How do you rebuild and build better? After bushfires and beyond?
Introducing Season 12 of the “Get it Right” podcast, REBUILD + BUILD BETTER.
This season will help you learn how to rebuild after bushfires, and build better homes wherever you are located (and whatever type of build or renovation you’re undertaking).
Well, here we are for the beginning of Season 12, which is called Rebuild + Build Better.
This season of the podcast is a range of conversations with some fantastic experts. And we’re diving into a range of topics related to rebuilding after bushfires, building or renovating in bushfire prone areas, and, more generally, designing and building more resilient homes.
In this introduction episode, I’m going …
- to introduce the season
- give you some background information, and
- highlight some of the guests we have coming up.
And I’m also going to encourage you to stay tuned, even if you aren’t rebuilding or building in a bushfire prone area, because there will be some incredible gold nuggets of advice and wisdom shared in this season that can really help anyone who is wanting to build a more resilient home.
I’ve said it before in previous seasons, and I’ll say it now.
We need to understand that, in many parts of the world, and especially Australia, our building codes are not the gold standard of residential construction. They are the bare minimum.
A 6 star energy rating is the bare minimum of energy performance. It doesn’t really represent what’s possible for energy efficiency in how we build and renovate. Our materials, our construction methodologies, the expected durability of construction; they’re all the bare minimum when we adhere to the building codes and regulations.
On other levels, there’s a huge amount of mistrust in the construction industry. Issues with the structural integrity of buildings, flammable cladding and recent calls for a Royal Commission into the construction industry.
There’s lots of parts of the industry that are broken, and as a homeowner who is navigating your new build or renovation, you deserve something better than the bare minimum.
I suspect at some level, you’ll know this. It’s why you’re here listening to the Undercover Architect podcast. Because getting educated and informed is a big part of being able to ask better questions, and demand better from the construction industry.
Because it doesn’t necessarily cost more to get better. It often is a result of you, as the key driver of your project, knowing what you need to know to unlock what’s possible from the people you choose, the money you invest, and the decisions you make.
And so, I do really encourage you to listen to this season.
You’re going to learn lots about how we can improve our homes, and the choices we make associated with our homes, to dramatically improve their impact, their performance and their resilience. And that, given the increasing currency of strong weather conditions, extreme temperatures, and changes in air quality, we can make choices in how we build and renovate to improve the way our homes shelter and protect us as well. And we’re also going to hear some inspirational stories and experiences along the way.
I also request please, that you share it far and wide.
I would love this season to reach and help as many people as it possibly can, and especially helps those who are navigating rebuilding after our recent bushfires here in Australia, and also helps you build, or renovate, better wherever you are located.
Now, it was mid November last year (2019) …
And I was in Sydney for the weekend. I still am close to a lot of my school friends, and was down there for a pre-chrissy catchup. Before heading to dinner, I’d spoken to my hubby about the fact there were fires near home. Whilst at dinner, I checked the ‘Fires Near Me’ app, and saw the fires were 17km away at that stage. I ended up leaving the dinner early as this queasiness came over me really suddenly. I think I was just super stressed inwardly, but still trying to enjoy time with my friends outwardly … and failing miserably at it!
I was due to fly home the next morning, so getting to the airport on Sunday was actually a relief. And then I flew up the eastern coast and saw how thick the smoke was as we got closer to Ballina airport.
Once home, the next 72 hours was a flurry of activity. The fires got to about 14km away, which felt really close and far away all at the same time. I madly ran around the house videoing and photographing and cataloguing everything we owned for insurance purposes. Interestingly, once that was done, the stress subsided a little, but we were still doing all the things to prep the house and ourselves if we had to evacuate.
The Rural Fire Service was evacuating friends closer to the National Park. We have paddocks and macadamia orchards around us, and live on the top of a hill, with one road out … so we were working out when we would evacuate if needed, what we would take with us, and what we would do with the animals we’d be leaving behind to give them the best chance of survival. It had been so dry for so long.
We had a fire-fighting pump, and my hubby set it up and tested it to use the pool water. He filled gutters, I packed momentos. My inlaws came and helped too, and took a carload of the kids’ stuff back to their house as well.
Fortunately for us, later in the week, the wind changed direction and blew the fire back onto itself, and away from us for a bit.
It gave the fire fighters a chance. For the next few weeks, we watched and waited, a constant haze of smoke about. I’d never paid attention to the wind direction as much as I did over that time. A gorgeous person in our local community posted the day’s weather and wind directions each morning at 6am in our local Facebook group, and I was so grateful for those posts each day.
One of the strangest things in all of this, was that couple of months prior, I’d been contacted by a member of my online course “How to Get it Right”.
