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An Introduction to Building in a Bushfire-Prone Area

The Yarra Valley is such a unique place to live. Those who build here enjoy the region’s natural splendour, strong community spirit as well as world-class food and wine all year round. Conversely, the area does come with its construction challenges, particularly as a bushfire-prone area.

Building in a bushfire-prone area is a completely different process than building elsewhere – from the initial design and the materials chosen for the home, to the construction method, this potential threat must be considered at every stage. Clients sometimes feel overwhelmed and perplexed by the numerous regulations and requirements for their build. At Cobalt Constructions we’re dedicated to making this process simple, easy and stress-free by explaining the relevant requirements and appropriate solutions for your new home.

With such a large range of innovative products and materials on the market, building in a bushfire-prone area is actually quite straightforward, and safety can be easily achieved without intruding on design.

Here’s what you need to know about building in a bushfire prone area.

The BAL-rating

In Australia if you want to build in an area that is identified as being bushfire-prone, you will need to construct your home with adherence to the relevant Bushfire Attack Level (BAL). This is a measurement used to determine the degree of fire risk in the area and contains a list of requirements for new builds based on the severity of the building’s exposure to ember attacks, dangerous heat and direct flame contact.

Bushfire Attack Levels are categorised into 6 specific ratings:

  1. BAL Low – the lowest bushfire risk, with no need for specific bushfire resistant materials 
  2. BAL 12.5 – risk of ember attack
  3. BAL 19 – increased risk of ember attack and burning debris
  4. BAL 29 – increased risk of ember attack, burning debris and radiant heat
  5. BAL 40 – increased exposed to flames, radiant heat, burning debris and ember attack
  6. BAL FZ – the highest bushfire risk, with the greatest chance of direct exposure to flames, radiant heat, burning debris and ember attack.

If your property has a BAL-rating of 12.5 or higher, you’ll need to build your home with specific fire-resistant materials and building techniques to protect it from potential danger. One of the biggest challenges in the Yarra Valley is that many homes are situated on hills and inclines, which increases the BAL-rating as slopes with vegetation can see fire travel at a more rapid pace.

What should you consider?

When building a BAL-rated home you’ll need to ensure that consideration is given to the layout and design of your home. Keeping the shape of the house to simple rectangular shapes which minimisies external nooks where embers can accumulate, will also assist in keeping a simple roof design that minimises roof valleys that can trap leaf litter, an easy fire accelerant.

Designing your deck with an enclosed subfloor will reduce the ability of embers getting underneath and also make a practical storage or workspace.

Forethought should be given to designing your garden layout to ensure vegetation is planted away from the house perimeter and rainwater or CFA fitted water tanks are positioned for accessibility.

Your material choices are key

Building in a bushfire-prone area doesn’t mean you can’t create a stylish and modern home. Although there are a number of materials you won’t be able to use, as they don’t comply with bushfire ratings, there are still plenty of options to suit any design aesthetic and budget.

Beautiful timbers including Merbau, Blackbutt, Silvertop Ash and Spotted Gum, are all stunning options for a sleek, contemporary finish that can be used for most homes and decking in bushfire-prone areas.

There are also plenty of bush-fire resistant cladding options that offer a variety of colour and texture variations, from standard brick-veneer to stone, fibre cement or steel cladding panels as well as blockwork and concrete panels.

In a recently completed project in Olinda, we used three different types of complementing external finishes – vertically installed Euro Selecta Clad, Tanami polished concrete-look render and a Matrix panel with a rusty finish. The chosen materials not only ensure the home is protected against bushfire and ember attacks but were cost-effective and visually appealing as well. For a successful outcome, it’s incredibly important that BAL-rated homes meet both building regulations and our clients’ design brief.

At Cobalt Constructions, we are dedicated to giving our clients an array of options that are safe, budget-friendly, durable and aesthetically pleasing. No matter if your style is modern minimalism or luxury farmhouse, we will be able to make suggestions that will help you achieve the look you want while adhering to bushfire building regulations.

Are you looking to build a bespoke custom home in a bushfire-prone area? Get in touch with the team at Cobalt Constructions today.

Get in touch with our team and experience the Cobalt Constructions difference today.

Cobalt Constructions