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Fire-Proof House Design

Last Updated Dec 23, 2011 · Written by


When building a home in fire-prone parts of Australia, fire-proof design is no longer just advisable, it is required by law. Bushfires do not respect legally defined boundaries, though, and even if you live in a relatively safe area, knowing the basic elements of fire-proof design and implementing them may protect your home in the event of fire. A fire-proof house design needn't be expensive and doesn't have to negatively affect the aesthetics of your architecture or landscape. Your architect or builder can help you design a dream home that will not put you at risk of having your dreams turn to ashes if a fire comes your way. These are some of the things they may recommend:

Fire-Proof Construction Materials and Design

Fire-proof home design starts with your construction materials. In Victoria, where strict standards have been adopted in bushfire prone areas, only fire-proof materials can be used on external walls and roofs. These include bricks, stone, fibre cement (sometimes still called "fibro"), steel and other non-flammable materials. In addition, in areas where there is a fire danger, external fire-proof shutters are required by law. In very high fire danger areas, these must be made from steel or bronze while in low risk areas, aluminium is acceptable.

Roofs, too, must be constructed from fire-proof materials, but the new Victorian Standard takes it a step further and outlaws complex roof designs in high risk areas. The reason for this is that a major cause of home fires is leaves and other flammable materials that collect on the roof. When a roof design is very complex, debris gathers in crevasses on the roof as well as in the gutters. While your new home may not be in a highly fire-prone area, this is important to bear in mind, because regular gutter maintenance is crucial to fire safety. You are far more likely to regularly get up on your roof and clean out the gutters if they are easy to access and if you choose to have a roofing maintenance specialist do it for you, they will be able to do the job more quickly and cheaply.

Fire-Proofing Around the House

Traditionally, many Australians have built brick homes as a matter of preference. However, we also tend to build or add-on timber decks. If you live in an area where there is a high risk of fire, this is an invitation to disaster. Where there is not a high risk of fire, you can effectively reduce this risk by painting timber decks, pergolas and other outdoor timber structures with fire retardant paint.

Your landscaping, too, should be undertaken with fire awareness. Trees planted close to the house pose a threat both directly, as sources of fuel for a fire, and indirectly, as leaves and dead twigs and branches fall on to your roof and gather in your gutters. A regularly maintained garden not only looks beautiful, it helps minimise the risk of fire, since highly combustible dead plant material can easily catch fire and spread. If your property is in a risk-prone area, plant your garden well away from the home to minimise the risk to your home.

Most of the elements of fire-proof house design are a matter of common sense and awareness of the devastating consequences of fire. Minimise your risk by eliminating as many combustible materials as possible and don't take an "it can't happen to me" attitude towards fire. As so many Australians have discovered, it can happen to anyone. When it comes to fire prevention, an ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure: it can save your home and possibly your life.

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