Elements of a bushfire resilient house - Image 1

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Please note: The above image is a pictorial representation of the various elements to consider for homes situated in bushfire-prone areas. Your home and surrounding landscape may be quite different. Some real-life examples are shown below. 

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Landscaping and vegetation selection

Careful attention must be paid to species selection, their location relative to their flammability and the dwelling, and avoiding continuity of vegetation (horizontally and vertically). It is important to consider ongoing maintenance required to remove flammable fuels - leaf litter, twigs and debris. Contact local councils, plant nurseries and plant societies to determine suitable species for your area.

To maintain a garden that does not contribute to the spread of bush fires, it is necessary to plan the layout of the garden beds and take an active decision to minimise certain features in favour of other features. These should include:

  • maintaining a clear area of low cut lawn or pavement adjacent to the house;
  • Create separation between canopies of trees and shrubs through pruning;
  • not using organic mulch as ground cover. Non-flammable material such as scoria, pebbles, recycled crushed bricks should be used instead.
  • planting trees and shrubs such that:
    • the branches will not overhang the roof;
    • the tree canopy is not continuous;
    • there are islands of vegetation within defined garden beds that do not connect with each other or the house; and
    • if possible create a windbreak in the direction from which fires are likely to approach.

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Access includes considerations of property access from a public road, alternate access for residents and fire-fighters during a bushfire emergency if part of the a road system is cut off by fire, and fire trail access for maintenance and emergencies. Any vehicle access width should be ideally a minimum of 4-5 metres wide.

Learn more

  • NSW Rural Fire Service - Access

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Enclosed external structures near the house

External structures such as any garage, shed, carport, veranda or similar roofed structure that is not attached to a building should either

  • comply with Australian standard for construction of buildings in bushfire prone areas (AS3959-2009);
  • have been tested and pass Australian standard Methods for fire tests on building materials, components and structures (AS1530.8.2);

  • be separated by a distance of >10 metres from the habitable dwelling.

Garage doors should be tight fitting to door frames. When closed, gaps should be no greater than 5 mm. Where a roller shutter door is installed it is provided with an ember protection device.

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General housekeeping and maintenance of the grounds of your property is of critical importance. Reduce fuel loads by:

  1. cleaning up fallen leaves, twigs and debris around the property,
  2. pruning shrubs and trees so they are not overhanging the home,
  3. keeping lawns short and gardens well-maintained, and
  4. cleaning your gutters of leaves and twigs.

If you have difficulty maintaining your property, the AIDER is a free one-off maintenance service from the NSW RFS.

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Simplified roofline

This helps to reduce the numbers of re-entrant corners (inward pointing corners on roofs which could collect leaves and twigs) and makes maintenance easier.

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Windows and shutters

Windows are weak points when impacted by fire. The radiant heat of a fire can crack untempered glass allowing burning embers to enter. Limit glazing on exposed facades and barriers as it is highly susceptible to the impacts of radiant heat and flying debris. In addition, a large proportion of radiant heat can pass through a window and heat internal furnishings such as carpets, curtains or furniture.

What can you do?

  1. Installing toughened glass can help protect your home while also providing improved insulation which can also significantly reduce your heating and cooling costs.
  2. Ensure that frames fit well into doors, windows and sills and any gaps are sealed.
  3. Installing fire-rated safety shutters or metal mesh screens suitable for your location may reduce your risks of ember attack. Make sure that screens on windows and doors are in good condition without breaks or holes in flyscreen material.
  4. Replace any overhead glazing such as skylights with 'grade a' safety glass.
  5. Remember to consult with Council and a qualified bushfire consultant to meet the necessary construction standards that apply in all bush fire prone areas. All window elements should meet test criteria for withstanding simulated bushfire attack as part of Australian Standard 1530 (part 8.1 and or 8.2).

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‘Static Water Supply’ sign

The Static Water Supply (SWS) program is aimed at identifying properties with sources of water supply such as dams, creeks or swimming pools that can be used for firefighting purposes. ln the event of a fire, the SWS sign and your water tank or backyard pool could save your home. The SWS sign is provided free by NSW Rural Fire Service. To sign up to the SWS program, contact your local fire station.

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Asset Protection Zone (APZ)

This is the buffer zone or physical separation between a bushfire hazard and your home. This area has to be managed to minimise fuel loads and reduce potential radiant heat levels, flame, ember and smoke attack. The appropriate APZ is based on the vegetation type, slope and level of construction.

An APZ can be split into two areas:

  1. The Inner Protection Area (IPA) – is the area closet to the building. It incorporates the defendable space and the area for managing heat intensities at the building surface.
  2. The Outer Protection Area (OPA) - is the area designed to reduce the impact of flames by slowing the rate of its spread, filtering embers and suppressing tree crown fire. Trees provide a useful function of trapping embers and flying debris which would otherwise reach the house. They also act as wind breaks and their foliage can trap radiant heat.

The recommended APZ distance can be calculated according to the predominant vegetation type, slope and fire weather. The RFS have produced an online APZ calculator.

The entire APZ should be located on your land. APZs on adjoining lands may only be permitted in exceptional circumstances.

Learn more

  • NSW Rural Fire Service: Asset Protection Zone

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Fences and other structures

Structures such as a fence, mast, antenna, retaining or free-standing wall or swimming pool should be non-combustible. Keep areas under fences, fence posts and gates raked and cleared of fuel.

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Landscaping and vegetation selection Access Enclosed external structures Maintenance Simplified roofline Windows and shutters Static Water Supply sign Asset Protection Zone Inner Protection Area Outer Protection Area Fences and other structures