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Building products and fire ratings

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One thing that constantly frustrates me as a professional in the building industry are fire ratings and requirements for building in bushfire prone areas; especially for windows and doors.

There are 4 levels of construction that a building may be required to comply with depending on your location to the bush or fire source (AS-3959-1999: Construction of buildings in bushfire prone areas). These are levels 1, 2 and 3, and the one they do not like to call level 4, but it really is, the flame zone.

Most of the buildings I design are expensive homes that are close to scenic bushland and require level 3 compliance and flame zone compliance. Did you know that currently there is only one window and door manufacturer in the whole of NSW that has units that comply with flame zone construction?! It is frustrating for many reason, but the main one is that the windows available are of a poorer quality and aesthetic than the top-of-the-line non-compliant competitors.

It is my understanding that the reason these windows comply and the others do not is that the cost of having the individual units tested and certified is approximately $10,000 per unit. Of course if your unit does not stand up to the test - you lose $10,000. A large manufacturer could bear these costs, and has, but many of the manufacturers I deal with do not have that kind of money to waste. And you know what I have been told that the main cause of failure is? The rubber seals that hold the toughened glass within the unit; sounds so simple, but obviously not.

It is also my understanding that the CSIRO's method and processes of testing other building products has not been updated since the 1920's and the method of testing does not allow for composite products, only poducts that are of one material. So a great composite product like American Shingle can not be tested because the bureaucartic idiots who run the CSIRO and the NSW government can only test single component materials like colorbond steel or terracotta tiles; hence no certification and loss of business.

So I am trying to design million dollar homes that have aesthetically sub-standard windows and I am struggling to use non standard products. But you can get around all this the cheeky way, but that is a blog for another day.