The Australian bushfires have claimed more than 2,500 homes, thus inspiring the reconsideration of building design in this country—among both building designers and residents.
Different building zones exist in fire prone areas, and the particular zone in which your property is located determines the area’s building restrictions.
Overall, the construction of a liveable fireproof house is a challenge, as nearly all homes consist of combustible materials. For certain residents in fire prone areas, the possession of a fire bunker empowers residents to defend their home in a bushfire.
The survival of a house in a bushfire’s path relies on the wind, the topography, building materials and factors such as the dryness of the landscape.
CSIRO bushfire adaptation research leader Justin Leonard asserts that fireproof homes do not exist—this owing to their possession of combustible furniture, curtains and other aspects. Even the simple act of leaving a window or door open can create a fire hazard, and the presence of one weak, flammable feature can put a home at risk.
Leonard said that there is no simple solution, as certain building designs are more fire resistant than others.
Some designs come with earth over the top and consist of double brick and cement, non-combustible materials. Also important is what’s beneath the façade of the home, if the house’s cavities are non-combustible.
Leonard said that Australian home design must be altered, to prevent further loss of home and property.
Simon Anderson, a resident of Metung, East Gippsland, is a structural civil engineer who works with individuals building in bushfire-prone areas. He wants answers and solutions.
Anderson said that a thoroughly fireproof home would take the form of a concrete box with oven glass lining the windows—one which no one would want to inhabit in the long run.
The bushfire attack level known as a ‘flame zone’ boasts the strongest building regulations.
Anderson said that the construction of a fire resilient home could be costly.
He further asserted that the majority of buildings were constructed to a standard that gives you sufficient time to stay safe, even in a bushfire area.
India MacDonnell salvaged her home from a bushfire that struck Goongerah in East Gippsland New Year’s Eve.
The 19-year-old remained in her home and battled the fires alongside her father because they had the protection of a fire bunker with food and first aid inside.
MacDonnell said that the concept of a fire bunker felt odd at first, but she now acknowledges the potential of this built in unit to save lives.
Melbourne architect Sheena Bagley helped design a home adjacent to a New South Wales national park located in the highest bushfire danger building zone, known as a ‘flame zone’. So the design team wrapped the house in firecrunch, a fibre cement sheet, then placed a timber look cladding culled from aluminium. Even the windows had metal shutters. The aim was to not permit the infiltration of a single ember.
Overall, Bagley believes that it is virtually impossible to build a fireproof house, but a fire-resilient house is within the realm of possibility.
Overall, experts predict that home designs will morph according to the frequency of bushfire events. And, or so Leonard predicts, the prices of these homes will become more economical, in the interest of saving our built environment.