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The latest economic data may suggest slight moderation in a construction sector that continues to run hot, but confidence levels remain robust, based on our conversations with pre-cladding and insulation players.
Starting on the enclosure front, Jerry Friar, National Merchant Manager at James Hardie New Zealand, reports the Rigid Air Barrier (RAB) space continues to evolve, particularly within the high-density residential and commercial sectors.
“The new challenge,” he says, “is the heavy demand for all building products, making Rigid Air Barrier products like HomeRAB Pre-Cladding and RAB Board even more vital as they offer the advantage of early close-in.”
Likewise, Gordon White, Residential Market Manager at Winstone Wallboards, agrees that stresses and strains are currently evident around maintaining product supply continuity across the wider building industry in what, he says, remains a buoyant market.
“Local manufacturing has given us a level of control over product supply and overall, we remain in a strong stock position to meet the current high level of industry demand. It also gives us the added benefit of being able to adapt more readily to rapid changes in customer demand patterns.
“In terms of overall market demand, we are seeing standalone residential building being pretty stable with high levels of growth occurring in the terraced home market as intensification continues in many metro areas. The commercial sector also tends to be faring better than we had anticipated.”
THE MARKET COULD BE WARMER STILL…
On the insulation front, Darran Lees, Thermakraft’s GM of Sales & Marketing, says it was pleasing that the economists got it wrong last year as COVID-driven uncertainty made it increasingly difficult to convince customers to do anything, let alone try something different.
“The residential market remains incredibly strong,” he says, before adding: “If we had a bigger labour force, it would probably be stronger than what it is.
“Before the timber issues reared their head, the economic data suggested we were at a saturation point in Auckland and Wellington with a bit of capacity in the regions.”
That’s a stark change in sentiment from this time last year, stresses Darran.
“For the first three months when we came out of lockdown, everything was relatively stable. But nobody knew where things were heading because the economic data and forecasting was indicating 20-30% drops.
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“We modelled what that would mean for our business and luckily we were able to burn that piece of work within about three months because the market completely defied predictions.
“We’re lucky that we’ve split our sales across residential and commercial – mostly warehouses and factories and education facilities. Those projects seem to also be holding up okay, leaving us confident for the year ahead.”
Sharing this confidence is Todd Lindsay, NZ Sales Manager at Kingspan Insulation, who reports that Kingspan’s last 12 months were very much driven by commercial projects. But plenty of opportunities remain in residential projects, he believes.
“Some regions’ commercial sectors are still buoyant in 2021,” he explains, “but a big uplift in multi-unit residential consent applications has the greatest potential to boost business this year.”
Back in April 2020, Todd admits to having been concerned about a potentially long lockdown and supply shortages causing half-finished projects to be damaged by lengthy exposure to the elements, but fortunately those delays did not materialise.
“Most other sectors are down but multi-unit residential applications are up 40% year on year and we’re still doing pretty well on the commercial front. So last year proved a great year for us and there’s plenty of positivity ahead with strong building consents. We remain generally optimistic, with some large projects on the horizon.”
Meanwhile, over at Autex Industries, National Sales Manager, Marcel Herbke, finds the insulation market is becoming a more crowded space, partly on the back of previous high demand for underfloor insulation driven by changes to the RTA.
Although that spike he believes has now tapered off, Marcel will say that it’s been “a good past year for being able to supply to meet strong commercial demand for GreenStuf and turn things around at a better, more sustainable pace.”
Autex’s project mix is largely unchanged within commercial – particularly education, healthcare, and Housing NZ Kainga Ora work – and new-build and high-end residential.
However the last year has brought a significant increase in multi residential developments with higher-density infill housing, so the acoustic testing Autex has done with GreenStuf in inter-tenancy systems has “really paid off,” says Marcel.
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MORE FOCUS ON THERMAL PERFORMANCE
Warmer Kiwi Homes (WKH) is the latest in a series of national programmes administered by EECA which subsidise the retrofitting of home insulation and heating products.
A review of Phase 1 of the programme is set out in a Motu Economic & Public Policy Research report titled Warmer Kiwi Homes Evaluation: 2020.
It calculates the primary Benefit: Cost Ratio estimate for the WKH scheme to be 4.66 – i.e. $4.66 worth of benefits for every $1 spent, benefits that are dominated by the insulation component of the WKH scheme with the estimated lifespan of insulation set at 30 years for the primary model.
Also worth noting are key points from updated (2018) WHO guidelines regarding housing and health that are relevant to Warmer Kiwi Homes.
The review concluded that there is strong evidence of an association between cold indoor temperatures and adverse health effects, and affirms the longstanding WHO advice of a minimum recommended indoor temperature of 18°C. Many Kiwi homes built last century still fall well short of this thermal performance during the cooler months.
Marcel Herbke at Autex says it’s noteworthy how much talk there has been in the past year about thermal performance in New Zealand homes.
“A recent comparison showing the similarities between respective climates in New Zealand and Ireland highlighted the significant difference in thermal codes, revealing how far behind we are on a world stage and the potential benefits of a Building Code update.
“There’s also growing awareness around the need to reduce thermal bridging and look at higher performance external enclosure details.
“This is super important because a BRANZ study came out last year finding that on average the percentage of timber framing in new houses is in fact 34%, double the assumed 14-18%.”
And while there’s always a pressure to drive down costs, Marcel Herbke believes there’s now a greater need and desire for high-quality, sustainable and durable materials.
“There’s more of an understanding or acceptance from clients and designers that the Building Code is just a minimum,” he says.
“Both from an acoustic and thermal perspective, we’re noticing people are opting to go over and above the required standard, increasing system performance and R values.”
