Bushfire Protection for Your Home

Building Standards, Fire Bunkers and More..

The Victorian Government has announced new planning regulations for homes in bushfire prone areas which will be adopted from March 11 2009, to aid those wanting to rebuild after the Black Saturday bushfires.

The new building standards will add a estimated $22,000 to the cost of a new home in a 'high risk area' to give it greater bushfire protection.

While those recovering from the bushfires will not receive a government handout for the cost of rebuilding, it is expected that they will receive money from the Bushfire Fund.

There are several issues that need to be considered for anyone considering building in bushfire prone areas-

A fire bunker built from a converted water tank in Kinglake, Victoria.

Materials for Construction

The new laws being passed in Victoria (soon throughout the whole of Australia) divide homes into six categories from low to extreme risk. The toughest standards would only apply to about one in 10 Victorian homes, while 80 per cent were low risk and would not be affected.

New homes will be risk rated as part of the building permit process. Homes deemed to be high or extreme risk will need tobe built on a slab and have non-combustible building materials for walls, roofs, verandahs and decks.

Standard glazing will be replaced by toughened glass, and metal shutters will be mandatory to give some protection to window openings. Wall and roof joints will also be specially sealed to guard against ember attack. More details on the new Building Regulations..

Safety Bunkers

Fire bunkers, or fire shelters are not a part of the new bushfire protection regulations but many homeowners, about to rebuild are considering a bunker in the wake of the ferocity of the Black Saturday fires in Victoria.

A bushfire bunker or similar structure would be required to withstand fire for at least 30 minutes, maintain a safe internal temperature, as well as retaining sufficient oxygen to sustain the people within it.

Currently a number of fire shelters are available but performance data is limited, and the bunkers would need to perform in a life or death situation leaving no room for error. Existing water tanks have been converted (see picture above), and saved lives, but also have not been tested to meet fire safety regulations.

Clearing of Native Vegetation

The existing 'Native Vegetation' policy is currently being reviewed. Several bodies have suggested that owners need to be given more control over the environmental management of their own property, rather than be weighed down by restrictions on native clearing as has been the case up until now.

**Update - August 2009
The government has followed some of the key recommendations of the Bushfire Royal Commission and will allow Victorian landowners to clear trees and scrub around their homes inpreparation for the upcoming fire season.

New planning laws will allow rural home owners to clear trees within 10m of their houses and other types of vegetation up to 30m without requiring permits.

Roadside burn-offs will also be conducted in high-risk areas to ensure potential escape routes are kept clear.

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