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NZ examines quake, fire resilience of building panels

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New Zealand’s Earthquake Commission (EQC) and building research group BRANZ are funding research assessing the seismic resilience and fire risk performance of prefabricated insulated panels as demand for housing increases.

BRANZ says structural insulated panels (SIPs), made offsite by joining two face layers to an insulating core, can be used as walls, roofs and floors and can significantly speed up construction.

“SIPs offer one potential solution to New Zealand’s need for fast, affordable and quality housing,” BRANZ materials scientist and project leader Anna Walsh says.

SIPs are currently considered an alternative solution under the New Zealand Building Code, requiring an engineering assessment before a building consent can be issued, which adds time and cost to a project.

“Getting consent for a SIPs building isn’t always straightforward, especially if council officials are unfamiliar with the system,” Ms Walsh says. “We want our research to support a more simplified consenting process by providing information about how SIPs perform.”

An EQC paper says SIPs with wood-based panels as the outer layers have been used for residential construction in North America since the early 1990s and have proven effective in seismically active parts of the world including Japan.

The research is also looking at how they perform in the case of fire and when subjected to New Zealand climatic conditions.

BRANZ says SIPS are structural components, while products contributing to high-profile fires affecting the Grenfell building in the UK and the Lacrosse building in Melbourne have been combustible cladding panels such as aluminium composite panels.

Some SIPs that include combustible materials would be only appropriate for certain applications, with fire safety risk factors also including a building height, type of use and whether there are sprinklers.

“There is increasing scrutiny over the fire safety aspects of these types of materials following recent high-profile fires and work is ongoing to understand and manage the risks of using combustible materials in buildings,” Ms Walsh told insuranceNEWS.com.au.

“The fire performance workstream of the BRANZ SIPs research project is looking to understand what is known internationally about SIPs fire performance.”