As our summers become hotter and our seasons drier, there’s an ever-increasing risk of bushfires. And in our leafy suburbs in Sutherland Shire, especially those that abut the Royal National Park, we need to make sure our homes can withstand (or at least, resist) attack from bushfires.
While home designs in rural or semi-rural areas are being designed to resist fire (think mudbrick homes), most of our urban landscape buildings are less prepared. So how can you make your home bushfire resistant?
With a new build, it’s easier to design in elements that help with bushfire resistance. However, you can still work with an existing home.
The key is ensuring your home is less prone to ember attack. If you’ve ever read first-hand accounts of what an ember attack is like, you’ll realise that we aren’t talking a stray burning leaf or smouldering twig. And the problem with embers raining down on your home isn’t the ones you can see; it’s the ones you miss. However, you can mitigate your risk. And according to a spokesperson from the NSW Rural Fire Service in 2019, “…more than 90 per cent of homes lost in a bushfire are lost because embers moving ahead of the fire front were able to exploit ignitable materials and start a spot fire.”
Fire-proofing your home
It’s important to make sure there aren’t any gaps into which embers could fly. If they get into your roof cavity, and you have flammable insulation, you won’t be able to put out any fire. If your insulation is flammable, replace it with non-flammable insulation like rockwools, natural wool or fibreglass. You can seal small gaps with joining strip or a flexible silicon-based gel. And if you’re replacing tiles or insulation, you can install roof sarking, which improves insulation and can protect against ember attack. If you have air vents, seal them with fire-resistant mesh.
Under the house
If you have gaps under your home, seal them with metal mesh or enclose the areas with fire-resistant material.
Doors and windows
Use weather strips to seal doors and windows.
If you’re in a more bushfire-prone area, it’s also a good idea to install metal shutters or metal flyscreens on all your doors and windows.
If your door and window frames are ready for replacement, use a fire-resistant material like a fire-retardant timber; for example, a dense hardwood like Blackbutt.
You could replace window glass with toughened or laminated safety glass. This latter can get expensive (but you might save on your home insurance).
When firefighters and forest managers talk about the bush and the fire risk, you’ll hear them talking about the ‘fuel load’. Basically, they’re talking about the material that’s available to burn. So check your gutters for any debris. Keep them cleared and covered with metal mesh so they’re easier to clean.
Most homeowners in Sutherland Shire have backyard pools that can provide a source of water should you need to defend your home against ember attack and you lose pressure from mains water. However, bear in mind you’ll need a pump and a motor. It’s a good idea to register your pool with the local fire service so they’re aware you have another source of water they can use in an emergency.
A 5,000-litre or 10,000-litre tank will fill in no time with even smaller amounts of rain and can provide an important water source. (As a guide, a millimetre of rain per square metre will yield a litre of water.) Again, let your local firies know that this water source is available on your property.
Unless your garden comprises all leafy non-native plants, keep shrubs and trees away from the edge of the house and keep trees and bushes trimmed.
Can we help with advice on downsizing?
Having navigated the home sale and downsizing process not only for our real estate clients but also for members of our own family, it’s an area in which we’ve amassed a wealth of knowledge. So don’t hesitate to seek out our help – no obligations.