Panel game everyone wins
Prefabricated panels for housing and commercial buildings offer design flexibility, production efficiency and greener performance. Kevin Ezard anticipates a conference on innovative framing techniques.
Over the past few years there has been much discussion about the way we build detached houses.
The potential for easier, quicker and less expensive construction methods is a frequent theme.
The same discussions in Europe seem to have resulted in a trend to prefabricated panelised construction systems.
This is changing the architecture and style of dwellings to suit production concepts. Increasing volumes are leading to greater efficiency in manufacturing and lower building costs.
Houses built from prefabricated panels don’t need to look like a box. They can be just like conventional timber-framed dwellings with clean lines and rendered surfaces. Alternatively, the concept can be used in combination with framing, including large-section timber-framed structures.
Johann Betz, is an international consultant in panelisation and will be a presenter at Frame Australia 2012 in June.
“Prefabricated panel building concepts are not a fashion or fad that will disappear soon,” Johann says.
“They are an evolutionary step supported by experience in Europe, where it is by far the most common form of prefabrication for timber buildings. This type of development is now under way in Australia and New Zealand.
“Panelisation is prefabrication of ‘closed’ timber frame wall, floor, and roof panels, and is one of the most efficient forms of offsite construction for residential timber-framed buildings. Components for panelised buildings are all factory pre-cut and fully assembled on dedicated tables.
“Panels may be closed on one or both sides, pre-clad and windows installed. In some cases, panels are even pre-wired and ducted for a building system that can be assembled to be weather-tight within a few days.
“Designs can be supplied as standard drawings on paper for manual construction or as machine-readable files to drive truss and frame saws and multi-function or nailing bridges for larger volumes and increased efficiency.”
One Australian company well advanced with the panelised building concept is PanelBUILD in Queensland. It manufactures wall, floor and roof elements with plumbing and electrical services installed and windows and doors fitted.
PanelBUILD says builders adopting this system achieve tangible benefits including substantially reduced construction times, and lower holding costs and site costs.
The company believes that prefabricated construction elements are best suited to buildings with timber-framed walls and partitions, and raked ceilings or flat roofs.
In most cases wall and roof elements are erected in one day, providing weather protection in the shortest possible time – especially if the building is on a suspended timber floor, as is often the case with sloping sites.
Although relatively new to Australia, the panelised building system has the potential to change long-standing practices in dwelling construction, particularly if labour shortages and geographic location hamper efficiency.
Another factor not often discussed is build quality – on-site versus factory built. The greater precision of off-site construction can result in better, more energy-efficient homes for comfortable and sustainable living.