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These choices have an impact on cost of course and, with the cost of building a house rising and house sizes growing markedly, Darran Lees from Thermakraft also sees increasing movement towards better fitouts.
“There’s a big drive on to have weathertight buildings so people are spending more on those systems and the quality of products is hopefully getting better right throughout the building to offer greater protection.”
Constraints on raw materials and shipping have also put plenty of pressure on prices, however.
“There’s huge demand driving up raw material costs,” says Darran Lees. “For instance, the non-woven material used to make up our Watergate product is the same product as that used in medical gowns and masks, and the same would apply to our competitors.”
Talking of which, there’s certainly no shortage of competition in insulation: “There are always people looking to enter the market because it’s a low barrier to entry,” says Darran.
That’s as may be. However, with MBIE seeking input around changes to insulation as part of the latest consultations about possible changes to the Building Code (see below), it will be interesting to gauge the industry’s feel for this, at the same time next year.
Now take a moment to check some of the latest new pre-cladding and insulation news and new products...
Have your say on insulation and the Building Code
As part of MBIE’s annual consultation on the Building Code, it is asking for feedback on whether New Zealanders think the Code should be updated to require more insulation in new homes and buildings.
The proposals also suggest adopting new climate zones to better reflect the New Zealand environment, so insulation requirements would vary based on where a building is located – for example, Queenstown would no longer be in the same climate zone as Nelson, as clearly the weather these areas experience is very different.
Other possible changes include bringing NZ insulation requirements in line with other parts of the world, a new verification method to ensure HVAC systems in commercial buildings are designed and installed to reduce the load on the national grid, minor changes to weathertightness testing methods for cladding on mid-rise buildings, and geotechnical requirements.
Consultation runs from 6 April to 28 May 2021. To find out more or to submit feedback, visit the URL below.
Broader application scope for James Hardie products
In response to recent changes to Clause C “Protection from Fire” in the Building Code, James Hardie has carried out extensive testing around external spread of flame code changes to ensure that systems using RAB Board and cladding products comply with those new fire safety requirements.
RAB Board also has an updated BRANZ Appraisal, and its application scope now covers its use on buildings up to 25m in height.
RAB Board is suitable to withstand seismic deflections in buildings up to span/180 and maintains the wind pressure resistance and weathertightness of commercial building facades. And RAB Board with 9mm thickness provides higher shear resistance in shear-wall designs.
“The product facilitates early close-in, allowing work to begin inside the building, and that allows you to bring progress payments forward, reduce on-site costs, and it reduces downtime for staff,” explains Jerry Friar.
“Given current market conditions, the benefits are pretty clear. As a result, we’ve got builders who are committed to using our products as well as specifiers who really see the benefits when specifying.”
Meanwhile, collaboration on product development with Thermakraft means Thermakraft tapes have recently been approved for use with James Hardie RAB Board and HomeRAB Pre-cladding systems to create a complete Rigid Air Barrier system for use in residential and commercial applications.
The BRANZ appraisal and James Hardie Installation Manual have both been updated to reflect this change,” Jerry Friar notes.
Thermaflash Tape and Thermakraft Premium Joining Tape feature advanced high-adhesive technology which offers a stronger bond with RAB Board and HomeRAB Pre-Cladding surfaces in almost any conditions, including temperatures as low as –10°C, and for exposure periods of up to 180 days.
Updated GIB Weatherline RAB system
While much of Winstone Wallboards’ business remains in the interior linings market, the company entered the Rigid Air Barrier market with gypsum-based GIB Weatherline around two years ago bringing with it “great performance and installation advantages” as well as “a proven record of performance having been extensively used internationally for over 15 years”.
While GIB Weatherline is still relatively new to the New Zealand Rigid Air Barrier market, Gordon White says customer reaction to the system has been extremely positive, particularly in projects where fire performance is a consideration.
“We have purposely taken a slow and steady approach to ensure Weatherline systems are extensively tested to meet the performance requirements our customers demand to ultimately add value to their projects,” he says.
And product development is very much an ongoing process. “It’s fair to say the Rigid Air Barrier market continues to evolve and we are constantly looking at how we can further improve the GIB Weatherline system.
“While we have not changed the key components in the last 12 months, we have been focused on expanding the design attributes of the system to allow it to be used in a wider array of applications, particularly in projects where fire control is required.
“Some of the latest Weatherline system enhancements that we are in the process of rolling out include updates to meet the requirements of NZBC “Clauses C1-C6 – Protection from Fire”, including options to limit vertical fire spread, new fire-rated soffits and column and beam details, as well as increasing the length of time the system can be exposed to weather prior to cladding installation from 90 to 180 days.”
Product launches add impetus to Thermakraft range
Thermakraft’s plans for major new product introductions went according to schedule in 2020, including an October launch of Thermaflash, a brand-new window flashing tape.
Darran Lees describes Thermaflash as a big success story: “We had previously lagged in that category, and we’ve since received outstanding customer feedback and sales growth. We already had a category-leading reputation for bituminous tapes and now that’s matched in synthetic tapes.”
Thermakraft followed up in November by introducing its Premium Joining Tape after some joint research with James Hardie. “It’s the first time we’ve worked alongside another brand to launch a product, and it’s proving to be a very fruitful relationship,” says Darran.
“James Hardie tested Premium Joining Tape on its RAB Board system and achieved outstanding results, and it’s endorsed by having their logo on the tape.”
The November launch timing meant it’s taken a little longer to take off but, “Since the end of January, and buoyed by James Hardie’s huge EDM campaign, it’s enjoyed really good growth. People are getting to know the product, it’s slowly getting ranged into stores, and it’s gaining good traction.”