New regulations for homes built in bushfire-prone areas threaten to place additional costs on home owners and buyers in these designated zones. Compliance with the regulations will increase the cost of new home construction, making new homes less affordable for many families, according to the Department of Housing. Costs associated with significant renovations in bushfire-prone areas are also likely to increase.
Cost increases may result in new developments being abandoned, creating shortages of homes in areas already struggling to keep up with housing demands.
National Construction Code (NCC) building standards for new homes built in fire-prone areas establish minimum design and construction guidelines to reduce:
- the potential for ignition caused by burning embers, radiant heat or flame generated by a bushfire, and
- the intensity of the bushfire attack on the building.
The building guidelines state that homes shall meet Australian Standard requirements for fire-resistance based on the level of risk in the area concerned. Australian Standard AS 3959 divides areas prone to bushfire into 6 bushfire attack levels, or BAL, from lowest to highest risk as follows:
- BAL-LOW – very low risk
- BAL-12.5 – low risk
- BAL-19 -moderate risk
- BAL-29 -high risk
- BAL-40 -very high risk
- BAL-FZ -extreme risk (Flame Zone)
These risk levels will dictate the construction standards applicable for a given zone. Compliance would allow for any construction materials that meet AS 1530.8.1 standards for bushfire attack level BAL-40. New homes built in bushfire-prone areas would need to be compliant in all phases of construction, including roofs, walls, windows, exterior walls and floors.
Bushfire risk zones would be designated by the regulating body in each individual state or territory, with maps recently released in Western Australia which identify impacted areas. Buyers currently in the market may face an unpleasant surprise in both the availability and cost of buying and building their new home.
As currently proposed, the new regulations only apply to new construction, and are not expected to affect existing homes. However, significant renovations on an existing home in a bush fire prone area may be caught up in the new requirements. Affected areas would be any lands located within 100 metres of a minimum 100 hectares of bushland.
Proposals for new regulations regarding bushfire-prone areas were begun following the 2011 fire in Kelmscott Roleystone that destroyed 71 homes. Reports noted that construction standards should be raised for better protection against ignition from bushfire.
As areas urbanise, many housing developments in those areas border on uncleared lands, placing those developments in high risk zones. As a result, these new regulations, which can add tens of thousands of dollars to the cost of building a new home, would also drastically limit the amount of available land where badly-needed affordable housing could be built.
With a limited number of homes available, and new regulations causing higher prices for new construction, this could cause a chain reaction with the potential to eventually raise selling prices for existing homes, as well.
Much of the available acreage in areas where housing is in greatest demand is affected by the new regulations. In light of the increased cost in building compliant homes, this measure is apt to most greatly impact first-time home buyers, as developers are discouraged from planning new construction in the fire prone zones. As families struggle to find affordable housing in Western Australia, the limited availability of low-risk areas on which to build threatens to make matters worse.
To safeguard your home against the threat of bushfire, consult a professional building inspector, who can advise you on your home’s bushfire readiness. Know the level of risk in your area, and find out how prepared your home is before the next bushfire season begins. Contact a qualified building inspection company in WA today.
Need more information – contact Houspect WA on 08 9240 8855