05/10/2011 - 10:55

MasterWall targets brick-and-tile tradition

05/10/2011 - 10:55

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MasterWall targets brick-and-tile tradition

ALTERNATIVE building material business MasterWall is tackling Western Australian’s preference for brick and tile homes with its polystyrene cladding technology.

Against the backdrop of a moribund residential construction sector, MasterWall is confident it can carve out a market for its lightweight cladding, which has already been put to the test by WA homebuilders Dale Alcock and Summit Homes.

Directors Dwayne Bourne and Nicholas Bird secured the WA distribution contract for the Victorian MasterWall product about 12 months ago, and despite the tough market conditions it has been used on about 100 home construction projects in WA this year.

Mr Bird is best known in this state for his Mr Bird’s MYO sandwich chain, which he sold in 2007.

Mr Bird claims the MasterWall product has gained acceptance in WA as an alternative to fibre cement cladding for second storeys, but it has also been used as the primary building material for a number of single-level residences.

The cost of polystyrene cladding and its capacity as an insulation material are its key selling points, according to MasterWall, which claims the cladding is between 15 and 20 per cent cheaper than building with double brick.

The slowdown in housing construction in WA has not led to a fall in the cost of construction materials, leaving many builders with little choice but to cut their own margins to win work.

Mr Bird said Perth was one of the few places in the world that still built in double brick, which didn’t suit the hot, dry environment.

“As time goes on I believe our product and similar products will slowly take over from brick,” Mr Bird said.

“Their (the brickmakers) only fight against this move against brick is to do light coloured bricks to try and improve their r-rating [insulation performance].”

When MasterWall launched in WA it signed a 12-month exclusive agreement with Dale Alcock Home Improvement to align its product with the builder’s strong public profile.

At the end of that period, MasterWall decided not to renew that agreement because of the high level of interest and inquiry from other builders.

While MasterWall and the broader alternative construction market is busy building its market share, WA’s major brick-makers have put the brakes on production in a bid to reduce stockpiles.

Both BGC and Austral Bricks have adopted measures to reduce brick production, with BGC bringing forward maintenance work at its South Guildford facility.

But in what appears to be an acknowledgement of the growing popularity of alternative building materials, BGC is also understood to be exploring products like polystyrene cladding.

While BGC managing director Sam Buckeridge did not want to make any comment, BGC is one of a number of WA builders industry sources suggest are using new materials to cut costs, speed up construction timelines and improve the environmental performance of their housing.

Despite this, Master Builders Association WA housing director Gavan Forster was sceptical alternative building materials would have much long-term impact on the brick industry.

He said brick construction was still the first choice for most consumers because of its history and perceived durability.

“New products are coming along … under the guise of energy efficiency or speedier construction, particularly during the recent boom,” Mr Forster said.

“But in terms of energy efficiency you can get eight-star brick houses now if they are designed and oriented properly, so while there are these advantages of alternative materials I don’t think they have been strong enough to allow them to have a big place in the market.”

He compared challenging mainstream building materials with “turning around the QE2” and suggested alternative materials would remain niche products for the foreseeable future.

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