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How our bushfire-proof home design could help people flee, rather than fighting the flames

How our bushfire-proof home design could help people flee, rather than fighting the flames

How our bushfire-proof house design could help people flee rather than risk fighting the flames

By 2030, climate change will make one in 25 Australian homes “uninsurable” if greenhouse gas emissions continue unabated, with riverine flooding posing the greatest insurance risk, a new Climate Council Analysis reveals.

This analysis is not surprising to me as a professor of architecture. Because Australian housing is not well-suited for climate change, this is one reason.

In the past two years alone we’ve seen over 3,000 homes razed in the 2019-2020 megafires, and over 3,600 homesRecent floods left New South Wales’ Northern Rivers region devastated.

We can help ourselves to be more resilient to climate change by building houses that are better able to withstand it. Catastrophic situations. I’m part of a research team that developed a novel, bushfire-resistant house designThe award was won by International award last month.

We hope its ability to withstand fires on its own will encourage owners – who would otherwise stay to defend their home – to flee when bushfires encroach. Let’s take a closer look at the risk of bushfires and why our housing design should one day become a new Australian norm.

The house would be constructed from recycled steel frames that were locally sourced.
Deborah Ascher Barnstone, Author provided

Today, houses are easy to burn.

The Climate Council analysis reveals that across Australia’s 10 electorates most at risk of climate change impacts, one in seven houses will be uninsurable by 2030 under a high emissions scenario. This includes 25,801 properties (27%) in Victoria’s electorate of Nicholls, and 22,274 properties (20%) in Richmond, NSW.

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Bushfires can be deadly One of the worst hazards isThis can lead to homes becoming uninsurable and poses a high risk to thousands of homes in eastern Australia.

The Climate Council, for example, found 55% off propertiesIf emissions are not reduced, Macquarie, NSW’s electorate, will be at high risk of bushfires by 2030. This number will rise to 64% in 2100.

Because most Australian houses were built decades before the advent of construction regulations and bushfire planning, bushfires are not considered in their design. came into force.

The remains of a house that was destroyed in a bushfire in Perth in 2021.
AAP Image/Richard Wainwright

This means that they are made of burnable materials such as plasterboard and wood, and have features Such as guttersThese can trap embers.

What’s more, the gaps between building materials are often too large to keep embers out, which means spot fires can start on the inside of the house. Many houses are too close to fire-prone grasses or trees.

At the very least 90% of housesCurrent bushfire zones are at risk of being destroyed by a bushfire

How our new design can withstand flames

The bushfire-resistant house we designed was the prototypical. First prize in the New Housing Division of the United States Renewable Energy Laboratory’s Solar Decathlon.

The house has three pavilions, which can be built at different times to reduce costs.
Deborah Ascher Barnstone, Author provided

The houseIt would be made from local, recycled steel frames. It would be mounted on reinforced concrete pilings, so that it does not disturb the land. In this way, we help preserve the site’s biodiversity.

The primary building material is rammed earth – natural raw materials such as earth, chalk, lime, or gravel – which is not combustible.

Some cladding and the roof are made from fire-resistant corrugated steel. Its glass facades have fire shutters made of fibre cement sheeting, a material that’s non-combustible and can be closed to seal the house.

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Importantly, the gap between these materials is less than 2 millimetres.

To catch rainwater, the sloped roofs tilt inwards. Because the roofs are made from corrugated metal with channels, gutters are not required.

These channels channel rainwater to two open retention pools either side of an entry and into protected tanks under the house. This also helps protect the house in a bushfire, as it means the fire can’t penetrate from beneath.

A view of both the entry bridges and retention ponds.
Deborah Ascher Barnstone, Author provided

Bushfires are dangerous and people who stay in their homes to defend their homes are at greatest risk of losing their lives. Design that can withstand fire alone encourages its owners not to stay.

But it’s worth Noting that it’s notA bunker to provide shelter for people. No matter how well designed a home is, it will always be functional. too dangerous to stay when a fire comes through, and particularly in the catastrophic and extreme fire conditions we’re increasingly experiencing.

It’s cost effective, too

Construction costs are estimated to cost between A$400,000- $450,000. We employed several strategies to lower costs.

  • The house is designed to be water and energy independent so that it does not require city utilities.

  • it uses common construction techniques and is based on the construction industry standard for sheeting, so won’t require specialised builders and won’t waste any material

  • Rammed earth can be easily sourced in many areas, often at no cost. We also see the possibility of using recycled materials whenever possible.

Aesthetically speaking, the design also presents an elegant domestic space, one that’s flexible enough it can easily be adapted to almost any site.

The house is characterized by open spaces and outside/inside living.
Deborah Ascher Barnstone, Author provided

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Next, we will build and test a prototype house to evaluate its performance and make improvements. We’re currently speaking to some potential funders to make this happen.

Australia must be prepared for the possibility of thousands more homes being destroyed by climate change. Innovative architecture like ours gives treasured homes and possessions the chance to survive future catastrophes.

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