Fire-prone Areas May Not Burn a Hole in Your Pocket, But…
Buyers are Moving into Danger Zone

Housing unaffordability and Melbourne’s expanding fringe are driving a growing percentage of home buyers into the state’s fire zones. Victorian Building Authority figures reveal one in five new homes approved for construction last year were in designated bushfire-prone areas.

Original Article: Herald Sun
Words: Nathan Mawby

View the original article here

Market Share Growing

And their share of the market is growing, up from 18 per cent in 2020. The number is at the highest level since the VBA began tracking figures.

It is just days from the 15th anniversary of Black Saturday, the start of a month-long series of bushfires in 2009 that destroyed about 2000 houses and claimed 173 lives.

Most recent builds are in relatively low-risk areas that nevertheless could be prone to ember attack, but dozens of homes have been given the nod in Flame Zone areas where bushfire risk is extreme.

Arkular design architect Bill McCorkell said he was surprised the numbers were not higher with housing unaffordability now “100 per cent” a factor for people buying into bushfire-prone areas.

“People are often scared off from the block of land in a bushfire-prone area, and they can be a bit more affordable as a result,” Mr McCorkell said.

While costs to build rise for areas subject to Bushfire Attack Level ratings, it can be negligible in lower risk areas such as those ranked BAL low. The most dangerous areas, with BAL 40 and Flame Zone ratings, are significantly more expensive, potentially turning a $600,000 build into a $900,000 job.

Urban Development Institute of Australia Victorian chief executive Linda Allison said another major factor was that more land was being developed in regional areas. “Most of the development areas outside of metropolitan Melbourne are subject to assessments for bushfire risk.” Ms Allison said.

‘The Department of Transport and Planning requires homes in areas prone to bushfire be built to increasingly strict standards.

Requirements include non-combustible materials for roofs, glazing and walls, non- combustible roof sarking, protection of vents and gaps, and enclosed sub-floor spaces. People are often scared off in a bushfire-prone area.’

– Bill McCorkell Arkular design architect

Country Fire Authority chief officer Jason Heffernan said the organisation assessed about 4000 bushfire-related planning applications a year, but sought more detail on only about a third and objected to fewer than 1 per cent.

Integrity Real Estate director William Verhagen built his Kinglake home in 2017 and said most people looking at the area today were aware of the prospect of bushfires, but the space and scope for a “self-sustaining lifestyle” were a significant draw card.

“People want space, but with that comes responsibility,” Mr Verhagen said.

There is also a growing list of bushfire protection technologies. University of NSW mechanical and manufacturing engineering expert Guan Yeoh said researchers were close to finalising a smartphone-con-trolled system that flooded roof gutters to reduce the risks during ember attacks.

A flame retardant paint he helped develop with Flame Security International has been on shelves in Bunnings since October last year. It can withstand direct flame contact for at least 15 minutes. “You will still leave the house, but what we hope is that even though you leave the house the tech does its job and the house will still be there when you come back, Professor Yeoh said

Arkular Sandy Point Modular Beach House BAL 29

Paul and Catriona May recently finished building a holiday home at Sandy Point on the doorstep of Wilsons Promontory, and hope its non-combustible materials will help it survive future fires.

The 850sq m block is rated at high risk of bushfire danger (BAL 29), and they opted to keep as much bush near the home as possible. “We purposefully wanted a place built in the scrub and that was sympathetic to the area, so we didn’t want to remove the vegetation,” Mr May said.

“We probably wouldn’t be there if it was a catastrophic fire danger day … but we have plans to put in a fire protection sprinkler system and we have 60,000 litres of water in tanks.”

View the Sandy Point Modular Home design details here.

Life in Kinglake

A look out the back window is enough to remind Dominic and Sam Bee of the fire danger near their Kinglake home.

Towering native trees up to 40m tall are just 25m from the rear deck of the home they built and moved into in 2022. “Fire would move through the tree tops pretty quick,” Mr Bee said.

Some neighbours have rebuilt homes after the Black Saturday bushfires ravaged the area about 15 years ago. “But to be able to afford a large block, which is good for our kids, we had to educate ourselves on where it could be done safely.” Mr Bee added.

Growing up on 8ha of bushland he has always been conscious of fire risk, something that was reinforced when the carpenter spent time rebuilding houses in the area after Black Saturday.

While he’s worked on mud brick houses in Bushfire Attack Level 40-rated areas, his own home is on land that was downgraded to a BAL 29 rating after a number of trees were removed.

A local builder handled the specialised construction, which required aluminium mesh in place of typical nylon flyscreens, the front door is fire rated and a shell of non-combustible materials wraps around the home.

Even so, their plan in the event of significant fire risk is to not be there and to trust in their home’s design to get it through a bushfire. “But there were no great changes needed to stick to the standards,” Mr Bee said.

“And we’re happy we made the choice to come up here, the area is great for young families and the kids are already starting to get into karate and the local basketball club. “I work in the city and have a bit of a commute. But when I get home it’s all worth it; you’re out of the hustle and bustle.”

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