Fallen in love with that dream block and the notion of having your own piece of the Australian bushland? The seemingly unending wide-open spaces, beautiful scenery and life in the embrace of nature are all part of the bushland charm.
However, even as you get carried away by the charms of bushland living, you must also remember that there’s such a thing as bushfires, which are very destructive and happen every year. So, before you set out to buy or build a home in the bushland, make sure you know the risks you’re taking.
More importantly, find out if the property you want is in a bushfire-prone area. This way, you’ll know the implications of building or renovating a home there, as well as the precautions you need to take to protect your property.
Here at Buck & Simple, we’ve worked on multiple projects in bushfire-prone areas over the years. We’re architects in the Northern Beaches that have developed the necessary expertise in the design and approval of houses in these areas.
In the current climate of hotter, drier summers and unprecedented bushfires, understanding the risks and designing for the conditions is more important than ever. So, if you need professional bushfire house design assistance, please reach out to us.
The risks of living in a bushfire zone
With climate change, the danger of living in bushfire-prone areas continues to increase and worsen.
In fact, even areas where fires were once deemed unlikely could be affected more heavily through the years as extreme fire conditions become more common. These conditions include dry conditions, soaring temperatures and high winds.
But even if your property isn’t razed in a bushfire, it could still be damaged by burning embers and debris. Therefore, it’s crucial to abide by local building regulations and ensure you take all the necessary steps to protect your property.
Dealing with building regulations and approvals
Here is a general step-by-step guide you can use before you start building a bushland home. Although there may be variations in the steps depending on your state or council, this should cover the basics adequately.
- Call up or visit the relevant local council and find out if your (prospective) property is in a bushfire-prone area or land.
- Ask about the requirements for building or renovating property in the area so you can prepare these accordingly.
- Get in touch with a bushfire consultant or building inspector who can conduct an assessment of the property and find out the bushfire attack level or BAL rating of your property.
- Prepare your application, which should include the bushfire protection measures you’ll take. If you live in Sydney or New South Wales, you can consult a Sydney architect to help you with the structural and design details of your plan.
- Submit your application and wait for the council’s decision and recommendations.
Once your application is approved, consider the council recommendations and apply these with the help of Sydney residential architects familiar with bushfire home design.
The different bushfire attack levels
The degree of bushfire risk to your property is based on a number of factors, namely the neighbourhood, the type of surrounding vegetation, the distance between the vegetation and the location of your home, and the direction and slope of the land.
Properties in a bushfire-prone region with steep slopes and dense vegetation could have higher BAL ratings. By knowing the property’s BAL, it is possible to implement design and structural modifications to reduce the BAL rating as well as the flame exposure risk.
The BAL rating is separated into six bushfire attack levels, from minor to extreme.
- BAL – LOW: The lowest risk from a potential fire
- BAL – 12.5: Risk primarily from potential embers during a fire
- BAL – 19: Moderate risk, particularly from embers and burning debris
- BAL – 29: High risk, particularly from embers, debris and heat
- BAL – 40: Very high risk; likely to be impacted by embers, debris, heat and potentially flames
- BAL – FZ: Extreme risk; directly exposed to the flames of a potential fire front
By taking the property’s BAL rating into consideration, the architects you are working with can integrate smart design principles to minimise risks.
Before construction can commence, you need to adhere to specific guidelines detailing the building materials you can use to meet BAL rating requirements.
Depending on the rating, you may have to use non-combustible materials for different parts of your home. Based on the BAL rating of your property, your builder will incorporate the required materials and quotes during pre-construction.
Durable, flame-resistant or non-combustible materials that could be used in building homes in bushfire-prone areas include:
- Timber, e.g. blackbutt, merbau, red ironbark, red river gum, silvertop ash, spotted gum, turpentine
- Steel frame system
- Corrugated steel
- Fibre cement panels
- Toughened glass with aluminium or metal-reinforced uPVC for windows
There are usually significant cost differences between BAL-LOW-rated homes without any special construction requirements and properties with a higher BAL rating.
Even the landscaping design will also depend on the property’s BAL rating and council regulations. Growing fire-retardant or fire-resistant plants that can survive bushfire season are recommended. Examples of these include Lomandra longifolia (katrinus deluxe), Anigozanthos hybrid (amber velvet), Brachychiton acerifolius (Illawarra flame tree), Agapanthus orientalis (cloudy days) and native rainforest species such as Tristaniopsis laurina (water gum).
There should also be ample space between the house and garden, as well as between the property perimeter and the surrounding vegetation.
Other features like water tanks and swimming pools will also be positioned in such a way that will reduce the risk exposure of your property to bushfires.
Even after your home is built, you still need to implement these maintenance tips to keep your home safe from bushfire risks:
- Monitor the growth of trees and shrubs and prune as needed.
- Trim or remove dead branches or twigs and leaves. Keep these covered in compost bins.
- Keep your lawn, garden and gutters clean.
- Ensure windows, doors, the roof and areas underneath your home are sealed and enclosed against ember attack.
Always be on the ready
Even if you have a fire-resistant home, it’s crucial to be prepared and alert for any eventuality, especially during the bushfire season, to keep you, your family and your property safe.
- Create a fire escape plan with your family. This includes signals you can use when you need to evacuate and responsibilities concerning the safety of young children, elderly family members and pets. There should also be a number outside that you can call in case you get separated from each other after evacuation.
- Decide on where you’ll stay if you need to leave your home during bushfire conditions.
- Let everyone know about the bushfire alert levels.
- Keep bushfire and emergency numbers ready. Record these on your phones and post copies on the fridge and near your landline phones.
- Have individual overnight bags ready during bushfire season. These should include clothing and personal care essentials, medication and some food or light snacks and water. Put these in places that are accessible and known to everyone.
- Arrange for additional home insurance to make sure you’re protected.
Enjoy life in the bushland
Although it may seem like owning a property in the bushland is stressful, it doesn’t have to be. That is, as long as you take the necessary precautions and build a home that’s compliant with all the regulations that apply to properties in bushfire-prone areas. In doing so, you can have your own slice of heaven and enjoy the beauty of living close to nature.
Planning your future home in the bushland? Get in touch with us at Buck & Simple.
We’re the Manly architects who can help you design and build a home that’s both beautiful and built to withstand bushfire conditions.