

Homes must be designed and built to endure these conditions over the long term, while remaining comfortable, liveable and energy-efficient for the occupants. While the BCA mandates minimum requirements to meet specific environmental conditions (such as wind loads, BAL ratings, or coastal locations), much of the time, building homes that offer superior defence against the elements comes down to well-considered design, good building practice (in terms of tolerances and accuracy), and choosing high-performance materials. 

The good wood

One of Australia’s preferred building materials – for both structural and decorative applications – is timber. According to research conducted by HIA and Forest and Wood Products Australia (FWPA), in 2017/18, around 73 per cent of detached houses and 79 per cent of Class 1 attached dwellings, were built using timber frame construction.

Timber offers many advantages: it’s cost-effective, fast and easy to work with, and adds visual appeal. But while a correctly designed timber building can last thousands of years, excessive exposure to moisture can compromise its durability. This must be accounted for Australia-wide, but is of particular concern when building in sub-tropical and tropical regions with high rainfall. 

To maximise the service life of timber construction, moisture management is key, and Professor Jeff Morrell, director of the National Centre for Timber Durability and Design Life, recommends that builders consider the ‘4 Ds of Durability’: deflection, drainage, drying and durable materials.

‘The 4 Ds are about controlling moisture entry, allowing drying, or in the cases where you can't do that, doing something else to make the wood more durable,’ Professor Morrell said in a recent WoodSolutions podcast. 

‘A properly designed building will have good roof overhangs so the water can’t hit the side of the building; they'll have gutters and splashways to move water away quickly. They'll have the wood off the ground, either on a concrete foundation or up on stumps, to basically avoid those water contacts.’ 

Drainage planes will ensure that if water does ingress, it can also move out. And the design should include pathways for drying ‘because the wood will occasionally get wet and. It’s about four times slower to dry wood than it is to wet it.’

Timber's superior strength qualities provide a versatile and reliable building material for a wide range of structural applications, from beams, walls and flooring through to formwork and large timber panels. Backed by Australian Standards for design and construction, timber framed construction is tough and reliable. And when combined with good design and detailing, it can withstand some of the most extreme weather conditions Australia has to offer.

Bring the outdoors in  

Most parts of Australia are blessed with warm or temperate weather, and embracing the outdoors is a fundamental aspect of the Aussie lifestyle. Over the past decade, our homes have transformed to reflect this – with integrated alfresco living spaces and full-height glazing, and the increased use of finishes such as timber and stone to bring the beauty of nature indoors.  

Timber, in particular, introduces an organic, tactile warmth to a space, and its biophilic properties visually soften the divide between interior and exterior. Timber’s superior thermal and acoustic insulation qualities can also enhance a home’s liveability.

Porta Contours lining boards offer HIA members an easy and fuss-free way to seamlessly introduce timber into home interiors. ‘Porta’s timber lining boards are inspired by the contours of the Australian landscape and are available in a range of textured designs,’ says Rob Bennett, national sales manager – residential/retail/trade. 

The Contours range is uniquely suited to designing curved features, such as island benches or cabinetry. Its tongue-and-groove connection allows for secret direct fixing and is designed for easy installation. 

Available in set lengths to reduce waste, the lining boards are offered in a range of profiles that can be mixed and matched to create unique designs. Get creative and incorporate a curved wall featuring various lining board profiles or a secret door.

‘They can be installed vertically to create the illusion of height, or horizontally to create depth and longer sightlines,’ Rob says. 

‘The preferred substrate for timber lining boards is a timber or steel frame, plasterboard or brick providing the surface is prepared correctly and the right fixings and adhesives are used.’ 

St Andrews beach house by architect Austin Maynard. Photo: Derek Swalwell

Steel the show

Condensation within the cavity of roofs represents an ongoing issue for home builders around Australia. Over time, trapped moisture can cause a build-up of mould, mildew and, in extreme cases, damage to the ceiling or timber structural members inside the roof. Fortunately the problem is easily solved if adequate ventilation is provided for during construction. 

