We love it when word makes it to us from Far East Gippsland. Recently, we began hearing about a new building system that was popping up (literally) in Mallacoota, rebuilding homes that had been devastated by the Black Summer fires.
Some quick sleuthing revealed that Waddell Homes was responsible for the builds, so we reached out to their director, David Waddell, to learn more.
Dave got into the building game back in 2006 as a 16-year-old through a Gippsland Group Training (now Apprenticeships Victoria) carpentry apprenticeship.
“Dad was a carpenter by trade, so I always had a fair interest in timber and building. But the biggest part that initially drew me towards building was being able to work outside all day and having a wide variety of work.”
“[It] allows us to provide a lot more value for money, as in the past traditional builds wouldn’t offer the same high-end finish. Our construction time frames are on average cut by at least a third..."
Hearing more about Dave’s approach to building, he says that they’re still using traditional when required, but as awareness in the prefabricated building systems grows he anticipates that more clients will come on board with the technology.
Waddell Homes utilises the Panelok System, which when broken down into its components is a fully engineered steel frame house with a core filled with foam in between. The panel has a bamboo composite board covering the core and creating the panel structure. It’s a ‘ground up’ system, which means it fits in from the sub-floor to the roof, and can be customised to suit cost-effective first homes to palatial, architecturally-designed marvels.
Dave explains that the Panelok System has a swag of other benefits for homeowners.
“[It] allows us to provide a lot more value for money, as in the past traditional builds wouldn’t offer the same high-end finish. Our construction time frames are on average cut by at least a third, and sometimes nearly in half for the actual time onsite, which means clients are able to spend more on their new home and less on labour on-site.
“Material shortages are a real issue in the building industry at the moment. As Panelok is Australian-made and includes around 60% recycled materials, it allows us to avoid some of the shortages and is more sustainable long-term.”
Another revelation of this prefab approach is that Dave and his team have been achieving energy ratings of around eight stars, even when the home hasn’t been orientated on the site for optimal solar efficiency (one of the most effective approaches to improve the efficiency of a new home).
It also has a solid cyclone rating, is acoustically effective in minimising sound transfer between rooms and outside, and is non-combustible with a Bushfire Attack Level of ‘Flame Zone’, which is the most extreme rating that can be applied to building design and construction, hence the interest in the system in Mallacoota.
Given the apparent benefits of prefabricated building systems, we queried Dave as to why there hasn’t been a larger uptake of them throughout the region.
“That’s a tough one, but we believe that to-date there hasn’t ever been a real push or requirement to change and move away from the traditional builds. Even now, we are finding that existing builders that have been in the industry a long time are resisting the urge to change, knowing what has worked for them for years in the past and not being willing to undertake anything new that may take them outside their comfort zone and create unnecessary financial risk financially that naturally comes with change.
“Now with the timber and material shortages, and associated price increases, as well as the bushfires, we’re finding that the industry will need to adapt and change is inevitable.”
Dave adds that Gippsland’s building industry is the healthiest it has been for a long time, but that also creates challenges. Workloads need to be managed so that builds occur swiftly, yet with no compromise to quality. Accompanying the shortcomings of material availability is also a dearth of labour – this combination is prolonging wait times.
For a building company to stand out, Dave believes that it comes down to the personal connection you can develop with clients.
“We value our time with them and aim to make the building process – whether that be their first home or their last home – as easy and enjoyable as possible for them. [You need to] understand that it is a massive investment they are undertaking and you are making that a reality for them.
“We rely on word-of-mouth and referrals from existing clients. In the past, price has certainly been a major factor [in selecting builders], but we are now also finding that time frames or waiting time is a large contributing factor in their decision too.”
Dave’s goal for Waddell Homes is to continue to grow the Panelok product on the ground and for it to become reputable and a sustainable alternative to traditional building.