Handy helpers

This Issue This is a part of the BRANZ tools feature

By - , Build 185

Mention building tools, and nail guns or saws probably spring to mind. There are other tools that play an invaluable role long before sitework begins, however, and BRANZ provides many of them free of charge.

BUILDING PRACTITIONERS have a lot to deal with. There is building control compliance for everything from energy use to fire safety, with more controls in areas such as carbon use and emissions reductions on the horizon. There are new materials being developed, changing homeowner preferences and the practical challenges when things don’t go entirely to plan on site.

BRANZ tools can help

Luckily, there have been online tools developed to provide help in many areas, with some tools interactive or customisable.

Here is a quick overview of the tools available from BRANZ that can help from the earliest planning stages through to construction work on site. Most of these tools can be found on the BRANZ website under the section Building design resources/Calculators and tools.

Assess a building site with BRANZ Maps

Having a good understanding of a building site and everything that impacts on it, from earthquake risks to wind speeds, is critical to a smooth building consent process and good long-term building performance.

BRANZ Maps is the key here – an online geographic information system (GIS) tool. It provides a range of data about any given address in New Zealand, including earthquake, climate and corrosion zone, rainfall intensity, wind region and wind zone. Originally launched in 2012, it was moved to ArcGIS Online in 2015, expanding its functionality to mobile devices including phones and tablets.

BRANZ Maps has been viewed over a million times and gets around 700 views every day.

The tool’s success has been built on the continuing development of GIS technology and collaboration across research organisations – the earthquake data that sits behind the maps comes from GNS Science and the rainfall data from NIWA.

Planning for an energy-efficient home

It is estimated that 13–20% of New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions come from the built environment. While mandatory limits on carbon/emissions do not yet apply to construction work, they are on the way. The industry is already preparing for this, and BRANZ has developed tools such as LCAQuick and BRANZ CO2NSTRUCT to help. Other tools are in development.

LCAQuick allows architects, designers and engineers to calculate the likely environmental impacts of a proposed building’s materials, form, orientation and energy efficiency. BRANZ CO2NSTRUCT gives values for embodied greenhouse gas and energy for some construction materials. You can read more about these in BRANZ carbon-footprinting tools.

A broader approach to sustainability can be found in the BRANZ website Level.org.nz, which runs from site analysis/site use through water and energy use to materials selection. If you want a resource to explain something to clients, the plain-English information in Level can be helpful. Although originally produced for industry, surveys have found it has been widely used by consumers as well.

For clients who ask advice about installing a photovoltaic system on a new or existing house, the Photovoltaic generation calculator can be helpful. This determines the average yearly electricity generation capability (energy yield) of a particular photovoltaic system in a particular location, based on historical solar irradiance figures from 18 NIWA climate zones. The results can help clients decide if it is worthwhile to go ahead with PV.

The Universal design cost estimator estimates the likely cost of adding universal design features during a new build or retrofit.

Tools for Building Code compliance

ALF 4.0 can be used to determine the building performance index (BPI) of a house design, helping demonstrate compliance with Building Code clause H1 Energy efficiency. (ALF is actually mentioned in Verification Method H1/VM1.)

It helps designers create more energy-efficient stand-alone houses. Various features such as insulation levels, window types and building orientation can be evaluated. The tool has been popular, with 2,600 users applying ALF to over 5,600 buildings.

The NZS 4218:2009 calculation method tool also helps determine compliance with H1. Designers select the climate zone and wall construction type and then enter area and construction R-values for the various building elements. The tool then applies the calculation method automatically. Pass/fail compliance is determined where possible.

For building types with significant requirements around fire safety, the B-RISK design fire simulation tool helps understand risks in building design and materials use so people will be able to safely escape during a fire.

Around 95% of New Zealand’s fire engineering consultancies have used the tool as part of their building design and modelling processes. It is estimated that more than 200 commercial or multi-unit residential projects each year take the path of performance-based design instead of using Acceptable Solutions.

BRANZ teamed up with the University of Canterbury to create the tool. The B-RISK platform allows fire engineers to simulate fire and smoke spread in a building. It allows for a consistent approach for simulating building fires.

The model provides robust evidence on the risks associated with potential fires occurring in buildings. It also demonstrates how they can be mitigated by including fire safety design features, such as sprinklers or mechanical smoke extraction systems. B-RISK helps demonstrate that a fire design is Building Code-compliant.

Another tool related to fire risk is BRANZ TR8 Concrete floor systems, which predicts their fire resistance. BRANZ TR9 Timber-framed wall or floor/ceiling systems extrapolates results of a fire resistance test on a light timber-framed wall or floor/ceiling to a greater height or span and/or loading.

Help on the building site

Building consent authority (BCA) inspections of building work in progress can be a difficult business for everyone involved. For BCA inspectors, just getting from one site to another can be time-consuming in heavy traffic. That’s where Artisan makes life vastly easier, allowing each inspection step to be photographed by builders and reviewed off site by inspectors.

The tool is available to all BCAs – they just have to set it up. Auckland and Hamilton City Councils and Kāinga Ora are already using it. The BCAs can invite builders to use it – a BCA must be a user of Artisan before a builder can use it. Over 550 builders have already been set up to use the tool.

General, search and other tools

For all areas of house building from design to on-the-tools construction work, the website Buildmagazine.org.nz is a treasure trove of material. It contains most Build magazine articles published in the last 20 years.

BRANZ Find is another search engine that links to all Build magazine articles, BRANZ Appraisals and CodeMark certificates and practical websites like Level and Maintaining my Home.

Some resources are based on spreadsheets:

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Articles are correct at the time of publication but may have since become outdated.