澳洲Australia property House fireproofing | Sydney


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Dear guys,

Article on fireproofing.

Is this a higher priority now with Australia's track record of fires?

Cheers,

Sunstone.


The fire-proof house

Most people would rather spend money on the latest entertainment systems than on fireproofing their homes, a leading architect and academic has claimed.

As bushfires continue to ravage New South Wales, Professor Lindsay Johnston, former dean of architecture at the University of Newcastle, told Building Products News that it is quite possible to “build a house that will not burn down in a bushfire, even if it’s in the thick of the forest.”

Cost is not a major issue, he argued. “It’s really a matter of prioritisation. Most people would rather have a big whiz bang entertainment system than have a house that’s going to survive a bushfire. They will happily spend $15,000 on an air conditioning unit or $7000 on a plasma television screen but they won’t get the work done to fireproof their homes.”

From a design point of view, building a fire resistant home is relatively simple, provided certain principles are followed, according to Johnston, who has designed and built his own home and four tourist lodges in Watagans National Park in the Hunter Valley in New South Wales.

The Four Horizons home was originally designed to be a low energy environmentally responsive house, he explained. “We are off the grid and attempting to be autonomous. So the bushfire thing was a subset of that. The house won the 1997 RAIA Environment Award and we built the tourist lodges afterwards.”

Johnston said that the primary strategy for homes in bushfire prone areas is to stop the fire getting inside the house and that there are four main areas to consider in the design stage.

The first is the floor. “We have a concrete floor so the fire can’t get in from underneath. One of the main dangers, I think, are raised timber floors, particularly where people have junk underneath the floor.” Often the fire brigade cannot get in to put out a fire because of this, he adds.

The second area to consider is the roof. “I have a double roof like a fly sheet on a tent which is a strategy for thermal comfort,” Johnston explained. “So we have a primary roof and underneath a sub-roof on the habitable modules of the house, and the lodges are similar.

“But the secondary roof is sealed using mini orb, which is a small corrugated iron product. It means the fire can’t get in through the roof. Any corrugated iron roof is better than a tiled one. The weakness in roofs is embers getting in and setting the roof base on fire.

“Tiled roofs are the biggest risk – in Australia I understand that not every tile is nailed down, so some are sitting there just by gravity. The winds lift them off the roof and you have a possible felt underlay and wooden roof where the embers go in and set the whole thing alight.”

The third area to look at is the walls. At Four Horizons, these are concrete and clad with steel. “Part of the strategy I’ve used for thermal comfort is what I call reverse engineering where you put the concrete blockwork on the inside and clad the outside,” Johnston said. “There is some wood on one side of the house for aesthetic reasons but even if it catches fire it won’t burn the house down.”

The final area to take into account is the windows.“We’ve got fire shutters that are made of perforated mini orb which close over the windows. Mini orb is very often used for acoustic ceiling. Right now we have them all closed. We also have patio doors, 50 percent of which are covered by shutters and the other 50 percent are covered by heavyweight fire mesh flyscreens. This will stop the embers going into the glass.” The patio doors are made of toughened glass to make it much more difficult to break from the heat of the fire, he added.

In addition to the above, Four Horizons also has a ‘safe haven’ – the bathroom, which has concrete floors and walls, a metal roof and shutters on the windows.

“If a fire is coming through, you get in there and lock yourself in,” Johnston explained. “There are two exits and a water supply - the idea is that when the fire has gone through, you come out and put the fire out.”

Although Johnston did not want to be drawn on the new building standards guidelines, he said: “The last time I looked at the Australian Standards, they were still giving tips on how to make an unsuitable house survive, whereas what we have done is much more fundamental.” - Katrina Fox.

18 November 2002  

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