If building in a fire risk zone, it’s vital to learn as much as possible about fire behavior, vegetation response to fire, and building performance in fires. The way a homeowner builds and maintains their home, maintains the surrounding landscape, and responds during a fire event are all critical to managing fire risk.
There are many things you can do to reduce the risks, some of which are relatively simple. First, remove all combustibles within 10m of the house. This includes mulch, vegetation, plastic water tanks, and on high-risk days put outdoor furniture, shoes, and doormats inside.
If you live in a bushfire-prone area, technological advancements in materials, plus research into safer building methods and construction practices, are helping to build more fire-resilient homes. And you don’t have to live in a cement bunker (though they can be cool). There are plenty of striking architecturally designed homes built with fire safety in mind.
No matter what the design, the key is to not build with combustible materials. You also need a well-sealed secure roof with a wind load that’s higher than the legal requirement. Include ember guards where you want airflow. For example, with a timber subfloor, we recommend steel mesh with a small aperture (1.8mL holes); air can flow through, but embers can’t get in.
Earth walls, double brick, and concrete walls are excellent choices, as are steel framing, choosing steel roofing over tiles, and, if you’re building with timber, opting for more fire-resistant timbers such as blackbutt and spotted gum.
If a fire does breach the security of the home’s exterior, there are some design principles that, if applied in the home’s construction, give those inside more time to flee. These include multiple exist for
one room, so people don’t become trapped, and fire separation walls in the roof cavity buy you more time if the roof ignites. You also need a place that offers to shield if a fire approaches, such as a non-combustible deck and supports, which can be made of fiber-cement material and should contain no plastics or timber.
Many potentially dangerous hazards seem innocent enough until a fire is in the vicinity. If you have a plastic rubbish bin sitting alongside your house and the plastic melts, it will burn hot enough to ignite your home’s cladding.
With gas bottles, you should be careful in which direction the pressure release valve faces. Having a reticulated supply, a tank suitable for firefighter access, and pump and hose connections are also important. Despite all the concerns, it’s still possible to build a stylish and functional home with fire safety in mind.
Looking at the bigger picture, governments and organizations are continuing to work together to pave the way for smoother processes to improve fire safety around construction. With more education, and homeowners subsequently taking ownership of and embracing these new practices, mankind and nature can continue to live in harmony with each other.