Building in bushfire prone areas means understanding bushfire legislation, BAL ratings, and building for bushfire.
When rebuilding a house after a bushfire, these codes can be a surprise and difficult to navigate.
In this interview, I speak with Chris Clarke, Builder and Director of SWALE Modular.
After the Black Saturday bushfires in Australia in 2009, the updated bushfire legislation was accelerated into building codes, and those rebuilding in bushfire prone areas had to tackle these new laws as they were created.
Having lost his home during the 2009 fires, Chris embarked on the process of rebuilding on the same site, and was rebuilding as this new legislation was being created.
In this video, Chris tells me how the introduction of the new legislation and BAL Ratings impacted rebuilding his home, Calignee II.
So let’s dive in.
Amelia Lee + Chris Clarke (Builder and SWALE Modular)
[Amelia Lee]: You mentioned obviously the change in codes … 2009 accelerated the introduction of the bushfire attack level ratings, and increased standards for bushfire resilience and building in bushfire prone areas.
How did you actually go about wrapping your head around these? And the changes in standards and, I suppose, tackling the various components that were going to enable you to meet code, and be able to satisfy the requirements for your property.
[Chris Clarke]: It wasn’t an easy one. They were still making up their mind as we were actually building. And I was lucky I had a great building surveyor, meaning that actually we hit the table … we talked about … but they also were doing lectures in local areas, and I remember sitting in there and they’re saying: ‘Well there’s a new glazing code out now and for flame zone it’s this, this and this’. And I’ve gone ‘I’ve already got my windows in, what are you changing the bar now for?’.
And we’re not just talking about small price tags connected to this sort of thing, you know, we’re talking, you know, tanks and gushes, and window gushes and all sorts of things. And there was $150,000 or $160,000 just in that comment. There you go. Thanks guys. Do you want us to seriously live under a tree, or? No we can’t live under a tree either. Let’s just live in the city because you’ve just made living in the country unaffordable.
So that sort of stuff was a challenge. But obviously we try and take those challenges … like Callignee I was an indoor/outdoor house, and it was all connected on the slope by decks. And then of course we, being in BAL Flame Zone and we couldn’t get a decking system and … so what do you do? So we placed huge amounts of rocks around the areas and tried to paint another landscape in, closer to us, while like the one behind it actually started to rejuvenate. And I guess it was just one after the other and after the other, things like that.
The corten was a non combustible material that was forced to use because we weren’t going to live in a, you know, a concrete bunker without any windows, which is what we’re sort of forced to try and live in. So it’s a big one for me. I don’t necessarily believe that a lot of that actually went in the favors of the people. That’s a … it looks great on paper, and some will seem to want to do the right thing but I think it may have done more damage than good.
[Amelia Lee]: Yes, in my conversations with some other people and researching for this, you know, this content project, it’s been really interesting. That query of ‘how do we know that about flame zone actually makes your house resistant during these types of fires?’.
We finally, unfortunately through such a horrible event like the 2019 and 2020 fires, we’ve actually got now the opportunity to collect some data on houses that have been built in these areas to bow flame zone. And say, did they actually manage to protect themselves in these fires? Is this a good outcome?
A lot of people are really hoping that that information does get collected properly and informed in what the next round of changes or improvements might be to the codes for building in bushfire prone areas.
Because it is a big undertaking to build in a flame zone area, and it does put a lot of impulse back onto the owner to be jumping through a lot of hoops to make sure that that happens in order to get a house to meet code.
[Chris Clarke]: It sure is, but some of us really love living amongst the trees. And Callignee I had just made front page of Live the Dream Magazine, as in “A tree house grew in Callignee”. It was, you know, that place was amazing. It’s like, there was nothing nicer than waking up in that environment in the morning. So now we’re talking about it being in the same position. Are we allowed to knock the trees down? Or do we have to build something that we don’t want to spend the money on? Or we don’t want to build? Or we don’t want to live in? Which is insane. It’s always been a rock and a hard place.
[Amelia Lee]: Yes, very challenging.
THIS IS PART 2 OF MY INTERVIEW WITH CHRIS CLARKE, BUILDER + SWALE MODULAR. WATCH PART 1 HERE.
This interview is part of our Rebuild + Build Better series.
Be sure to stay tuned as we share more information and expertise in helping you rebuild after bushfires, or build homes more resilient to climate conditions and in bushfire prone areas.
Resources mentioned in this video:
Lifestyle >>> LEARN MORE ABOUT CALLIGNEE II HERE
Grand Designs | Season 1, Episode 1 >>> WATCH THE EPISODE HERE
Swale Links and Resources
Callignee Links and Resources