Australia’s National Bushfire Building Regulations Part 2

01 Jun
2020

Rebuilding after a bushfire can take months or even years. The plans must be drafted, costed, and approved. Insurance assessments have to be performed, land cleared, and boundaries redrawn. Water and electricity services must be reconnected. None of the work that goes into rebuilding is easy and homeowners are forced to decide whether they are willing to pay and stay while the risk of losing everything again remains. 

There are millions of Australian households in areas that are at extreme risk of bushfires. Australia’s national bushfire building regulations exist to help keep citizens safe, however many homeowners find that retrofitting their homes to meet the current standards is all but impossible. Upgrading without any demolition is not the norm, regardless of how much you can spend. Many architects and professionals believe that if you’ve only got 5,000 to 20,000 to spend the best thing to do is add a water spray sprinkler system. 

Every building site is assessed for fire-risk. There are six attack BAL levels, ranging from low to high. Every plan that exists within a flame zone must be approved in advance to ensure that every single aspect of the home is certified as non-combustible. Metal bushfire shutters are mandatory. 

Most experts and government officials agree that improving existing homes and structures is of national urgency. Legacy properties cannot be ignored. Simple measures such as replacing flammable materials and sealing gaps are vital. However, the current standards can feel daunting and sometimes, impossible to meet. Not only do new homes located in high fire risk areas have to meet the strict Australian building standards, but some states have also imposed extra measures.

New South Wales Rural Fire service has strongly encouraged homeowners to clear the trees within a 10-meter radius o the home and the vegetation within 50 meters. Doing so is now legal without council approval. Clearing land should not give a full sense of security however, as at least 8- per cent of homes are lost to ember attacks. Fire authorities are encouraging management of sites rather that then the design of resilient homes. 

Generally, new buildings are more fire-proof than older ones as the building regulations have improved immensely throughout time. The National Construction Code does not dictate how a building is built, instead, it specifies how the building must perform. Residential buildings must be constructed in a way that reduces the risk of ignition from bushfires. Factors such as the slope of the land, vegetation types and density, as well as individual sites, are all assessed.

The lowest BAL level deems the risk of fire too minimum to warrant any specific construction requirements. The details of each BAL construction plan covers building elements such as walls, roofs, floors, windows, vents, roof drainage, and water and gas supply pipes. 

Designs that are clever can reduce the risk of fires without bulldozing the surrounding land. Terraces can replace wooden decks, internal courtyards can be designed to avoid comprising safety. The position of the house is also very important and the lower ground is better. There are also many new materials which are making homes more fire-resistant. 

Architecture in Australia will continue to transition and evolve as everyone rethinks the attitude and approach and homes and structures can no longer be disconnected from the local conditions and land. 

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