Sep. 11, 2000 Australian scientists have built a suburban house and then destroyed it with simulated cyclones and earthquakes to make future homes safer and more affordable.
The scene of the destruction was the whole building test laboratory at CSIRO Infrastructure Systems Engineering at Highett, Melbourne, Australia. This facility has established a unique capability to measure the complete load distribution in a light-frame building - for the first time in the world.
"It is now possible to evaluate the performance of any component of a house and relate it to the way the rest of the structure behaves when subject to severe events such as earthquakes," says Dr Greg Foliente of CSIRO Infrastructure Systems Engineering.
"We can tell just which bits fail and how they hold together under severe stress - even down to a single nail.
"The entire house is fully supported by load cells (sensors) at its base with each unit capable of measuring loads in three principal directions to duplicate the forces created in a major natural disaster. A desktop computer manages the entire instrumentation and data visualisation system.
"This is the first full-scale test house in the world to be instrumented in this way, and to this extent.
"The data collected will enable combined testing and modelling for the design of new and innovative products and to determine locations in houses where they can be most effective," he says.
Dr Foliente says that the unthinkable is now possible thanks to CSIRO's new combined capability for whole house testing and computer modelling.
"The door will soon be open to a whole host of new building materials and products, undreamt of previously," he says. These could include:
· high performance composites for building such as carbon fibres, waste plastic or even straw · energy dissipation devices such as (metal) friction dampers on joists to allow movement · viscoelastic dampers such as rubber shock absorbers between different materials such as wallboard and framing.
"Houses in disaster prone areas may be built of plastic or have suspension a bit like a motor car to ride out most typhoons or earthquakes with less damage and reduced injury to occupants," says Dr Foliente.
"The earthquake house will give a new dimension to slashing red tape for exporters trying to break into overseas markets.
"Once CSIRO's house is experimentally validated to a given construction method it will be possible to demonstrate that a new structural building product can meet local building safety requirements, or that an Australian building product can meet another country's building code.
"For example, our combined modelling and testing capability can be used to show how an Australian designed house can meet the earthquake safety requirements demanded by building codes in America or Japan," he says.
Compliance to overseas standards and codes can be demonstrated in months instead of years, removing a major export impediment to Australian companies.
The earthquake house is the result of CSIRO's international reputation in whole building testing and computer modelling and the research arm of the US National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) that commissioned this CSIRO project.
"We have a very productive collaboration with Japanese and American researchers in various aspects of the project and, in particular, North Carolina State University in the US is a close collaborator, assisting with our computer modelling and testing," says Dr Foliente.
More information: Ken.Anderson@dbce.csiro.au
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