What’s the latest in Australian bushfire building?
I attended the Australian Bushfire Building Conference in September 2020.
In this episode, I share my learnings from the conference, and some useful information for anyone building in a bushfire prone area, or rebuilding after bushfire.
(In PART 2, I share more from the conference: in particular, the role you as a homeowner, living in your home, can do to ensure its bushfire resistance).
In mid September, I attended the Australian Bushfire Building Conference. Held in the Blue Mountains, they opened it up to virtual attendance, which was fantastic. It was 2 days of incredible speakers, so many insights shared, and such great info, that I wanted to share it here on the podcast as well.
Firstly I want to mention this …
Something I’ve felt in my research of rebuilding after bushfires is that the approach to providing information, resources and recovery efforts and spending, to me, feels very state-based.
I may not have the whole picture – I’m very happy to admit that – but as I’ve dug deeper into the resources I had access to, and spoken to various professionals and people who are involved in this work, and have been involved long-term, I’m interested to see how much is concentrated on a state by state level.
There are definitely nationally based organisations helping, providing relief, doing research and assessment etc.
The CSIRO – and Justin Leonard in particular – are pivotal in assessing and collating data in relation to the bushfires and aftermath, and what can be done to create better resilience and protection, especially in our buildings. And there’s a raft of national organisations providing financial support to those impacted, and to assist the recovery effort.
But at a state level, there’s state-based disaster recovery teams, state-based assistance, state-based departments providing information, resources and help. And there’s also loads of community-based efforts as well.
And I can completely understand the need for localised tailoring of advice, help, financial support, and a targeted approach. I do, however, wonder how much overlap is happening between all these organisations, how all their learnings and efforts are being coordinated at a federal level of understanding, how much communication and interaction occurs between all of them, and what could be leveraged for greater impact if efforts.
I know this happens in loads of industries and practices in Australia. I know it frustrates me that the construction industry and builders licensing is so state-based. My architectural registration is state-based. It just seems counter to being able to leverage spending and investment, research efforts, legislative measures, for greater impact on a national basis.
This conference I wanted to talk about in this episode is called The Australian Bushfire Building Conference … and I was grateful to be able to hear from so many speakers from all around Australia at this event.
But again, noticed how much of their information and resources were being dealt with at a state by state level. Really useful information and resources that I hope are being cross-pollinated into other states through avenues – and I suspect a conference like this actually enables that connection and cross-pollination too.
Now why do I mention this? Well, it’s largely so you know you don’t have to dismiss something just because it’s happening in a different state. And sometimes it can be a great way to resource information that you can then see if it can be applied in your location.
I know I have learned a lot from seeing how things are done in specific localities and translating them across to other places. It’s always good to say “hey, would this be possible here?”
In this episode, I share learnings from speakers including:
- Commissioner Rob Rodgers
- Shane Fitzsimmons (Resilience NSW)
- Justin Leonard, CSIRO
- Dr James Davidson and Clive Ba-Pe, JDA Co.
- Sam Vivas, Viva Living Homes
Commissioner Rob Rodgers shared updates on NSW Building Impact Assessments, and the work that’s being done with RFS Mapping to streamline and improve the planning approval process for those rebuilding after the Black Summer bushfires.
The stat that really blew me away was that 255 homes – or 10% of homes that were destroyed, were not in bushfire prone land at all. It was hypothesised that homes may have been alight in the buffer zone that then, under extreme conditions, lit up those homes not in bushfire prone areas, given the ability for embers to travel kilometres ahead of fire fronts, and the extreme weather conditions occurring at the time.
Shane Fitzsimmons, Resilience NSW, outlined what is being done to help those rebuilding do so with more confidence and more quickly.
Justin Leonard, CSIRO, said the research on how our current BAL Ratings impacted a home’s ability to resist the bushfires is still being studied and assessed. However, given the percentage of building loss outside designated bushfire prone areas, it’s statistically significant enough to increase the buffer distance beyond 100m, to say, 300m (which will need to be handled with regulations).
Dr James Davidson and Clive Ba-Pe from JDA Co are currently developing the Bushfire Resilient Building Guidance for Queensland Homes together with the CSIRO and the Queensland Reconstruction Authority. The Guide is intended as a series of tools to assist designers with decision making, and proves to be an incredible resource for anyone wanting to build a bushfire resilient home.
Sam Vivers from Via Living Homes spoke on the topic of natural building materials in bushfire zones. Natural materials actually provide huge opportunities for bushfire resilience. These include rammed earth, mud brick or adobe, hempcrete and straw bale.
Sam spoke about a product his company has created and is using in their projects. It’s a straw panel, infilled with straw stubble, compacted and rendered in a factory, and then brought to site and installed with machinery.
This product is different to DurraPanel, another straw panel that is incredibly fire resistant and can be used for internal linings on walls and ceilings instead of plasterboard. The Viva Straw Panels Sam was talking about weigh more than 250kg each.
Why natural building materials? Sam had a few reasons: Natural building materials are low in embodied energy, they’re healthy with low volatile organic compounds, they can regulate internal humidity and reduce airborne bacteria.
Concrete, by contrast, is incredibly high in embodied energy. There’s a lot of energy in extraction, burning and transport – and he shared a stat which just floored me. Concrete is the second most used substance on the planet after water.
So, yes, natural building materials can be a great alternative to explore. I think too, it’s the simple fact of understanding that there are other materials out there to build homes from – that we were building homes from well before we used concrete and brick. As I said before, the challenge can often be finding local builders and tradespeople that are experienced in using them, and slotting into their availability. So, if this is something you want to consider for your project, create your team early in the process so you can work collaboratively together to get design, budget and timeline working together.
This is Part 1 of my Australian Building Bushfire Conference recap. I hope you find it really helpful, and enjoy hearing about some of the big takeaways from the Australian Bushfire Building Conference.
LISTEN TO THE EPISODE NOW.
RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THIS PODCAST:
Website >>> https://jdaco.com.au/
Flood Resilient Building Guidance for Queensland Homes, for the Queensland State Government >>> CLICK HERE
DurraPanel >>> CLICK HERE
Sam Viver, VIVA Living Homes
Website >>> https://vivahomes.com.au/