Bushfire-Proof Houses are Affordable and Look Good – So Why Aren't We Building More?

  • 2016-04-15
  • The Guardian

In June 2009, not long after Victoria’s Black Saturday bushfires claimed 173 lives and destroyed more than 2000 houses, a group of architects came together to help those who had been affected.

As part of the Victorian bushfire reconstruction and recovery authority’s We will Rebuild initiative, they offered free consultations and 19 customisable pro bono designs, which were environmentally sustainable and met the “higher end” of the building standards for those in bushfire prone areas. Surprisingly only a few of those homes were built.

Since then, regulations have been stepped up, and there are more bushfire resistant products on the market including bushfire resistant windows, doors andtimber (pdf). Yet as the devastating fires in Wye River and Separation Creek in December and in Yarloop-Waroona in January demonstrated, bushfire resistant homes are still not being built in vulnerable areas.

Research architect Ian Weir, a spokesman for the Bushfire Building Council of Australia (BBCA), is known for his bushfire resistant designs. He says there’s a large market for them but surprisingly few architects are interested. This is despite the fact that significant homes have long been designed with this in mind.

He points to eminent architect Glenn Murcutt, who incorporated bushfire resistant features into many of his designs, including the Laurie Short house (1973), the Ball-Eastaway house (1980) and Simpson-Lee house (1993) in the Blue Mountains.

Murcutt’s innovations include black ceramic house tiles that reflect radiant heat, permanent water features on flat roofs, conspicuous sprinkler systems and leaf-shedding gutter designs. Murcutt has “a long history of doing bushfire responsive houses,” Weir says, “and they are never talked about in that way.”