With New Zealand’s construction quality, speed and costs under the spotlight, the building system claimed to fulfill all three deserves a close look, according to researchers at BRANZ.
BRANZ materials scientist, Anna Walsh, has set up a project to look at systems based on structural insulated panels, or SIPs. “SIP is a sandwich panel made of two layers of face and an insulating inner core,” explains Anna. “The panels can be pre-fabricated and assembled quickly on site and can be used to increase construction speed and reduce overall building costs.”
SIP has been used extensively overseas for decades but is relatively new to the market here. “We wanted to know more about their performance in New Zealand,” said Anna. “We will see how our panels withstand our climate and how they will perform in the event of an earthquake or fire.”
The project will use a combination of laboratory testing and gathering information about what is already known internationally about SIP so that the findings can be applied to the way construction is done in New Zealand.
EQC-funded earthquake testing is ongoing and BRANZ senior structural engineer Dr David Carradine is excited about the results to date. “So far we’ve found that the resilience of the system – that is, the ability to change shape without actually failing – is excellent,” says David. “The way the panels respond to simulated earthquake loading is exactly what we would like to see from an engineering point of view for low-rise buildings.”
Jo Horrocks at EQC said detailed testing of new construction materials was important to ensure homes and buildings met seismic standards. “We would like to see New Zealanders living in strong homes that can overcome our natural hazards, especially earthquakes that have had a major impact on homes, towns and cities over the past 10 years.”
David said there is still a long way to go before the team can be confident about how the panels work on their own and in relation to other common New Zealand building materials. But if the results continue to be positive, that’s good news for the council and homeowners too.
“Currently, getting a permit for the SIP building is not always easy,” said Anna. “It may be difficult for board officials unfamiliar with these products to assess their compliance with the New Zealand Building Code. Homeowners may also find it difficult to track all the additional processes. We wanted to be able to support the development of a simpler approval process that would benefit everyone. “
The SIPs project is funded by BRANZ and EQC. Results from earthquake testing are expected for the end of March 2021.
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