The steel standard

A new industry standard supported by Swinburne is giving more Australian home owners access to fast, durable steel-framed housing.

Steel building frames have long been used in commercial construction, and they are increasingly being used in domestic applications throughout the world. Steel frames offer a durable alternative to timber that can be prefabricated to speed up building time. Steel frames are also lighter weight than other building materials, can’t be damaged by pests and can be recycled.

But, in Australia, the use of steel frames in houses has been limited because the original industry standard lacked design and technical detail.

We helped to set the standard

A 15-year collaboration between the National Association of Steel-framed Housing (NASH) and Swinburne has led to the development of a new standard for cold-formed steel-framed homes that is changing the Australian industry. The standard includes:

  • Part 1 – design criteria (2005)
  • Part 2 – design solutions (2015)
  • The NASH handbook (2009).

Swinburne’s Smart Structures Laboratory in the Centre for Sustainable Infrastructure tested more than 200 steel frames and components from 2012 to 2015 to provide the data for the standard. The Smart Structures Laboratory is the only largescale lab with a multi-axis substructure testing system in Australia. Swinburne researchers also:

  • wrote and reviewed sections of the standard
  • provided modelling, engineering analysis and expert advice
  • reviewed international literature
  • interpreted regulatory requirements.

We lacked the knowledge, research and testing capabilities to adequately develop these standards. Swinburne – with its comprehensive research history and knowledge in cold-formed steel for residential applications – was an essential knowledge partner in the development of all three volumes.

Ken Watson

Executive Director of NASH

And we got more than standard results

The NASH Standard is a major step forward for the building sector. The NASH Standard is the first and only industry standard to be referenced in the National Construction Code, the cornerstone for building regulation in Australia.

And the standard is changing the face of Australia’s housing industry. NASH reports that the standard doubled the steel-framed housing market. Before 2005, it was around 7% of the market in terms of number of houses and project value; in 2015, it was 14%. More efficient frame designs developed under the standard have also led to savings in construction costs of $30 million per year.

The use of cold-formed steel framing for multistorey apartments has also increased. Before 2005, steel frames were almost never used for apartments. In 2015, the Victorian Building Authority estimated 35% of new apartments in the state used steel frames. NASH believes that this significant rise is mostly because the increased use of steel frames for housing increased builders’ confidence in steel framing.

Swinburne and NASH have also worked to educate prospective users of the NASH Standard through national and international workshops and conferences.

Hard work rewarded with international interest

This unique standard has also attracted international interest. In 2008, NASH Part 1 was adapted in both New Zealand and South Africa, and it was quickly included in both countries’ building codes. Regulatory bodies across SouthEast Asia have also shown great interest in the standard.

The standard was built on extensive research into cold-formed steel for residential construction. At Swinburne, the research program has focused on two key areas:

  • earthquake resistance
  • lateral load design.

Other Swinburne research areas complemented this core work, including the exploration of steel residential structures in bushfire conditions and connections in steel structures.

And an award

The work has produced testing methods, designs, and general robustness and resilience assessments of cold-formed steel residential construction. For these contributions, Professor Emad Gad was awarded the Australian Steel Institute’s Emeritus Professor Greg Hancock medal in 2016 for contributions to steel design and the steel industry.

Project lead: Professor Emad Gad