New fire zones come at a cost

New fire zones come at a cost

19 August 2011

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Australia — More areas are set to be declared bushfire prone after the inquiry into the Kelmscott-Roleystone fires, potentially making it up to $77,000 more expensive to build a house in the Perth Hills.

The Keelty review said only two local governments had designated bushfire zones because councils were loath to trigger the accompanying higher building standards.

A submission from the Fire and Emergency Services Authority claimed councils feared the standards would lower property values, increase liabilities, affect insurance policies and limit development in the area.

The review recommended transferring responsibility for declaring such zones from councils to the WA Planning Commission.

“Local government will continue to permit development that is not compliant with AS3959 (Australian standards) or with the Planning for Bushfire Protection Guidelines, needlessly endangering the lives of the community,” the report said.

FESA evidence in the review revealed it would cost $76,679 for the most vulnerable homes in the most fire-prone areas to meet the building standards.

The homes, which are elevated houses of lightweight material, would need protection against flames, radiant heat and embers.

But costs would vary by house depending on the degree of risk, with some escaping any additional expense.

The minimum additional costs for an at-risk single level home would be $11,535.

The construction standards in WA relate only to new buildings and extensions. Under the law, existing homes in these zones do not require a retrofit.

The buildings standards include requirements for $200 to $500 steel or bronze-mesh guards on evaporative air-conditioning systems to prevent embers from being sucked into the home.

Half of all homes destroyed in the February fires had evaporative air-conditioners that did not have guards.

Standards include boxed eaves, which stop air and embers from circulating through roof cavities, and wire insect screens instead of the more flammable fibreglass variety.

Armadale mayor Linton Reynolds said he supported calls for the State Government to take over responsibility and ensure a consistent standard across the Hills area.

He said the council was not reluctant to impose the extra building costs on residents because most were willing and financially able to fire-proof their homes.
Mr Reynolds said the council had declared bushfire-prone zones in some new pockets of the shire.

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