Where do people go when they need to know about designing and building with – and even maintaining – wood and wood products? One of the leading destinations is the WoodSolutions Ask an Expert service and you may be surprised to find out what builders and homeowners ask.
With such a veritable array of timbers available for use in building and design features these days, it can be a confusing affair for builders and contractors alike when it comes to choosing the right kind. Certain situations make the use of particular woods unsuitable while there could be a cheaper and more effective timber than the one you’re considering.
Unless you’re a timber expert like resident Building Connection columnist Ted Riddle, you’ll have plenty of questions to ask. But, who can you turn to when the answers are not as forthcoming as you’d like?
Hosting a database approaching 1000 questions and answers, the WoodSolutions Ask an Expert service is aimed at professionals in the design and construction sector, collectively known as specifiers, including architects and designers to engineers, builders and building inspectors, all of whom are involved in the specification of materials for construction projects.
“Research has identified that lack of knowledge is a significant impediment to the use of wood products,” marketing and communications manager Forest and Wood Products Australia (the industry services company that resources WoodSolutions) Eileen Newbury said.
“The Ask an Expert service complements the other resources on the website.
“Specifiers can browse case studies for inspiration then download Technical Design Guides or go to Ask an Expert for information about using the wood products of their choice.”
Originally established as an online email only service, Ask an Expert has been expanded to offer 1300 telephone access in addition to email. However, visitors to the site are encouraged to enter their question and search the extensive database of existing answers before submitting their own query.
“It’s a sophisticated search function that matches key words in the question with key words in the existing answers. It means the questioner can receive an immediate answer and also avoids the time and cost of duplicating answers where possible,” Eileen says.
Searches cover the whole database; however, for ease of use it is indexed into 10 categories:
Environment, sustainability and recycling
Exterior timber and decking
Forestry, wood processing and certification
Interior timber and flooring
Preservative treatments and finishes
Species, hardwoods and softwoods
Standards, codes & compliance
The most popular question category is clearly exterior timber and decking, followed by preservative treatments and finishes and species, with hardwoods and softwoods in a tie for second place.
Drilling down a little further into the questions shows some clear trends and overlaps in subject area. For instance, decking questions primarily relate to the selection of species and the types of finishes and their correct application. Similarly, in the species section, many questions relate to the suitability or performance of particular species in decking and outdoor applications. Standards, codes and compliance on the other hand cover a wide range of topics relating to the section.
The number of questions in the decking area exposes a lack of knowledge, not just on the part of owners and occupiers, who make up a significant percentage of the questioners, but also on the part of designers and builders. Seemingly basic knowledge is missing on topics such as correct fixing details, the appropriate stages to apply finishes and the role and advisability of air flow under a deck. In response to this identified need, WoodSolutions has produced a Technical Design Guide – Domestic Timber Deck Design. This informative publication not only provides design, construction and finishing information, but also covers maintenance and use – right down to recommending feet for pot plants.
Within the species section, in addition to decking-related questions, people regularly seek information about the performance of a species or its suitability for a particular application. Sometimes this is to check or validate information they have received from a supplier or other advisor, or to follow up on an application they have seen on the site. Technical information is also sought often; this can range from durability classification and strength groups to fire and insulation ratings.
The standards, codes and compliance section, is as one might expect, home to more technical information, many relating to the application of the building code. This ranges from architects wanting to know about fire and smoke ratings to engineers asking about onsite strength grading of timber in existing structures.
Architect and timber specialist Peter Llewellyn, who is one of the WoodSolutions experts answering questions, says that he is kept interested by the diversity of topics.
“Recently I’ve discussed making and finishing wooden wedding rings with a furniture maker, the suitability of large section jarrah for outdoor seating in a marine environment with an engineer project manager, the lateral restraint requirement clause 7.2.26 of AS 1684.2 with a building inspector and finishing café tables and furniture with an interior architect,” Peter said.
When asked what his overall observation of the number and nature of the questions and the people asking them, Peter said that it really showed a widespread lack of knowledge of the many different types of wood and treatments and the consequent variations in performance characteristics.
“It’s as though some people simply classify all the different species and products as ‘wood’ and just think ‘we’ll make it from wood’, or ‘we’ll use wood here’,” Peter says.
“The same people would probably never think of all the different types of metals as ‘metal’. They would be more specific in their descriptions, specifying a grade of stainless steel or particular aluminium product for example, rather than using the generic term ‘metal’.
Unfortunately, Peter said that owing to the time constraints in education and training courses, from tertiary degrees through to trade qualifications, the lack of formal knowledge of wood and wood products is unlikely to be addressed throughout the design and construction education sector in the near future. (Although keep an eye out for announcements about the WoodSolutions Campus).
In the meantime, Peter and the rest of the WoodSolutions experts are continuing to educate their audience, one question at a time.