Building bushfire designed homes

Issue 25 Words: Sarah Robertson

For those building a bushfire designed home, managing environmental and regulatory issues can be a challenge. Sustainable design experts from around Australia provide some advice on the issues homeowners need to keep in mind.

Meeting bushfire needs for a bushfire designed home can call on different priorities to the ones we adhere to when designing environmentally responsible homes, writes sustainable architect Emilis Prelgauskas in Your Home. Ultimately, he concludes, meeting the specifications for bushfire resistance can be at odds with some sustainability goals. “Recycled timber often does not meet non-combustion rating requirements, fire resistant paint embodies toxins, steel and other non-combustible components have high embodied energy.”

However, the threat of bushfire is not something to be underestimated and with the right advice, compromises can usually be made to ensure homes built in bushfire-prone areas are as environmentally responsible as possible.

Understanding bushfires

Dr Ian Weir is a WA-based architect and researcher who specialises in designing for bushfire-prone and biodiverse landscapes. He says the first principle home or land owners in these areas need to consider is that, in Australia, living with bush invariably means living with bushfire.

Yet eliminating the bush immediately surrounding your home won’t necessarily eliminate the risk posed to your home by a fire. “Real-world research has shown that most houses actually burn down from embers entering the house, rather than from fire itself. Indeed, one of the very practical ways of increasing your home’s resistance to bushfire is to ensure it is well maintained and does not have gaps (say wider than two millimetres) in the exterior envelope where embers can enter the roof space or interior rooms to then ignite more flammable elements inside your home.”

When it comes to building or rebuilding bushfire designed homes in Australian rural and suburban areas that are bushfire-prone, multiple regulatory and awareness issues confront householders. In addition to navigating through the design and construction requirements set by regulations in the Building Code of Australia and meeting local council and state planning requirements, householders need to understand the common causes of bushfire-related house fires, bushfire prevention measures and community evacuation procedures.

Dr Weir and bushfire design expert and architect Eldon Bottcher say it’s crucial to understand the five mechanisms related to fire – flame, radiant heat, embers, wind and smoke – when thinking about appropriate design and construction solutions. Emergency management and escape issues should also be influential considerations.

“Dealing with bushfire is best done in a multifaceted way, including thinking about the design of the whole of site, including the landscape, layout, the buildings themselves,” says Dr Weir. “Perhaps most importantly, [it’s about] developing appropriate human behaviour or ‘preparedness’.”

 

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Cover of Issue 25
You can read more about Building bushfire designed homes in Issue 25 of Sanctuary magazine.

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Reducing your lawn area is the best way to save water as lawns can account for up to 90 per cent of water used in gardens.

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