Maintaining a home
How to build a bushfire-resilient house
30 October 2020
If you live out in the bush, you probably enjoy calm evenings and striking landscapes. But it’s not all peace and tranquillity — at some point, you may also need to defend your home from a bushfire. Boris Iskra from Forest and Wood Products Australia talks about building and designing a bushfire-resistant home.
A bushfire-resilient house can still look good
What comes to mind when you think of a bushfire-safe home — a drab concrete fort?
In reality, a bushfire-resilient home can look like a regular, aesthetically pleasing house. If you’re in a low to medium risk area, you’ll probably have a range of materials to work with.
It doesn’t have to be expensive
Certain upgrades to low to medium risk sites can be surprisingly affordable. Think low-cost materials like mesh to seal openings.
Where to start
When building in a bushfire-prone area, always consult the Australian Bushfire Standard. It’s free and easy to download. Here are some general tips to get you started.
Know your BAL level
This refers to the severity of your fire risk. Homes range from BAL 12.5 (the lowest risk level), to BAL-FZ (the highest risk zone with direct flame exposure). Get a professional to assess your BAL level, or look for pointers online.
Don’t be under-insured
Prepping for bushfire season includes getting the right insurance for your most valuable asset. When you take out a new Suncorp Classic Home Insurance policy, you’ll receive a year of free Safety Net Home Protection. This means you’ll be covered for up to 25% more than your set sum insured if repair or rebuilding costs unexpectedly rise at claims time.
Think about the surrounding environment
‘’The landscapes, slopes and vegetation all have an impact on bushfires,’’ says Boris Iskra. Homes built on or near steep slopes typically have higher BAL ratings, since bushfires travel faster uphill. High-density vegetation also poses a risk, so trim where you can.
Mind the gaps
When we think of bushfire destruction, we tend to picture houses ravaged by the flame front. When in reality, most homes catch ablaze when embers creep in through small gaps. ‘’Houses can burn from the inside out,’’ says Boris. ‘’The weakest link in our buildings are the openings in our walls, windows and doors.’’
Aim to seal any gaps wider than 2mm. The Australian Bushfire Standard provides the best guidelines on how you should go about this. But you should generally use:
- concrete or terracotta roof tiles and non-combustible roof framing, and
- stainless steel bushfire mesh over openings.
Protect doors and windows
Choose toughened glass windows. The thickness of the glass panes ranges from 4mm (for lower BAL ratings) to 6mm (the most extreme).
Opt for roller doors to keep the flames out. The thickness of the glass will again, depend on how at-risk your home is.
Use the right materials
‘’Timber is one of the most sustainable materials out there,’’ says Boris. ‘’It’s the ultimate renewable and capture technology.’’ In low to medium risk areas (up to BAL 29), you can build your whole internal structure — walls, roofs, cabinets and bookshelves — out of bushfire-resistant timber.
Timber is also multipurpose. It’s a very good insulator in winter, and prevents the summer heat from seeping in.
Brick, concrete and steel work well as alternative fire-safe options too.
Add an external structure
‘’The external structure, or protective ‘envelope’ exists to keep the fire out,’’ says Boris. The Bushfire Standard provides extensive info on external wall structures for your specific BAL rating. But brick, timber, concrete and steel are good defenses. In many cases, it’s as simple as adding a mesh screen.
Don’t forget landscaping
‘’You want to minimise the amount of fuel that could catch alight,’’ says Boris. This means you should avoid planting garden beds around your house or swap them out with heat-resistant plants. ‘’Having paved areas around your house is a good way to provide a bit of separation’’. Remember to also keep your drains and gutters clear of leaves, branches and other debris.
- 11 tips to help you prepare your home and yourself for bushfires
- How to make a water damage insurance claim
- Does your home insurance cover blocked gutters
Insurance is issued by AAI Limited ABN 48 005 297 807 trading as Suncorp Insurance. Consider the Product Disclosure Statement before making a decision about this insurance. This advice has been prepared without taking into account your particular objectives, financial situations or needs, so you should consider whether it is appropriate for you before acting on it.