How do you build bushfire resistant houses in bushfire prone areas? And is building a bushfire resistant house worthwhile wherever you are?
Using a bushfire consultant is essential to improve the design of your bushfire resistant house, and your overall solution to site design and management.
And it is also worthwhile to understand what makes a home bushfire-resistant, so you can make informed decisions in any new build or renovation.
In this video, we talk about Jeff Dau’s recommendations for reviewing your project plans, and how distances to vegetation can help with building a bushfire resistant house in bushfire prone areas. We also talk about the overall bushfire standard of your build, and how sprinkler systems may factor into your choices as well.
In this interview, I speak with Jeff Dau 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.
So let’s dive in.
Amelia Lee + Jeff Dau (Ember Bushfire Consulting)
[Amelia Lee]: What’s been your thoughts in terms of looking at distances to vegetation in areas that might not have necessarily bushfire overlays now …
What is your recommendation to people about looking at distances to vegetation and things like that, and perhaps considering a different standard for their home?
[Jeff Dau]: So AS3959, rightly or wrongly, stops at 100 metres. So where it says that you are within 100 metres of this unmanaged or classified vegetation, then you adopt the standard. Beyond that, it says that effectively you’d be BAL Low.
It’s not saying that there’s no risk. It’s just saying that there’s a low risk and it doesn’t warrant anything else. And that was done for, for a number of reasons, obviously for the cost. But through the work that Justin Leonard (CSIRO) has done, we can see that property destruction can happen.
Certainly here in Duffy, it happened up to about 700 metres, where there was actual ember attack. Now, I’m not talking about spotfires. Spotfires are different things. We’re talking about that shower of embers. There is a good argument for due diligence and just for looking after the asset to provide ember protection.
I think ember protection, full stop, is just a really good thing to do for any Australian home. You’ve got some insulation benefits there. You’ve got the insect, you know, that keeps the critters out as well. That … generally the ember mesh is the, you know, the very rigid type. So you’ve got security benefits there as well. It just makes sense.
So I would suggest, even if you’re beyond that, it’s just … and you’ve got scope within your budget, then I would say go for a BAL 12.5. It’s just a really good fit for most Australian environments.
Even if you’re in the city and again, you’re within, you know, 300 to 500 metres of bushland. We’ve got plenty of it here in Canberra, I live very close to the Black Mountain, and it would be a very good fit for here. So those things are really good.
I just will pick up on a point as well. AS3959 is all about passive protection.
Now you mentioned over and over and above, or currently, things that aren’t captured by the minimum standard.
Sprinklers are starting to come … the design, the development, the standards are getting better for that. I’ve seen first-hand the benefit that they can have. They’re tricky because then you have to get the timing right. I think where you’ve got town water supplies, then it just makes sense.
And the sprinkler system not only applies to the, to the residence to the structure, but also this Asset Protection Zone. Let’s keep the Asset Protection Zone moist as well. So you’re using that to really bolster the Asset Protection Zone. So I saw a property where it just worked perfectly. And listening to some of the other practitioners in these most recent fires, there’s been many, many cases where sprinkler systems have been useful.
The critics of sprinkler systems would say, well, you’re going to have these high winds. It’s not going to really do exactly what it would do, which is what you’d see inside, you know, a building. It’s a very controlled environment.
Sprinklers work very well as a fire safety measure inside a building. It’s a bit more dynamic, obviously outside and bit harder to control … we’ve got water supplies … So it does have to be thought out but I think that’s where we’ll see some big improvements, is with sprinkler systems and things like bunkers as well.
[Amelia Lee]: Yes, the sprinkler systems is an interesting one, I was chatting about that with an architect who was involved in the recovery after the Victoria 2009 fires. And you know, he was involved in sort of the construction of temporary villages and things like that.
And he actually mentioned that he thought sprinklers would be a great solution. And at the moment, one of the challenges around them has been that a lot of them are manually operated.
So if you’ve had to evacuate your property, and you haven’t had the chance to turn them on prior … Or how they might be motorised as well, whether it’s with something that’s combustible, then that can be a challenge, too.
And so he was sort of looking for some type of solution that they use in commercial properties… where there’s a heat sensor that then fires off the sprinkler system … to be able to be implemented in residential properties.
I saw actually a blog of a house that had a sprinkler system on it in the Canberra region, that managed to survive the fires, but the sprinklers actually didn’t get activated because he had to evacuate the property prior.
The property still withstood the fires because of a range of other solutions that they’d activated. But that sprinkler one is an interesting one, isn’t it? Because you kind of feel well, at least it would give, you know, winds aside, all of those kinds of things, at least I would give the property an additional layer of protection …
[Jeff Dau]: Exactly. And I think there is a great benefit of it. There’s a lot of innovation that’s starting to occur, you know, particularly where you’ve got connection to, you know, to the, to the internet and what-not.
This is a fellow not far out of Goulbourn. He’s got systems that will actually trigger based on the FDI, but he’s got he’s also got remote trigger systems.
[Amelia Lee]: What’s the FDI?
[Jeff Dau]: The Fire Danger Index. So we were talking about this earlier. And what we tend to see is that the Fire Danger Index is also related to the fire danger rating. FDI 100 is obviously near the catastrophic end of things, severe kicks in about FDI 50.
Anyway, he’s got this system that will set up when the FDI reaches a certain number. It just comes on. So there’s much research that’s been done that indicates that we can get property loss FDI 40 and above Now, again, giving you the scale, it’s zero to 100. Today, it’s probably about FDI 15 – FDI 20 here in Canberra. But in the more elevated conditions, it gets right up to 100.
The point was, he had this sprinkler system set up, so that it just triggered when it got to within that range where you can get destructive fires and it just ran, it didn’t matter. And obviously, he had to top up his water supply or whatever. But it was on the go.
So the point is that, there’s many innovations, and we’re going to see more and more. And I think this is one of the positives to such events is that we see great innovation. We see great ideas coming forward. And I would suspect that we’ll see more, and demand as well, as you said. Let’s not just go for the baseline. Give me more. Give me more and it’s out there. Yes.
[Amelia Lee]: I think that’s fantastic. And it is, it’s really exciting as we start to see how much more automation we can put into our homes, and the things that we can access remotely. To be able to protect yourself, your family, you know, take what you can and then trust the care of your property to the systems that you’ve put in place, the protection mechanisms that you’ve created around the property and the access that you provide the RFS to it … you know, then I think that they’re much, they’re much better solutions than you standing there.
There were so many stories of people staying to defend their properties and putting their own lives in huge amounts of risk as a result. And you can understand, you know, when you’ve lived in a home and you’ve got not only a financial investment there, but a significant emotional attachment, why people stay. And some people, they just left it too late.
So it’s yes, it’s … I think it would be fantastic to see these innovations come through that enable us to manage risk around people needing to stay and take care of their properties. And instead being able to leave.
And the challenging thing is that a lot of the properties that are in these areas that were affected were built prior to any of this legislation coming in. So that I feel like there’s going to be this great big kind of shift as all of construction kind of catches up with the current legislation and then as a kind of community, and a population, we’re perhaps in a better position to manage these types of situations in the future.
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:
Get in touch with Jeff Dau, Ember Bushfire Consulting >>> https://www.bushfireassessor.com.au/
Find a qualified bushfire consultant by searching for an accredited provider on the Fire Protection Association Australia website >>> http://www.fpaa.com.au/
Get access to the Australian Standards AS3959 (instead of Hardcopy, change to PDF Download for 1 user to change the fee to FREE) >>> AS3959 IS HERE