The catastrophic bushfires of the summer of 2019 to 2020 destroyed thousands of homes, burned nearly 18.6 million hectares of land, and reduced billions worth of properties to ashes. The remote and rural communities of Australia were severely affected and many residents here suffered extreme losses. Sadly, bushfires are naturally occurring and will continue to threaten many communities in regional Australia. If you are planning to move to the suburbs or in remote or rural areas, you need to be prepared against these intense and out-of-control bushfires. Here, we are going to tell you everything you need to know before designing and building a fire-safe home in bushfire-prone areas and show you some bushfire-proof home designs to inspire you to build.
Building in a bushfire zone in remote and rural areas
Before building a new or renovating a home in the block of land you’ve purchased in a remote or rural area, you should check if your property is in a bushfire zone first.
Bushfire prone areas are more likely to catch on fire during the summer because of the presence or proximity to bushfire-prone vegetation. The area includes the spot where the vegetation is plus a 100m buffer zone surrounding it. Even when bushfire-prone vegetation only partially covers a land, the entire parcel of land is still considered a bushfire prone area.
Now, if your property is in a bushfire prone area, your new house should be appropriately located, designed, and constructed to ensure the occupant’s welfare. For first-time homeowners, it’s best to check your council’s published overlays and all the relevant planning schemes before commencing with your project.
Apart from bushfire prone areas, there are also bushfire impact areas that are indirectly affected by the smoke and embers during a blaze. Building here is not subject to the same planning or building requirements as in bushfire prone areas.
Getting a BAL Assessment
A Bushfire Attack Level (BAL) assessment is required as part of an application for a building permit. It is a way of measuring the severity of the structure’s potential exposure to an ember attack, radiant heat and bushfire flames.
There are six ratings starting from LOW to FLAME ZONE as seen below. As the BAL Rating increases, so do the construction requirements for your new home.
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Once you know your BAL Rating, you will be able to:
- Know the level of compliance that you need to achieve to obtain building approval. Each level has different requirements.
- Know what are the best construction methods and materials to use to protect the structure from bushfires and to withstand an ember attack.
A BAL assessor is responsible for assessing the BAL rating for your new build. If you live in a designated bushfire prone area you will need them to visit the site to determine your bushfire attack level and provide you with a report that complies with Australian standards. This report will need to be submitted along with planning and building permits to your local council.
Bushfire-resistant home designs for inspiration
Here are perfect examples of bushfire-resistant home designs already built across the country and what makes them awesome.
Fire-rated building materials
Use the industry’s most recommended non-combustible and fire-rated building materials such as:
- Steel frame structures
- Corrugated steel cladding
- Drywall or gypsum boards
- Rammed Earth
- Fire-resistant timber cladding made from blackbutt, spotted gum, Merbau, turpentine, red ironbark, red river gum and silver top ash.
- Flame retardant treatments for timber decks and cladding so it can withstand ember attacks and will not easily catch fire when exposed to direct flame. There are wood varnishes, paints, and oils that you can use to keep the structural integrity of timber in the face of fire.
- Thick (4-6mm) tilt and turn windows. A tilt and turn window allows you to tilt the window when ventilation is needed and turn when it’s needed to escape the room in case of fire.
- Exterior metal shutters to protect the windows from the outside
Is it expensive to build a bushfire-proof home?
Building on a site that’s susceptible to devastating bushfires will likely increase the cost of construction. Modifying the site, procuring the building materials for the fire-resistant home, and many more factors will drive the prices up. These homes could easily cost $600,000 up.
Living in remote and rural communities is one of the most attractive options for many homeowners nowadays. City folks are purchasing blocks of land that are far from concrete jungles and closer to nature ⸺ and they’re building their dream homes there.
If this is your plan too, the best chance of keeping your dream home and surviving is to design and build a bushfire-proof home.
Need help designing or building a home in a bushfire prone area? Contact us and we would be happy to help!