Australian home designs that aim to protect from bushfire and flood damage

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Bushfires, floods and storms

According to Productivity Commission research, 97 per cent of disaster funding is spent on recovery actions and only 3 per cent on mitigation or resilience measures, although this involves more than housing.

The Fortis project is offering free architectural drawings and specifications. Bushfire Building Council chief executive Kate Cotter said experts in fires, cyclones and floods collaborated on the designs.

Another Fortis design.

“The real trick has been looking for that common pathway” in disaster designs, Ms Cotter told The Australian Financial Review.

“The recovering communities that we worked with to come up with this design had the bushfires from Black Summer, then they had floods, then they had storms.”

Ms Cotter said common design elements sometimes did not exist – for instance, cavities in walls were bad for floods because water would seep behind frames and potentially grow mould. But wall cavities were not a problem in bushfires as long as insulation inside was non-combustible.

A workaround solution was having no walls with cavities on lower levels, and only allowing such walls with insulation on higher habitable levels.

Windows were another issue. “Decks are really vulnerable in bushfires and anything glazed is really vulnerable in all the hazards. So we’ve set those [glazed windows and doors] right back and they’re just protected by those screens which are at the edge of the deck,” she said.

The screens are Crimsafe-style mesh and the setback of glazed areas means the heat is not directly on the windows, she said. Walls could be made of non-combustible masonry such as bricks or steel cladding.

It raises the issue of pricing and customer willingness to spend money. A Suncorp survey last year found eight in 10 homeowners show “little interest in spending to make their home more resilient to natural disasters” – with 62 per cent opting for interior renovations such as kitchens over disaster resilience measures.

Ms Cotter said for these latest designs, some materials such as bricks could be relatively cheap and pointed out timber prices were rising.

The decking size reduces the interior footprint. Ms Cotter said that during consultation, people had cited a desire for a mix of indoor and outdoor living, and designs were made to let natural light in.

Fast recovery

Builders and creators of prefabricated homes were consulted to eliminate the risk of unexpected hurdles appearing, she said. By having prefabricated options available, Ms Cotter argued recovery time fell to potentially 12 weeks if people chose such a house.

One issue in past disasters is that rebuilding was “just taking too long”, she said, with no builders or designers available because they were rebuilding “thousands of houses”.

“We want to lift the quality and resilience everywhere so we’re not having to scramble after a disaster, and to reduce everyone’s cost as well – just make these homes last a long time no matter what the weather and disasters are doing, give insurers something to base some better pricing on.”

IAG said the project would potentially help reduce risk, but it was too early to provide any guidance on premium reductions. “We are looking at how we can expand natural disaster mitigation initiatives into our future pricing,” IAG said.