Greg asked whether I’d had much enquiry from people who were rebuilding after bushfires through Undercover Architect. Greg has a huge amount of expertise in disaster recovery, and had worked closely with Victorian Government in the recovery efforts after the Black Saturday fires in 2009.
My response at that stage, in September, was ‘no’, I’ve not had much enquiry from people building after bushfires. We certainly have members in many of our courses who are building in areas with bushfire overlays and navigating what that means, but it wasn’t something people had directly contacted me about in the past with any frequency.
Of course, then, we had the summer no one expected.
Website Statisa.com had this to say about our 2019/2020 Summer in Australia …
“The Australian 2019/2020 bushfire season was one of the worst in recent times in the world. The season started in early November 2019 in New South Wales, and gradually progressed in Victoria, Western Australia, South Australia, and the Australian Capital Territory. Thousands of firefighters and volunteers battled the fires, with millions of hectares burned, thousands of properties damaged, and countless numbers of wildlife exposed. In February 2020, the last fires were reportedly extinguished, with torrential rain assisting in putting out the remaining fires.
“Experts agree that high temperatures and prolonged dry conditions led to wildfire activity on an unprecedented scale. While Australia’s highest temperature recorded in one day was 50.7 degrees Celsius in 1960, 2019 was on average the warmest year on record. These environmental conditions exacerbated the spread of bush fires throughout the country. Smoke haze and particulate matter affected the lives of many in the eastern and southern states. Air pollution reached dangerous levels in NSW in particular, with some areas exceeding levels deemed safe by the Australian Government by over 20 times.
“New South Wales was the worst hit state in terms of area burned. Most of the land affected was conservation and forest land. Some sources estimated that at least 80 percent of the Blue Mountains, and 53 percent of the Gondwana world heritage sites were burned. As a result of the massive habitat losses, an estimated 1.5 billion animals were killed as their homes were destroyed. Livestock were also affected to a degree, with thousands of beef cattle in Victoria killed because of the fires. The impact on people was significant. At least 34 people lost their lives. Many Australians were exposed to the bushfires in some way, either directly or indirectly. Thousands of homes as well as commercial buildings were destroyed or partially damaged, and early insurance claims were valued at 1.9 billion Australian dollars in February 2020.”
The ABC reported that 3,000 homes and 7,000 outbuildings were destroyed and 10 million hectares of land burnt.
Between Christmas and New Year, I contacted Greg and said I would love to learn more about his work and how Undercover Architect could help those rebuilding after bushfires.
Greg has been incredible in sharing his resources and information with me, and in connecting me with some amazing people with huge experience in supporting communities during and beyond disaster recovery. I’m so grateful for his help with this REBUILD + BUILD BETTER Project.
When it seemed like the fires would never end, February came, and with it brought heavy rains that put out the last of the fires. I know that’s when the one near us was finally extinguished.
What’s been … I know ‘interesting’ isn’t the word for it … but super unusual about these fires is that March arrived, and the firest quickly became usurped by a bigger news story: COVID-19.
And whilst we’ve all been navigating what’s that meant for us in lockdowns, business closures, job losses, and significant health challenges and loss of loved ones, the media attention has definitely gone off those recovering from the bushfires.
As I’ve been researching, prepping and interviewing for this season though, I’ve been keen to follow the efforts many are making – a lot of them on a voluntary basis – to help those most impacted rebuild after bushfire.
There’s many who lost their homes that are still living in tents, and enduring a super cold Winter. Many haven’t had their sites cleaned or even had building rubble removed.
Groups like BlazeAid and Fire Relief Run and the Salvation Army and the Red Cross (and many other organisations) are among many other groups and individuals who’ve been navigating the challenges of COVID-19 to still provide help and support to communities and individuals who’ve lost so much.
The Royal Commission into the bushfires has begun, and is scheduled to release its findings in August 2020. And each state affected has also been busy mobilising to help those as well, with recovery efforts established and grants made available to those affected.
And in the building and construction industry, there’s been groups established to offer pro bono services to those who’ve lost their homes and assist with the rebuilding effort as well.
Architects Assist was founded by architect Jiri Lev, and now working with the Australian Institute of Architects, and represents over 600 firms across Australia as well as 1,400 students and graduates of architecture.
Design Donated is a website allowing interior designers to donate their time, and over 250 designers have signed up.
A Facebook group called “Tradies for fire affected communities” has seen tradespeople helping and donating services all over Australia. Brickworks Building Products also have an initiative that will also supply bricks or roof tiles for free, or a 50% off (depending on the materials of the home you’re replacing). And there’s been other manufacturers offering similarly.
And I’ll pop a link in the resources where you can find out more information on all of those, as well as the other grants and funds available to those needing help with bushfire recovery, or rebuilding after bushfire.
