BRANZ footprints over 40 years

This Issue This is a part of the 40 years of BRANZ feature

By - , Build 117

The research milestones of BRANZ are part of the legacy it is building for the future of the industry.

The BRANZ site at Judgeford outside Wellington.
Seismic testing of brick veneer in the BRANZ structures lab.
BRANZ publications transfer out to industry the information learned during research.
BRANZ’s fire research and modelling has been internationally acclaimed.
Testing the performance of different roofing materials at the exposure site.
Then and now: Russell Cooney (above) on site in 1979 and today, running a consultancy firm.

In 40 years, the Building Research Association of New Zealand Inc, which adopted early on the abbreviation BRANZ, has made a very wide range of contributions to the betterment of the New Zealand built environment. Only some of these can be touched on in this article, so we have highlighted areas where there have been repeated contributions down the years or important milestone projects.

In the beginning – identifying needs

At the very beginning of operations in 1970, a survey was carried out to determine the perceived knowledge needs of the industry – rather like the industry needs surveys still carried out today. This highlighted issues of fire safety science and engineering, insulation, acoustics and seismic performance.

In the 1970s, there was investment with University of Auckland School of Architecture to assist in the establishment of their acoustics laboratory. Indeed, across the years, there has always been investment in research carried out by other organisations.

The other themes – fire, insulation and earthquakes – have been an important part of BRANZ activities over the past 40 years and a focus of the laboratory facilities developed at Judgeford.

Management research brings focus

The biggest of the Association’s initial research groups addressed management issues, including:

  • metrication (which had then still to be introduced)
  • productivity on sites compared with Australia
  • comparative costs of building systems
  • labour turnover
  • safety on sites.

The economics of different systems continues to be a focus, for example, the recent important report on cost structures in the housing market (details on www.branz.co.nz), however, at times over the years, this economic emphasis was lost. The cycle has now fully turned in this area – the report of the Task Group on Productivity has put the spotlight right back on those issues that were so important at the start.

Construction materials for the food industry

An important issue facing New Zealand in the 1970s was non-tariff barriers for food exports to the European Common Market. A key contribution that BRANZ made was a collaborative decade-long project with the meat industry to develop materials performance criteria for floors and wall systems that would be hygienic and resistant to chemical and mechanical damage. This research programme, recorded in 11 technical reports, underpinned the total refurbishment of cool stores, freezing works and other food processing premises throughout New Zealand.

Performance of materials in the atmosphere

It’s hard to imagine not having prepainted roof and wall claddings, but up until the mid-1980s, these products were considered innovative and galvanised steel roofs needed to be painted on-site. The paint industry in the 1970s introduced roof paints that allegedly did not need a primer – an innovation that would significantly reduce the resources needed for the task if true.

But was it? BRANZ set out to test this independently in 1973. In a project that lasted into the 1990s, BRANZ showed that some systems could be satisfactory without a primer and some were certainly not, but using a primer always allowed much longer between repainting events and provided more protection to the substrate. The return to New Zealand of having the knowledge from this single project was estimated in the 1990s at $3 million per year in reduced labour costs and avoidance of premature roof corrosion.

This theme of understanding the performance of materials in the New Zealand atmosphere has been carried through BRANZ’s work over the years. Long-running projects have created maps for the atmospheric corrosion hazards in New Zealand for mild steel, galvanised steel and aluminium in the 1990s, and for plastics in 2006, based on standardised exposure testing lasting as long as 10 years. It led to a visiting Swedish corrosion expert describing New Zealand as ‘the best-characterised country for atmospheric corrosion in the world’.

The pay-off from these maps has been not just in providing definitive information for standards − the metal corrosion map was used in the 1999 version of NZS 3604 − but also in metals selection for applications as diverse as TV dish aerials and specialised fencing systems and in the formulation of polymers to withstand the aggressive UV, solar heating and moisture regimes encountered in New Zealand.

Product performance verification

The Appraisals scheme was introduced in 1974. This provided a third-party opinion on innovations, helping to make the acceptance by consenting authorities of new ideas and products much easier. The scheme coverage was extended to any product or system, innovative or not, in the early 1990s. To the end of 2009, there have been almost 700 Appraisal certificates issued.

The scheme costs are met by the product principals, but the Levy and government-funded research findings – such as those regarding materials performance – have deeply informed the assessment processes. Every one of those 700 certificates has had a ‘durability statement’ – even before the Building Code introduced explicit requirements for durability in 1992.

Today we are looking at expanding this scheme to meet the industry’s needs for enhanced product assessment systems in the wake of the weathertightness problems.

The BRANZ site at Judgeford outside Wellington.

