Understanding Bushfire Prone Areas and how we can help

A Bushfire Prone Area is subject to bushfires, which has led to the creation of a Bushfire Attack Level (BAL) rating when building or renovating. A BAL rating greatly influences the design, materials, detailing and the location of your home. Let’s look at what this means and how our expertise can help you build your new home with confidence.   

What is a BAL rating?A Bushfire Attack Level (BAL) rating provides a measurement for the potential risk and severity that a building could be exposed to during a bushfire. The BAL rating considers many facets in its categorisations, including ember attack, radiant heat and direct flame contact.

These different levels of danger have been broken down into six categories, each with a defined guideline for compliance within the Australian Standard for Construction of Buildings in Bushfire-Prone Areas (AS 3959-2018). State Government Planning websites provide detailed information about these categories and they can help you understand the risks you may be facing when building on your land.

What do we know about our climate? According to the Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment, “Australia has experienced a decrease in colder-than-average days, and an increase in warmer-than-average days with more than double the number of record hot days observed since 1960.” More information can be found on their website

The increase in heat without a doubt will have major impacts on our bushfires, their strength and rate of recurrences. Because of this, we are not only designing for today, but continuously considering what the next 40 to 50 years of changing weather patterns might bring, and how we can mitigate the potential risk on our designs. 

The recent Black Summer bushfires have raised the question of whether the Australian Standards are enough, and we are continually looking at ways in which we can reduce the risk of loss of property beyond what the requirements ask for. 

Designing your home with us in a Bushfire Prone Area At Intermode, our first step when working with a new client is to visit their site and analyse the best location for their home based on the sun and wind directions, topography, context and overlays, for example, is it in a Bushfire Prone Area. Often in these beautiful, rugged natural landscapes, it’s about finding the balance between the best setting for views, privacy and access; as well as the optimum location taking all the analysed factors into account.

We work closely with our specialist consultants to work through challenging sites, special client requests and finding the best solutions for contradicting factors. Spatial design and connection with the land are very dear to us, we find it prudent to directly link the interiors with the external context that is specific to each site. This drives the design, hence why all our projects are unique.

We consider the specific BAL level as it relates to the chosen location, factoring in required details and materials and sometimes even design for a higher BAL level if we feel it will be beneficial to the client. Everything is site-specific and there are so many factors that contribute to the decision-making process, which is why we work collaboratively with our clients, always considering the cost ramifications together.

One of our projects currently under construction in the Southern Highlands, NSW is rated at BAL 40, and as such has no exposed combustible materials. We have designed and detailed it in a way to eliminate any burning embers getting through into the core of the building.

An Intermode project nearing completion on the Mornington Peninsula VIC has a BAL 19 rating. With a lower rating, this gave the client more flexibility in terms of material selection. However, in terms of detailing, we are firm believers that providing better protection from ember attacks is prudent no matter the how low the BAL level is and carried some of the learnings and details from other projects onto this one. 

Ultimately, we are always looking for design innovations and thinking that go above and beyond the requirements.

Preparing for bush fire seasons ahead When choosing your land, it is important to understand what areas to look out for. The higher the BAL level, the higher the risk is. Clever planning can go a long way.

If you already have a land, it is important to understand what your site has to offer. It is important to weigh the risk at which you are ready to build and use the attributes of your land.

Land and building maintenance is crucial no matter the risk of bush fire on and surrounding your property. When it comes to bush fires, every consideration can help protect your home now and in the future, which is why talking to experienced architects and consultants can provide you with enormous benefits.  

We are working on a new Intermode house in the Shoalhaven NSW.  This is a replacement dwelling for our Client's 1980's house that was sadly destroyed in the 2020 Black Summer bushfires.  Image courtesy of our client - July 2021.