All of this has been happening in the background whilst those of us not directly impacted got on with our lives. Except that COVID-19 arrived, and our lives have looked very different over the past few months.
One of the criticisms from 2009 Black Saturday fires in Victoria, and the recovery effort there, was that people were pushed to rebuild too quickly.
Early in my research, and I’ll share more on this conversation later, I spoke with Dr Rob Gordon. Rob is a clinical psychologist who has been working in the field of disaster recovery since Ash Wednesday in 1983. He and others speak of the difficulty many face following such a traumatic event like these recent fires, and their ability to recover and rebuild with clarity.
One of the problems with pushing people to rebuild quickly is that they’re often suffering huge amounts of stress … and with cortisol and adrenaline running rife in their systems, it actually shuts down the part of the brain needed for strategic thinking.
A big key to recovery can often lie in giving themselves, and their brain biology, the chance to access that capacity for strategic thinking, for innovative and creative thinking. And when pushed to rebuild in a state of stress, the priority is often to establish normalcy, and rebuild what was there – which isn’t always the best, or most affordable approach.
However, sometimes the opportunity to think differently, and take the chance to create something new … be it a different type of home, a different location on the site, a different location altogether … can be a better outcome for those involved.
In our next episode, you’ll hear this first hand from someone who rebuilt their home in the Gippsland Region of Victoria.
Chris Clarke is a builder, and for 10 years he had designed, and then built his own home which he called Callignee II. And then, only weeks after it was finished, the home was destroyed in the Black Saturday fires in 2009.
Chris rebuilt on the same site, but took the opportunity to think differently about the home … in its size, its materials, it’s layout. And he re-used and recycled components he salvaged from the site, the destroyed home, and from other locations.
Chris’ story is an incredible one, and Callignee II is a testament to his personal determination and resilience. And the first episode of Season 1, Grand Designs shared his rebuilding journey, so I’m going to pop that link in the resources so you can watch the episode before hearing his story if you’d like to.
Chris now has a business called SWALE Modular which provides some fantastic opportunities for those rebuilding in bushfire prone areas to do things differently, so we’ll hear more about Chris, his story, Callignee II and SWALE, in the next couple of episodes.
As for our other guests, let me quickly share with you some of the amazing people coming your way.
And it’s also worth mentioning that we’re sharing the videos of these interviews on Undercover Architect’s YouTube channel as well, and all the transcripts will be available on the blog too.
So whether you like to listen, watch or read, we’ve got you covered. I know some rebuilding don’t have internet access still, or are working off their mobile data, so I thought maybe a friend may be able to print the transcripts and pass them on … so do that if you know of someone who needs this info.
Other guests include David Keane from Solve My Claim.
David Keane has been in the insurance industry for over 24 years now, and he created Solve My Claim to help and assist homeowners navigate their insurance claims and disputes.
In the last three years alone, Solve My Claim has helped homeowners secure more than $35 million in additional insurance claim settlements. David is going to help us understand how to make our insurance claims in the best way, and assess our insurance policies to ensure we’re covered.
My hubby and I had our home damaged by The Gap Storms in 2008, and then spent 13 months battling our insurance company, finally going through the Ombudsman, to be paid 5 X what the insurance company initially offered us.
Understanding your insurance policy and the claims process is so critical to you manage the risk of owning your home, and anything that might happen to it. So my conversation with David will be great for that.
I’m also talking with Jeff Dau, who is a Bushfire Consultant from Ember Bushfire Consulting.
EMBER Bushfire Consulting is a team of qualified, accredited and experienced fire industry professionals.
Co-Founder, Jeff Dau, has had 28 years of experience as a professional in the fire services industry. For the past 12 years this has been in a range of fire safety fields including fire safety engineering, bushfire protection, building certification and regulation and urban planning.
Jeff will be sharing some really helpful information on understanding what a bushfire overlay or bushfire planning zone might mean to your property, wherever you’re located, and strategies you can use when navigating a BAL rating and bushfire resistance in your new home or renovation.
Another fantastic guest is Julie Firkin.
Julie Firkin has her own practice Julie Firkin Architects, and for over 10 years, she has been bringing creativity and problem-solving prowess to projects big and small in and around Melbourne.
While Julie Firkin Architects has the skills and expertise to deliver a range of projects, from residential to commercial, small to large, Julie has a personal interest in both sustainable and bushfire-resistant design. Her design for a bushfire-resistant house was featured by the Bushfire Homes Service following the Black Saturday Bushfires in 2009 and Julie has also taught extensively on the subject.
Julie is going to talk with us about her work with Monash University Students in a Bushfire Studio she taught, and also the home that she designed for the Bushfire Homes Service.