The impact of climate change

BRANZ work on sustainability issues began in the early 1990s and was given a boost from a Foundation for Research, Science and Technology (FRST) contract in 1997 to examine the impact of climate change on our built environment. BRANZ has positioned itself over the subsequent decade as a national leader in this field and has published a number of research reports, which are available from www.branz.co.nz.

Energy-efficient houses

From the start, insulation and energy efficiency have been extremely important topics. The Annual Loss Factor (ALF) program was the first attempt in New Zealand to allow designers to comprehensively model their housing designs to determine the likely space heating needs. It was first published in paper format in 1980 and in revised format in 1990. By 1999, BRANZ had extensively redeveloped the program to take account of other factors and made it available through the internet.

Some of the refinements allowed economic analysis of options, and the software was recognised by the then Building Industry Authority as a means of demonstrating compliance with the energy efficiency requirements of the Building Code. The program has been further developed to take account of recent changes in the Building Code and in relevant standards, and ALF 3.2 is available online at www.branz.co.nz

HEEP challenges thinking

The Household Energy End-use Programme (HEEP) which ran from the mid-1990s to 2005 (with a variety of funding sources but primarily from the Building Research Levy and FRST), was the first thorough assessment for 30 years of the ways that energy of all types was used in New Zealand houses. The results produced many challenges to conventional thinking. The study has been a foundation of extensive policy development since the publication of the research.

Consideration is already being given to revisiting the work because heat pumps (now commonly installed in new houses) were very new to the market when the monitoring was completed. The concept is now being applied to commercial buildings in a major study (BEES) with funding from government sources and the Building Research Levy.

Modelling of fire development

Early fire research was very much concerned with providing solutions to the prescriptive fire codes that existed then. The change in the Building Code in 1992 led to a greater freedom for designers to use performance-based designs and the outstanding research product that assisted this was BRANZFIRE, developed with Levy and FRST funding and first published in 1997.

Seismic testing of brick veneer in the BRANZ structures lab.

It was described at an international conference in UK in 1999 as ‘the only significant fire model to come out of an organisation of BRANZ’s type in a decade’. Further refinement of the program, which is available to fire engineers for free download, has been the core of BRANZ fire research for the last decade. BRANZFIRE is currently being used as part of a research project aiming to develop a probabilistic design fire tool that will enable engineers to quantify the uncertainty in their predictions of fire effects in buildings.

NZS 3604 Timber framed buildings

This standard, first published in 1978, has shaped our housing stock possibly more than any other standard. Over 40% of our residential units today have been built since this standard was introduced.

Improving the knowledge that is embodied in the standard and disseminating its contents to the sector have been major themes running through BRANZ activity over the years, and that is still the case today.

There were three BRANZ employees on the committee that produced the original standard and at least one BRANZ staff member on the review committee for every one of its five revisions (in 1980, 1984, 1990 and 1999, and it is currently under revision again).

Weathertightness

A key problem for the sector over the last 15 years has been leaky buildings. BRANZ was aware of this at an early stage – reference to it appears in a 1997 summary for the Ministry of Research, Science and Technology of imminent issues for ‘building science and technology’. Developing the research programme funding to address it took several more years.

Work this decade has allowed us to now understand in much more detail the driving forces for water entry and subsequent water removal – to the extent that the Canadian researchers acknowledge the BRANZ team as equivalent to them in leading the world in this area of knowledge. BRANZ work on this is still not complete, but we have a much better understanding now upon which to base advice and Building Code requirements.

BRANZ publications transfer out to industry the information learned during research.
BRANZ’s fire research and modelling has been internationally acclaimed.
Testing the performance of different roofing materials at the exposure site.

The research programme has cost several million dollars, mostly paid from the Building Research Levy but with a significant contribution from FRST over the period 2003–09. If we can avoid a repetition of the problems of the last decade, the savings will be in the billions. The focus has now moved into other problems of moisture in buildings – the first issue of Build in October 1990 already had an article on BRANZ research in this area.

BRANZ today

This has just been a taste of the extremely wide range of work BRANZ has covered over 40 years. The foresight of the industry mentors who strove for the establishment of BRANZ and the investment of those who have nurtured its development down the years has, we hope, been handsomely repaid.

Looking back, their wisdom in identifying the issues that our industry needed to address is testament to the very firm foundations upon which we proceed in 2010.

SATISFACTION IN FIRE RESEARCH TAKE-UP

EVERY DAY WAS A CHALLENGE

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The BRANZ site at Judgeford outside Wellington.
Seismic testing of brick veneer in the BRANZ structures lab.
BRANZ publications transfer out to industry the information learned during research.
BRANZ’s fire research and modelling has been internationally acclaimed.
Testing the performance of different roofing materials at the exposure site.
Then and now: Russell Cooney (above) on site in 1979 and today, running a consultancy firm.

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