18/02/2009 - 22:00

Fighting bushfire by design

18/02/2009 - 22:00

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A PH.D project at the University of Western Australia hopes to change the way houses in bushfire-prone areas are designed by developing a structure that can survive a fire without human intervention.

A PH.D project at the University of Western Australia hopes to change the way houses in bushfire-prone areas are designed by developing a structure that can survive a fire without human intervention.

WA architect Ian Weir, who has been researching ways to create site-specific architecture for biodiverse landscapes since 1996, has completed his first bushfire smart house in Bremer Bay, featuring innovative design and use of fire-resistant materials.

Dr Weir said that, while research into fireproofing homes was not new, he had looked at the issue in the context of architectural design.

"My approach is we need to have a rethink about how houses are built in these landscapes if we want to increase confidence in people to stay with their houses [in the event of a fire]," Dr Weir told WA Business News.

The Bremer Bay house, designed for the Hollingworth family, includes a number of features and materials aimed at preventing a structural fire occurring within the house in the event of a bushfire.

The windows are made of double glazed fire-resistant glass, with some protected by CSIRO-tested perforated roller shutters that can be controlled from up to 100 metres away.

The roof is designed with no ridges or valleys for embers to get caught in, and is fully cladded using fire-resistant FRC sheeting, leaving no exposed timbers.

"A lot of the different products people use ... they may get damaged in a fire and need to be replaced. With this house it's not expected that once a major fire goes through everything's going to be perfect," Dr Weir said.

"It's intended to stop a structural fire happening within the house. It's not intended to be in perfect condition after a fire."

But making homes bushfire safe comes at a cost. In addition to the initial added costs of having an architect design a house, it's estimated the Hollingworth home cost about $500,000, with between 10 and 20 per cent of that directly related to bushfire safety solutions.

"It's not about adding $70,000 worth of kit, it's about redesigning the thing from the ground up," Dr Weir said.

"Architectural designs do cost more, but there's always a component of research in developing a house that has been architecturally designed."

The Bremer Bay home has already won two awards - an award for excellence in timber-engineered buildings, and a housing industry award to the builder, Bremer Bay's Joe LaRosa.

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