You’ll also get to meet Amy Beattie, from Good Green Home Loans
Amy believes that Australia’s largest corporations have a responsibility to be leaders when it comes to protecting the environment. With their continued investment in the fossil fuel industry they aren’t there yet. The greatest way we can encourage change is by moving our valuable business elsewhere. This is where Good Green Home Loans can help.
Good Green Home Loans is here to help you find the right home loan at a great rate – using only environmentally responsible lenders who aren’t using their profit and power to support the fossil fuel industry. There’s specific things to understand when financing a rebuild, or financing a new home or renovation in a bushfire prone area, so Amy is going to help us understand that more closely.
I’m also bringing you Andy Marlow and Dick Clarke from Envirotecture.
Andy Marlow is a Director at Envirotecture, holds both Bachelors and Masters degrees in Architecture, is a certified Passive House Designer and has extensive experience in sustainable design at a variety of scales.
Dick Clarke is principal of Envirotecture, is an Accredited Building Designer with over 35 years experience, focusing exclusively on ecologically sustainable and culturally appropriate buildings, as well as sustainable design in vehicles and vessels, and has received many Design Awards.
Envirotecture works on a range of project types and budgets, all united by one focus: great quality, sustainable design.
And recently, they started a new business, Passivehaus Design & Construct. Frustrated by the big challenge many experience in their new home journey – that is, creating a sustainably designed home that can be delivered on budget, they decided to marry together the design and construction in a total delivery model. Currently NSW based, with plans to extend over Australia, Passivhaus Design & Construct delivers complete quality, cost effective design and build solutions.
Andy and Dick will help us see how we can create affordable AND sustainable homes that are also bushfire resistant. AND … given that over 57% of the population of Australia were impacted by smoke from those recent bushfires, they’ll also be talking about the strategies we can consider in ANY new build or renovation, to help protect our indoor air quality from whatever is going on outside.
I’m still waiting on some more guests too, who are currently tied up with the Royal Commission … and will also be adding some episodes of just me, to share some of the research I’ve been collating and things I’ve been learning along the way.
And as this season rolls out, we’ll be building a resource hub on Undercover Architect’s website that pulls together all this content.
Plus it will host other helpful information associated with rebuilding after bushfires, or building in a bushfire prone area.
So, stay tuned for next week, as we dive into Season 12. And in the meantime, can I ask you to do 3 things please?
- Tell someone you know will benefit from this knowledge about this season, and share the videos that are also on Undercover Architect’s YouTube channel
- Bookmark undercoverarchitect.com/rebuild … it’s the URL we’ll be using to house all the information we’re publishing in our REBUILD + BUILD BETTER project
- And if you haven’t yet, please leave a review for the podcast on itunes. It makes such a difference to how the podcast gets shared and found by those that also need this info!
So that’s SHARE, BOOKMARK and REVIEW 🙂
I’ve popped a bunch of resources online for this episode, so head below to check that out.
Thank you for your patience in waiting for this season to kick off. I didn’t plan for there to be such a big break between seasons, but life can get in the way of the best laid plans!
It’s lovely to be back, and I’m really looking forward to this season and sharing this help and info with you.
In the next episode, Chris Clarke will be joining us for the first part of his amazing story of rebuilding after losing his home to the Black Saturday fires.
He’s a really inspirational man, who has a huge amount of insight and experience to share … not only for rebuilding, but for anyone embarking on a new build or renovation project. So be sure to join us for that.
RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THIS PODCAST:
Designers + Tradespeople Pro Bono
Architects Assist >>> http://architectsassist.com.au/
Design Donated >>> https://www.designdonated.com/
Facebook group “Tradies for fire affected communities” >>> https://www.facebook.com/groups/2524572697856866/
Royal Commission >>> Keep up to date with proceedings here
More on the Royal Commission >>> https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-05-25/bushfire-royal-commission-starts-hearings-evidence-canberra/12276968
Grants + Relief packages
Information on Grants and Relief available >>> https://www.thegrantshub.com.au/blog/articles/bushfire-grants
Brickworks Building Products Fire Relief Scheme >>> https://www.brickworks.com.au/bushfire-relief
Other guests mentioned:
David Keane, Solve My Claim >>> https://solvemyclaim.com.au/
Jeff Dau, Ember Bushfire Consulting >>> https://www.bushfireassessor.com.au/
Julie Firkin Architects >>> https://www.j-f-a.com.au/
Good Green Home Loans >>> https://www.goodgreenhomeloans.com.au/#
Envirotecture >>> https://www.envirotecture.com.au/
Passive House Design + Construct >>> https://passivhausdc.com.au/