Strict new rules for homes in fire-prone areas

Strict new rules for homes in fire-prone areas

05 March 2009

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Australia — Building a house in a bushfire prone area will be more expensive but the process will be quicker and the homes more fire-resistant under new building guidelines expected to be released by the State Government tomorrow.

The new rules will take a tough stance on building materials and construction standards for homes deemed to be at high fire risk.

New features for bushfire-prone houses could include metal shutters for windows, stronger window glazing, more use of metal and non-combustible materials for external frames, and a ban on wooden deckings and pergolas.

But in a time-saving win for the building industry, under the new laws building surveyors are likely to sign off on new homes in bushfire-prone areas — a role traditionally performed by local councils.

Industry sources have told The Age that the new standard will have five construction categories determined by a fire-risk calculation using a fire temperature of 1090 Kelvin (817 degrees) to determine radiant heat levels that houses must withstand.

Other factors used to determine the required construction standard are likely to include the distance from the bush, the slope of the bush and the type of vegetation nearby.

The temperature level chosen is believed to be higher than previously considered for draft new national guidelines, and combined with these other factors will mean more homes will fall into the higher risk and tougher construction rules category.

Ron Coffey, chairman of the Fire Protection Association of Australia, said the new rules would mean homes at most risk would have strict building standards.

He said that in the most extreme cases this would mean “the elimination of combustible timber, no external exposed timber”. There could also be “metal shutters to shade the windows” and “if you are going to do a pergola it is going to have to be all metal.”

Premier John Brumby said an announcement on a new building code would be made in the next few days.

“The Government is just going through now the final processes of consulting with all the relevant groups.

“I think you’ll find a pretty high degree of support for what we are doing from some of the building industry groups, architects and others.”

Housing Industry Association acting Victorian executive director Robert Harding said that, overall, the association supported the new standard.

But he said there were still some concerns about aspects of the standard, particularly the heat rating and “just how the various zones will be worked through by the building surveyors”.

The Urban Development Institute of Australia’s Victorian executive director, Tony De Domenico, said that houses should be built to be more fire resistant.

“The building community have said you have got to change building regulations in a way where you give all Victorians as much protection as you can,” he said.


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