Affordable Fire Resilient Homes for Australia
Building an affordable, contemporary bushfire proof home in Australia is now possible! Thanks to new technology, materials and experts in this field, there is a wider-range of options available for these types of environments.
As we start rebuilding parts of Australia after our worst summer of fire design-estate has been researching mid to modest price housing to see what’s possible when you come to building again. Here are some architects we found who have invested time and resources into affordable bushfire resilient homes.
Below is proof it’s possible to challenge your architect, designer and builders to produce affordable bushfire proof houses as seen below!
So why not challenge an architect or designer you want to work with!
Architects Assist is offering pro bono work for bushfire victims with over 500 architects registering. Start by contacting them here.
Before we begin, we want to quickly talk about BAL’s and embers, two critical components to consider before you build or rebuild.
Many who live in rural Australia are aware of Bushfire Attack Level ratings or BAL. A BAL rating considers the likelihood for a structure to experience bushfire in that particular location. It examines the topography, site region, surrounding vegetation type and the distance of them to the building.
To get a project built, you must comply with the BAL rating requirements.
There are six levels of Bushfire Attack Levels that form part of the Australian Standard for construction of buildings in bushfire-prone areas (AS 3959-2009):
• BAL-LOW – Very Low Risk
• BAL-12.5 – Low Risk
• BAL-19 – Moderate Risk
• BAL-29 – High Risk
• BAL-40 – Very High Risk
• BAL-FZ (Flame Zone) – Extreme Risk
90% of houses here are lost due to embers attack, which travels short to long distances from the fire thanks to high winds and extreme conditions.
So when you are speaking to your architect, designer and builder check to see what precautions and materials they are doing and using to combat an ember attack.
Affordable Fire Resilient Homes in Australia
Baldwin O’Bryan Architects – Australia Wide
Ian Weir Architect – Australia Wide
Benn + Penn Architecture – NSW
Matt Elkan Architects – NSW
Dane Design – WA
Eco Sustainable Homes – VIC
Designology – VIC
Affordable Compressed Earth Bushfire Resistant Houses
Baldwin O’Bryan Architects
Award Winner – The Bushfire Building Council of Australia’s Innovation Award for the best design concept 2015.
According to Baldwin O’Bryan Architects, their sustainable compressed earth system is one of the most cost-affected choices for extreme bushfire vulnerable areas.
They have specially developed a low-cost building blocks scheme based around, stabilised compressed earth blocks, and when possible, they use site soil to manufacture the required bricks.
By only offering two entry points to the house helps fight against embers attack.
- Key Materials and Features
- This home is certified FZ – Flame Zone – the highest bush fire attack level in Australia.
- Surrounding soil can be a massive buffer to direct contact from flames and insulate the interior against the extreme temperatures experienced in a attach.
- The facade has magnesium oxide panels surrounding the glazing. A fire curtain made from FZ fire-rated panels or roller shutters acts as a shield to both entries.
- Low-cost adjustments can be made to the design.
- Earth shelters have reinforced concrete.
- Sustainable bricks can be readily manufactured from site soil at minimum expense.
- High thermal qualities.
- The unusual build size averages 80 square meters.
- There are countless construction possibilities from a granny flat, courtyard atrium to layouts with a mezzanine level.
Click here to view the Baldwin O’Bryan Architects.
Karri Fire House – An Experiment in Affordable and Extreme Bushfire Home Design
Ian Weir Architect
The Karri Fire House is a successful prototype of what affordable, bushfire safe housing can look like while maintaining the biodiversity characteristics of the site.
Weir and his client, a professional firefighter, worked together to devise a highly integrated design. This combined both energy efficiency, site integrity with bushfire safety. The property had a BAL 40, very high risk, exposure, so they decided to prioritised bushfire resilience of the home over vegetation clearing. For example, the steel shutters are used daily for sun, glare and insect protection. Then if or when needed, act as an ember protector. The layout links the daily workings of life to the performance of the shutters. These shutters slide between full and half-width structural steel bays on the most fire-prone elevation to the north.
By collaborating with energy consultants and structural engineers, a highly detailed site survey was conducted. This report combines both fire and living requirements that are site-specific. Both the internal enclosed build and site study came in at less than $3000/m2 in the year it was developed.
The homes’ light resilience’ is expressed through an unlikely relationship with a rock-anchored massive masonry wall and shop-fabricated structural steel cantilevered.
