Maintaining a home
How to prepare for a bushfire from the start of building your home
7 November 2022
While it may be impossible to build an entirely fire proof house, there are a number of steps you can take both before and after building your home to make it as fire resistant as possible.
If you live in – or are planning to live in – a bushfire-prone area, stay safe by knowing how to prepare for a bushfire from the moment you start building.
How to build a bushfire-resilient house
Consult the Australian Bushfire Standard
Your builder should have access to the Australian Bushfire Standard, so be sure to let them know you’d like it to be consulted at the start of the process.
It details all the safety requirements that need to be followed when building in a bushfire-prone area.
Know your Bushfire Attack Level
Your Bushfire Attack Level (BAL) refers to the severity level of your home’s fire risk. There are six levels:
- BAL Low: Low enough risk to not warrant specific construction requirements.
- BAL 12.5: Risk of ember attack.
- BAL 19: Increased level of ember attack and debris being ignited by windborne embers with an increasing heat flux.
- BAL 29: Further increased levels of ember attack, windborne embers igniting debris, and heat flux.
- BAL 40: Further increase to the levels of ember attack, debris being ignited by windborne embers, heat flux, and likely exposure to flames.
- BAL FZ: Direct exposure to flames in addition to heat flux and ember attacks.
Each BAL rating relates to specific construction requirements.
Have a professional assess your BAL to be certain of the potential risks before you start building. That way, you can select the appropriate materials without any uncertainty about whether they’re the right pick for the area.
Use the right materials
Timber can be an effective building material in areas with a certain BAL rating.
In areas of a low to medium risk, up to BAL 29, the internal structure can be entirely built from bushfire-resistant timber, from the wall to roofs to the bookcases inside.
Brick, concrete and steel work as alternative fire safe options in areas with a higher rating.
Think about the surrounding environment
The area around your home has a big impact on the potential risks of a bushfire reaching it.
Homes build on slopes are at an increased risk during bushfires as fires burn faster uphill, and high density vegetation near your home can act as a direct pathway for a bushfire to get to your front door.
If building on a slope is unavoidable, take extra care in clearing and maintaining any flammable material on the decline.
Mind the gaps
The small gaps can be just as dangerous as the big ones. Embers can creep into small gaps and catch, causing homes to burn from the inside out. Seal up any gaps that are larger than 2mm.
For roofs, use concrete or terracotta roof tiles and non-combustible roof framing.
For other openings, you can use stainless steel bushfire mesh.
Protect doors and windows
Choose toughened glass for your windows, as it can make a difference.
Depending on you BAL rating, the recommended thickness can range from 4mm thick glass for low-to-medium risk ratings, to 6mm for high risk areas.
Add an extra structure
An external structure can act as a protective envelope for your fire resistant home. The Bushfire Standard provides extensive information on what kind of external wall structures may suit your BAL.
This may even be as simple as adding a mesh that screens against embers and radiant heat.
Don’t forget landscaping
You can minimise the amount of potential bushfire fuel around your house by avoiding having too much foliage near to your house. If you do have garden beds nearby, consider swapping them with heat resistant plants.
Having paved areas around your house is also a good method of creating a level of separation.
Regular home maintenance for bushfire season
Keep your backyard tidy
Make sure you keep the area around your home as clean as possible. That way, a lone ember has less kindling-like material to latch on and burn.
- trim back overgrown plants
- cut back overhanging branches
- rake up and dispose of fallen leaves, and
- keep your drains and gutter clear of leaves, branches and other debris.
Test your smoke alarms
You should test your smoke alarms every month. Make sure the tone is coming through loud and clear, and that their placement complies with fire safety regulations. That means they should be positioned:
- to wake sleeping occupants near bedrooms
- in the living area
- in hallways, and
- in stairways between floors.
It is recommended to replace your smoke alarms every 10 years, and some states are encouraging residents to replace any older alarms with interconnected alarms in every room. Some states have legislated this as a necessity, so be sure to check your state authority.
Pre-pack for an emergency
Always be prepared. Be ready to leave at a moment’s notice, and if you’re in a bushfire-prone area, leaving early is the safest option.
Pack a bag of essentials, including:
- non-perishable food
- a first aid kit, and
- sentimental and irreplaceable belongings (photographs, jewellery, etc).
Don’t try to bring your entire household. Stick to the things you can’t go without.
Don’t be under-insured
Preparing for bushfire season includes making sure you’ve got the right insurance.
When you take out a Suncorp Classic Extras Home Insurance policy, you'll automatically receive Safety Net Home Protection included in your cover. You can take out this cover with Classic Home insurance too, but you’ll have to add it on as an optional extra.
With Safety Net Home Protection, you'll be covered for up to 25% more than your set home sum insured if your home is damaged by an insured event and repair or rebuilding costs exceed your home sum insured. Read the Product Disclosure Statement for more details on what is and isn’t covered.
You can also be offered additional recommended resilience options with our Build it Back Better feature, included automatically in all levels of cover. This offers up to $5,000 or $10,000 for features that help protect against severe weather, depending on the level of cover you select. This applies if the assessed cost for repairing or rebuilding is more than 10% of your sum insured or $50,000, whichever is higher.
Please note we don't insure you for bushfire, storm, storm surge, flood or tsunami for the first 72 hours of your policy. Very limited exceptions apply, so be sure to plan and prepare early. Read the PDS for more detail.
What to do after a bushfire
Assess damage & make a claim
The period immediately after a bushfire can be emotionally difficult.
Once you and your loved ones are completely safe and authorities have given the all-clear, contact your insurance provider to assess the damage and start the claim process.
11 tips to help prepare for bushfire season
11 tips to prepare for bushfire season
1. Trim overhanging branches
2. Clean gutters
3. Get fire-resistant gutter or ember guards
4. Check your garden hose can reach your property boundaries
5. Check that smoke alarms and extinguishers work
6. Have an evacuation plan ready
7. Pack a survival kit
8. Prepare a list of emergency numbers
9. Learn how to safely turn off your power, water, and gas
10. Check you’re adequately covered by your insurance
11. Take photos of your property and possessions to help if you do need to claim
- Does my Home Insurance cover fire damage?
- How to make a water damage insurance claim
- Does your home insurance cover blocked gutters
Disclaimer: Insurance issued by AAI Limited ABN 48 005 297 807 trading as Suncorp Insurance. Please read the Product Disclosure Statement before buying this insurance. The Target Market Determination is also available.
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.
The information is intended to be of general nature only. Subject to any rights you may have under any law, we do not accept any legal responsibility for any loss or damage, including loss of business or profits or any other indirect loss, incurred as a result of reliance upon the information. Please make your own enquiries.