A guide to building bushfire resilient homes

If you live in the bush, you’re aware of the risks posed by bushfire and extreme weather events, and you know how important it is for your home to be prepared.

Where to start

Before you begin construction or your retrofit, you may find it useful to engage an architect or builder for advice on building or retrofitting your bushfire resilient home.

Bushfire building codes

If you’re building from scratch, consult the Australian Standards AS 3959 code. It covers building safety requirements for bushfire prone areas and provides a method for calculating your Bushfire Attack Level (BAL).

If you’re unsure, consult with someone who knows their stuff, such as an architect or builder, or your local fire authority.

Know your Bushfire Attack Level (BAL)

It's important to understand your property's bushfire risk. 

There are six levels of bushfire attack as classified in AS 3959, graded from BAL Low to BAL Flame Zone, which presents the highest risk level of direct flame exposure.

BAL is based on:

  • where you live
  • the types of vegetation around your property
  • the distance between your home and vegetation types, and
  • your property’s slope.

Once you know your property’s BAL, refer to the appropriate section of the Australian Standards AS 3959 code. It’ll guide you on the steps required during constructing or retrofitting your home. All new homes built in a bushfire-prone area must be built to withstand ember attacks (which occur when burning debris land on or near your house causing it to catch fire).

Features of a bushfire resilient home

Use of non-combustible materials

Fire-resistant timber can be used for structure and cladding in low-to-medium risk areas. It’s a sustainable and versatile material that provides cooling in the summer and insulation in winter. If your BAL is higher, steel framing may be a better option, as it’s resistant to ignition and won’t act as fuel during a fire. Brick and concrete may also be worth considering.

Sealed-up gaps

You may think most of the destruction is caused on the flame front during a bushfire, but most houses are lost when embers land on combustible materials or get sucked into gaps.

Watch out for gaps wider than 2mm and replace or sand back any cracked timber or timber coatings. Concrete or terracotta roof tiles, non-combustible roof framing and steel mesh may also reduce the risk of embers creeping into your home through small gaps.

Toughened glass utilised in doors and windows

This will help prevent them from shattering in the heat. Recommended glass thickness ranges from 4-6mm, depending on your BAL.

For properties with a higher BAL, external metal shutters should also be placed over doors, windows and other openings.

A well-maintained outdoor area

Outdoor furniture and vegetation can act as fuel for a fire, so it’s important to make sure your garden and outdoor areas are in tip-top shape.

To reduce the risk of a bushfire engulfing your home:

  • keep your gutters clean and remove any dry leaves
  • have a clear area around your house with few or no combustible materials
  • keep vegetation, like shrubs and trees, trimmed, and
  • mow your lawn regularly to keep it short.

Retrofits for existing homes

Consider these tips for retrofitting an existing home:

  • Add metal screens over your doors, windows and openings.
  • Replace combustible materials used for cladding, decking or posts.
  • Close gaps that could let embers in (this may mean replacing your roof).
  • Maintain outdoor areas.
  • Install non-combustible fencing.

This isn’t an exhaustive list, so do your own research and consult with professionals.

Make sure you’re covered

Having home and contents insurance can help cover you for loss or damage to your house and belongings in an insured event, like a fire.

GIO’s Classic Extra and Platinum levels of Home and Contents Insurance include Safety Net home protection. You’ll be covered for up to an extra 25% or 30% (depending on your level of cover) of your home sum insured if rebuilding or repair costs exceed your home sum insured at claims time.

Get a Home and Contents Insurance quote

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Insurance issued by AAI Limited ABN 48 005 297 807 trading as GIO. Consider the Product Disclosure Statement before buying this insurance. Target Market Determination is also available. This advice has been prepared without taking into account your particular objectives, financial situations or needs, so you should consider whether it is appropriate for you before acting on it.

The information is intended to be of a general nature only. We do not accept any legal responsibility for any loss incurred as a result of reliance upon it – please make your own enquiries.