29/05/2007 - 22:00

Breaking the construction mould

29/05/2007 - 22:00

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The rising cost of bricks and building labour in Western Australia has led some building companies and their clients to switch to pre-manufactured walling products made of glass fibre, gypsum plaster and polystyrene.

The rising cost of bricks and building labour in Western Australia has led some building companies and their clients to switch to pre-manufactured walling products made of glass fibre, gypsum plaster and polystyrene.

Rapidwall and the Vivendi Panel System are two of the latest products to hit the property market, both claiming to undercut the price of traditional double brick by up to 20 per cent.

Manufactured in Victoria using moulded glass fibre and gypsum plaster, the hollow Rapidwall panels are filled on-site with concrete or insulation and have been used extensively in recent years on residential, commercial and industrial projects in the eastern states.

The product is set to be used for the first time in WA in July by home builder Intamos, a subsidiary of established cabinet making company, Kaplan.

Starting with an office/warehouse development in Bibra Lake for electrical group LED next month, Intamos also plans to introduce the  Rapidwall system across a number of commercial and tourism projects this year.

Intamos business development manager Mark Hull said Rapidwall would be used to build a 250 square metre office, adjoining a new 1,000sq m warehouse in Bibra Lake starting in July.

The company is finalising con-tracts to build 15 units and a two-storey house in Port Hedland using Rapidwall. 

“It’s possible for three people to erect the walls of a 170 square metre home in two working days using the system. We’ve seen homes ready for handover within 16 weeks.”

Mr Hull said carpenters and semi-skilled tradies could take an average home through to lock-up using the Rapidwall panels.

Despite a claimed 10 per cent saving on the total cost of an average four-bedroom home, he said it would require a big shift in thinking before Rapidwall became a mainstream building product.

The company plans to build display homes in Seville Grove and Ellenbrook this year to demonstrate the versatility, acoustic and thermal properties of the product. 

Another unlikely material making inroads into WA building sites is polystyrene, which builder Vivendi Homes Group has been using in Queensland for the past two years.

Vivendi has engineered a frame and fastening system that locks together walls and ceilings made out of steel-faced polystyrene cores.

Together with Optibuild (WA), Vivendi expects to complete more than 200 homes in Queensland and WA using the method during 2007-08.

Vivendi spokesman Terry Bush said that, apart from its thermal qualities, VPS was lightweight and strong and made little impact on the environment during its manufacture.

“These panels are really taking off in Queensland. You can get the panels for an average single home to site in one truckload,” he said.

Vivendi is planning to build display homes at Seville Grove over a 16-week period from August, as well as new homes in Karratha. 

Rapley Wilkinson managing director Alan Thomas said it was unfortunate that most building companies did not have time for research into new building materials during the current boom, which could partly explain the slow-uptake of the technologies. 

“We’d consider anything that meets our price criteria and cyclone ratings but we know what we’ve got works already. We’ve been so busy with the standard systems at the moment to even consider alternative materials,” he said.

“Some clients like the alternatives, but most diehards want face brick and that’s just the way it is.”

But Mr Thomas said that, faced with the cost of bricks doubling when freighted between Perth and the Pilbara, some clients in the region were starting to inquire about cheaper alternatives.

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