The innovative VENT-A-ROOF® system available from Lysaght is a cost-effective concealed roofing ventilation system that can be used with metal roofing to combat condensation, humidity, and associated mould issues. It’s waterproof, cyclone-rated and meets fire and wind-driven rain building standards, making it perfect for tough Australian conditions. It’s also a smart choice when building to high-fire risk areas, as it’s certified for use in BAL12.5–40 regions to prevent ember ingress at ridge and hips. 

For added reliability and durability, the VENT-A-ROOF® system has no moving parts – instead utilising fundamental air flow principles to reduce heat build-up.

‘As the roof space heats, hot air is drawn towards the highest natural point and expelled through the VENT-A-ROOF® integrated louvre and down the pan,’ explains Tony Jamieson, Lysaght’s national specification manager. ‘Simultaneously, any positive airflow across the ridge of the roof creates a negative pressure which pulls air out from the ridge vent and brings in fresh air from intake vents in the eaves or below.’

The system is compatible with Lysaght’s CUSTOM ORB®, TRIMDEK® and KLIP-LOK 700® profiles and is available in all COLORBOND® steel colours.

While VENT-A-ROOF® can be installed to improve thermal performance and structural durability in homes across all climatic regions, it’s a wise idea to consider the local environmental conditions when specifying steel roofing, Tony says. ‘While standard COLORBOND® steel will accommodate the roofing, walling and guttering needs of homes built in most locations, specialist grades are also available to suit more demanding environments, such as those by the sea.’ 

Because steel sheets form a single roof surface from ridge to gutter, they are extremely weather-resistant. Where other roofing materials may break in severe hailstorms and allow water to enter the roof cavity, steel roofing will generally absorb the energy of the hail stone and remain structurally sound.

‘No matter where you're building, Lysaght steel roofing can be manufactured using a grade of COLORBOND® steel perfectly suited for the local environmental conditions.’ 

To help you make the right choice, Lysaght offers a handy online tool to identify which grade of COLORBOND® steel will best suit your location. 

Visit www.lysaght.com/buildon/right-steel-for-your-location

The people who shape the steel that shapes Australia

In a manufacturing business selling steel to B2B customers, it’s tempting to focus discussions on the steel itself: its qualities, compliance to standards, and the unique additional working life imbued by high-quality galvanising. 

But behind this great product are the great people who for the past 85 years have been shaping, folding and welding the tube that comes from the Austube Mills manufacturing sites. 

When you buy DuraGal® or DuraPrimed® tube products, you should know who made them for you: the dedicated Austube Mills teams who bring life to the products which then go on to bring life to the homes they are used in. 

This story is best told through images captured by one of Austube Mills’ own team members, Fergus Hyde, a talented photographer who was inspired to document his colleagues’ unique skills, dedication, and passion for their work. 

Fergus, who originally moved to Newcastle as a single dad, has been with Austube Mills for the better part of a decade, and for a significant part of that time, he has been photographing the mills and the lives of the people working in them. 

‘I enjoy my work and really like the company of those I work with. This is one way of preserving those memories,’ Fergus says.

When asked about his photographic style, Fergus says he likes looking at things from a different angle. ‘All the photos you see of manufacturing sites have a sameness to them. I wanted to take different photos.’ 

He will often sit down on the ground or get close to a wall to see a scene from a different viewpoint or angle. 

Fergus intends to keep adding to his portfolio of the Austube Mills site in Newcastle – and over time, these images will become an evocative and lasting record of the people who shape the steel that shapes Australia.

Not all gal is DuraGal

Manufactured with a minimum average galvanized coating of 100g/m2 both inside and out, DuraGal® steel pipe and tube products are not only strong, but are durable for Australian conditions in a number of corrosion applications, as defined in Table 6.2 of AS/NZS 2312.2 (except highly corrosive environments e.g. near breaking surf, immersed in corrosive soils, etc). 

The DuraGal tubular products are used in flooring systems, roof and veranda beams, patios, pergolas, trusses and fencing, and are available nationwide from Austube Mills through more than 200 distribution partners.   

This article was compiled with contributions by the following:
DuraGal: www.www.austubemills.com.au
Lysaght: www.lysaght.com/buildon/right-steel-for-your-location
Porta: www.porta.com.au
WoodSolutions: www.woodsolutions.com.au