Architect Ian Weir specialises in designing for biodiverse and bushfire prone landscapes across Australia. He’s also an expert, educator and pioneer in the design of affordable housing for bushfire areas. The Karri Fire House is just one project Weir has completed where the focus was on affordability in a bushfire zone.
- Key Materials and Features
- Both architect and client had a thorough understanding of AS3959 – the Australian Standard for Building in Bushfire Prone Areas.
- Built on stilts, using fire-resistant cavity masonry walls, concrete slabs, covering windows with shutters aids in keeping heat and flames out, also gives additional thermal mass for the winter seasons.
- Partitioning roof spaces insulate different areas of the structure.
- Galvanized sheet cladding and roofing reflect the heat it steel shield overlay is an envelope of fireproof sarking, that’s adapted from firefighter’s tunics and provides a second line of fire defence.
- Summer heat and glare are moderated by the shutters, the verandah overhang and the Karri forest.
- The 1400m2 steeply sloping site is surrounded by a nature reserve and Karri trees.
- Other considerations included additional heat insulation and energy efficiency.
- This home is designed to defend itself!
A Rural & Fire Ready Reading Room
Images by Tom Ferguson
Benn + Penn Architecture
Despite the logistical difficulties in both designing and construction in a remote, fire-prone location, the whole process of developing this intimate reading room prooved to be a great success.
Its original inspiration – the existing curved roof forms of the primary residents. By applying a clad in corrugated Colorbond a small study, library and sitting area were achieved and accentuates its curvilinear form.
- Non-combustible corrugated metal sheeting by Colorbond
- Polished concrete floor
Click here to see the full project Benn + Penn
An Experiment in Expense and Great Design
Photographs: Simon Whitbread
Matt Elkan Architects
When a client believes ‘good architecture does not need to be expensive’ architect Matt Elkan decides to take on this challenge by designing a home that’s a fraction of his usual budgets and sizes.
The original project started with four sea containers. Thanks to the external cladding at certain angles, these original surfaces are unrecognisable.
Many standard homes choose cheaper finishes to keep costs down says Elkan. By applying recycled materials such as windows, doors, taps and joinery, you inject quality, detailed with an original outcome.
This home truly tests the theory that well-designed architecture doesn’t need to be expensive.
- Key Methods and Character
- Structurally built around four containers
- Internal insulation was added externally then cladded using Corrugated steel to gain higher thermal performance and more interior space.
- Environmental credentials include north-facing, with zero excavation, zero VOC finishes, natural wool insulation in the roof, with Low E DGUs and 5000L on-site water storage. Materials varied and included ceilings, floors and juncture walls in plywood internally. 100% recycled materials included: wood windows, doors, joinery and Copper taps.
- The fibre cement sheeting lines the overhanging deck then finished with hardwood spotted gum batons. This process assisted in sign off from local fire regulations.
- The floors were given a high-grade sealant for longevity and will expect to age with time.
Local, Low Toxic & Carbon Footprint
Surrounded by bush this compact home was designed around its climate, using fire-resistant materials and locally sourced rammed limestone.
- Key Materials and Features
- Local rammed limestone was used for its beautiful texture, natural colour, and environmental benefits from low toxic, fire-resistant materials to its small carbon footprint.
- Insulated framed walls, cement rendered walls and more internal rammed earth walls were applied for additional thermal mass and texture.
- A simple solid monolithic structure will protect the rooms from sun, wind and fire.
- Blade walls on the west end.
- Concrete, timber floors plus local timber used for cabinets.
- High spec double glazed doors and windows.
Aireys Ramp House – Timber Tight
Photographs: Nic Granleese
Irons McDuff Architecture
The challenge was to build in a bushfire prone, suburban sub-division. While maximising passive design principles of northern light, defending against the cold ocean winds and hot sun.
A tight wrap-around skin of bushfire resistant timber protects the home. It offers limited openings with expansive native landscapes, sunlight, cross ventilation and privacy.
The base of coloured concrete blocks embeds itself in the ground and contributes to fire defence. The upper timber level floats on a steel structure and integrates with the carport below.
- Key Materials and Features
- Limed plywood linings, timber floors and bagged blockwork.
- Natural materials open into the landscape.
- Bushfire resistant timber.
- concrete blocks in the ground, contribute to fire defence
- Materials of natural inherent texture and colour are muted within the bush landscape.
Other Designers and Builders We Like
Bushfire Management Overlay (BMO)
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