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Building homes for a changing environment

As Australia continues to count the massive toll of this season’s bushfires, experts are talking about how we prepare for a future where extreme weather conditions will likely become the norm.

By TAFE Queensland

This seasons’s unprecedented bushfires have again made us evaluate the role contemporary building and construction techniques play in keeping our lives and our properties safe in the face of a changing climate and natural disasters. 

Australian standards require new houses to be assessed for a Bushfire Attack Level (BAL), based on the risk, which will affect the building materials required to make your home safe. Taking location, block, slope, and surrounding vegetation into effect, BAL ratings vary from low risk to BAL FZ, meaning there is a chance your home could be in a direct fire zone. However, experts say most homes fall in the middle, with ember attacks posing the biggest risk to those building a new home.

Little sparks can cause big problems

Embers, which can quickly travel large distances from the fire front, pose some of the biggest threats to homes during bushfire events. Bushfires themselves rarely generate enough heat to completely destroy a building, but structural fires do. These fires are often started when embers work their way into cracks in houses or under eaves. Once a structural fire takes hold it can quickly spread to neighbouring properties, causing new bushfire hotspots.

Prevention is the best cure

The best way to fight against ember attacks is to construct homes with materials that won’t allow the spark to catch fire in the first place. Non-flammable cladding such as bricks and rammed earth are a good place to start. Non-flammable sealants around all openings are also important. Toughened glass and fire retardant window shutters can also help keep your home safe. Securing water supply and utilities should be a high priority.

Working with the natural environment

The future of building in Australia isn’t just about constructing concrete bunkers that can withstand bushfires or shying away from natural materials. In fact, the design and location of our homes play a critical defending role in combination with material selection. For example, Stegbar produce a range of Cedar windows and doors complaint with BAL 40.

The same principles of passive and sustainable home design are informing the way planners, architects and designers respond to our changing climate and the new pressures of a drier and hotter future.

Australia’s first passive home, which also complies with the highest BAL rating, was unveiled in October. The Blue Mountains display home built by Joe and Merylese Mercieca has a complex system of remotely controlled electric shutters, fire resistant external cladding and fluid ventilation, balancing energy efficiency with strict fire safety standards.

Building for the future

Queensland’s future builders, tradespeople and designers will need a whole new set of skills to equip them to lead change. At TAFE Queensland the focus of every construction pathway, from trade apprenticeships to high-rise construction management, is on innovation and excellence. Our teachers come direct from industry, passionate about helping the next generation shape their future and improve the way Queenslanders live, work and play.

TAFE Queensland Advanced Building Teacher Ness Norimi is acutely aware of the important role that educators will play leading into the next decade.

“What is considered as standard practice in the building industry now will be obsolete in 10 years," said Ness.

"Our job is to nurture resilient, creative and adaptable graduates. They will not only overcome the challenges, but see opportunities and above all, hope. If they succeed, we will all benefit.”

Get the skills you need to make a difference. Check out TAFE Queensland's building and construction courses.