This article is written and provided by Leon Quinn of Bronze Sponsor, Tilling.

In my 32 years (gee I sound old!) in the timber industry there has been a lot of change. One of the most significant areas of change we’ve seen is the increase of warranty responsibilities placed upon builders, and how today’s builders increasingly try to mitigate and delegate risk back to contractors and suppliers. The fabricator community is impacted by this trend more than most other areas of construction.

With the ever-increasing use of engineered wood products (EWP) in structures, the varying properties and performance warranties of manufactured members are underpinned by design software. All EWP distributors have design software and some form of design service to simplify the mixture of EWP members and hardware into kits, with installation instructions, so builders can easily use what would otherwise be a fairly complicated group of products.

Floor systems are a typical example, where a comprehensive engineered design layout, with joists, beams, brackets and other accessories, is listed and explained. These layouts need to be utilized by the builder as part of the source engineering documentation of the project. Copies are kept by the builder and the local council, and also by the designing EWP distributor and reselling fabricator.

EWP distributors undertake risk when they provide an engineered design, if the materials are ordered and used in the structure.  The design needs to comply with the BCA for the structure it applies to.  It also needs to “work”, in the sense that the home owner/building owner’s performance expectations of their floor need to be met.  If compliance or performance expectations aren’t met, the designing EWP supplier is (rightly) expected to help resolve the issue.

At Tilling Timber, we have a lot of data because we produce over 14,000 unique designs per year, and field over 27,000 requests (designs + amendments + multiple quote requests). We use it to try to improve our own performance, and to measure what is and perhaps isn’t working. Recent analysis of our data has shown us a bit of a challenge:  Our fabricator and other merchant resellers receive an engineered design & quotation, but some don’t reference this design when they place the order. This can cause potential problems for the builder.

FTMA members will be familiar with the distinctive SmartFrame watermark “Preliminary Only – Not for Construction”. This watermark indicates that a design/layout has been completed based upon the information provided, and where there is a lack of information, upon the assumptions. It is designed to encourage the builder to look at the proposed solution and to decide whether assumptions made were correct, the design was based upon the most current plan, and/or a key design requirements were either not transmitted or have been overlooked. This watermark is only removed by Tilling Timber when we receive an order referencing that design.

If a project has however been constructed based upon a SmartFrame layout that is still marked “Preliminary- Not for Construction”, then the responsibility for design errors therefore transfer to the builder.

As already mentioned, the builder also needs construction documents, for his trades, for inspectors, for the council, possibly for the engineer involved, and for his own records. For the layout to be a useful (binding) construction document, the watermark needs to be removed, and, in the case of Queensland, an additional Form 15 needs to be provided as a final engineering sign-off for the design.

In Queensland, “a Form 15 must be used when a competent person is requested to provide a certificate for the matters relating to the design/specification help they are giving to a building certifier. The certificate provided must cover such things as the design of a particular material, system, method of building or that a building element complies with the BCA or a provision of the QDC.”  A Form 15 is “intended to be used for the design of particular systems or components within a building that are outside of the building certifier’s expertise.”


The removal of the watermark and the issuance of the Form 15 (for Queensland) should only occur when the EWP distributor that produced the design receives a purchase order referencing the design number.

Victoria Building Regulations include a Certificate of Compliance for proposed building works which may be requested by the relevant building surveyor. While not supplied for each design like the QLD Form 15, this document, if requested, can only be signed by a Registered Building Practitioner, Category of Engineer.

What are the implications if the order is placed with no reference? If a fabricator has received a design and quotation, and places an “incognito” order, the builder never receives certified documentation.  So…

a. Documentation linkages are incomplete. It is common for a regulatory authority or the property owner to request the original plans even after the seven (7) year statutory builders warranty has expired

b. The structure may not be certifiable without extra engineering input

c. The EWP distributor may have diminished responsibility

d. The QLD Form 15 or a Certificate of Conformance under Victorian Regulation 126 cannot be provided

The great news about this issue is that it’s so easy to overcome. By simply referencing the design number every time when placing orders, fabricators and other resellers of EWP designed solutions are provided everything the builder needs. A little extra detail added in our day to day processes will deliver great benefits for your builder customers.

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