How to achieve compliance with seismic design AS1170.4


As we are getting more attention on seismic designs from our blog, I thought this may be a good time to explore a little more in details. We will cover some of the basic requirements of the NCC around seismic compliance, in particular, the need for conformance with AS 1170.4-2007: Structural Design Actions Part 4: Earthquake actions in Australia, and we will explain how these requirements play out for internal wall and ceiling linings and framing, and their associated fixtures.

And, to give you a perspective about seismic, this is an extract from National Seismic Hazards Assessment NSHA).

Australia Seismic Map from National Seismic Hazard Assessment (NSHA)

What are Earthquake Design Categories, and how do they affect design?

Australia has three Earthquake Design Categories (EDC), covering low level, low-risk commercial buildings up to multi-level, higher-risk buildings that contain many people.

The relevant EDC is determined by referring to Table 2.1 of AS1170.4-2007.

AS1170.4 seismic table 2.1

The implications of these three categories are summarised below:

EDC 1 - Earthquake design category 1 requires an engineering analysis of a simple lateral load applied at each level. This means the structure of a building must be able to withstand the sideways force of an earthquake. (refer Section 5 of AS1170.4)

EDC 2: Earthquake design category 2 requires a static engineering analysis. This means the building must be able to handle the force of an earthquake in all directions. (refer Section 6 of AS1170.4)

EDC 3 Earthquake design category 3 requires a full engineering design with dynamic analysis. This is required for the highest hazard levels and tallest structures. (refer Section 7 of AS1170.4)

This third category involves calculating the effect of the force of an earthquake in all directions, including inertia and vibration.

At the end of the day, to stop framing moving or breaking in the event of an earthquake, seismic restraints or bracing gets specified by the engineers.

What is Australia's standard for seismic bracing?

Australia's standard for structural design for earthquakes is AS 1170.4-2007.

This includes the requirements for seismic bracing and earthquake resistance of all components.

The National Construction Code (NCC) requires buildings to comply with AS1170.4 with reference to section 8 of the standard for non-structural components.

Seismic bracing has long been in the building code, but rarely thought necessary in Australia to enforce it. As a result of the lack of enforcement, builders and contractors have often overlooked the bracing requirements of the seismic standard.

In line with more attention being paid to the seismic design for suspended ceilings - Suspended Ceilings – Design and Installation' AS/NZS2785:2020

Seismic Bracing Installation Best Practices: Cable Bracing for Trapeze  Applications | nVent CADDY

What do architects need to know about AS1170.4?

A common misconception is that only the primary structural frame needs to be considered for earthquake actions, but this is not the case. Non-structural components and fastenings need to be designed for earthquake forces as required by AS1170.4. This applies to all Earthquake Design Categories.

AS1170.4 Clause 8.1.4 provides a comprehensive list of non-structural components that require consideration for earthquake loads as follows:

  • Walls that are not part of the seismic-force-resisting system
  • Appendages, including parapets, gables, verandas, awnings, canopies, chimneys, roofing components (tiles, metal sheeting), containers and miscellaneous components
  • Connections (fasteners) for wall attachments, curtain walls, exterior non-loadbearing walls
  • Partitions
  • Floors
  • Ceilings (see also Fix and Float ceilings below)
  • Architectural equipment, including storage racks and library shelves with a height over 2.0m.

The Australian Standard also stipulates that several mechanical and electrical components and their fastenings commonly found in high rise buildings also require consideration of their capacity to accommodate earthquake loads, for example:

  • Lighting fixtures
  • Ducts, cabling and piping distribution systems
  • Fire suppression and sprinkler systems.
  • For a comprehensive listing of all components which require consideration for earthquake loads, refer to the Australian Standard.

What this all means is that lightweight steel framing such as partition and suspended ceiling framing require a new structural assessment for every project.

A structural engineer is required to ascertain if a project's partitioning and ceilings systems require seismic bracing and ensures the framing system is safe in the remote possibility of a seismic event.

A structural engineer does this by running the required seismic bracing load calculations according to the relevant Earthquake Design Category.

Seismic bracing for suspended ceiling AS1170.4 Regulation 126

What is a Fix and Float floating ceiling?

Part of the seismic restraint design begins at the architectural stage, in consultation with structural engineers and installers, to allow suitable spacing between structural and non-structural elements in the building. This reduces or prevents collision or damage in the event of an earthquake.

For ceilings, a common seismic design is called "fix and float", where the ceiling framing is only fixed to one of four walls, with the other three walls being floating. Supawood's recommended 15mm perimeter joint can still be used, but the framing is not locked to the other three walls. Usually, the most stable wall is chosen as the anchor wall. This allows the ceiling to move in an earthquake without being torn apart.

Note that walls are usually braced anyway, so the main effect of seismic engineering are changes to the ceilings and the fixtures and services that run through them.

Seismic bracing for cable tray AS1170.4 Regulation 126
What do builders and contractors need to know about AS1170.4?

Building contractors are ultimately responsible for ensuring that the buildings they construct comply with the requirements of AS1170.4.

Builders need to ensure that all non-structural elements such as the architectural, mechanical and electrical components referred to above have been properly checked for earthquake loads in their design through to installation.

It may be best to request the structural engineer to provide effective floor acceleration and the allowances for inter-storey drift to manufacturers of architectural, electrical and mechanical components to make sure the selected systems have the needed performance characteristics to accommodate the expected earthquake actions.

Seismic Summary

A summary of what we've covered in these two blogs are as follows:

  1. It is a mandatory requirement that all commercial buildings in Australia to allow for seismic design, no matter where they are located.
  2. Depending on the building use, engineering calculations must be carried out to determine if the structure of the building can withstand the force of an earthquake.
  3. Non-structural components also need to allow for earthquakes both in the way they are fixed and in the way they are located adjacent or to other structural or non-structural components.
  4. A structural engineer will assess a building against AS 1170 Part 4. Although there are common or generic earthquake designs for ceiling and wall bracing, etc., this is required for each project.
  5. Builders are ultimately responsible for constructing a building according to AS1170.4, the Earthquake Standard. However, architects need to ensure their designs and materials specified can be certified accordingly.

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