Australia is known for its dry heat, scorching sun and unparalleled track record for devastating bushfires. Fires caused by electrical faults and kitchen accidents are also quite common in our country and they too threaten devastation to Australian lives and families.
In the month of October 2013 alone, over 100 fires wiped out a total of 118,000 hectares of land and almost 300 homes across the state of NSW. More recently, we saw similar devastation from bushfires along the Victoria’s Great Ocean Road and across various regions in Western Australia.
And while these instances are just part-and-parcel of living in Australia, a lot of the damage caused by these fires to property and buildings could have been avoided had certified fireproof and smoke reducing building products been used when they were constructed, and had best-practice design of buildings in bushfire-prone areas been followed.
One of the major hurdles facing designers of homes in bushfire prone areas is the perception that building to high Bushfire Attack Levels (BAL) is difficult and expensive, another is that our most common and low-cost building materials are not suited for these areas.
The most commonly specified windows in Australia for example are either standard aluminium or timber frames, both of which are highly combustible and encourage flames and smoke to spread at a fast rate in the case of a fire. Glass windows, if not properly treated, can also be a hazard in their own right as sudden rises in temperature can see glass crack, shatter and fracture from the severe stress.
But mandatory design standards for Construction of Buildings in Bushfire-Prone Areas (AS3959) means highly-combustible windows are things of the past and, suitably, we’re now seeing window frame and glazing manufacturers produce new lines of products designed to combat or resist the threat of building fires in line with AS3959. These specialised ranges of window and door systems offer smoke and fire reduction and control and include seals and sealing systems, fire rated frames, doors, windows and glass panels.
Research architect Dr Ian Weir set out to debunk the theory that designing to high levels of bushfire resistance was expensive. His and Kylie Feher Architect’s Karri Fire House in Western Australia achieved a BAL-40 construction, the second highest of the AS3959, for under $2,900 per sqm. Designing to BAL-40 (rather than BAL-29) also meant that less vegetation needed to be cleared around the home which in turn minimises its direct environmental footprint. The architect used toughened glass from Shelley Glass for all glazing as well as ember/radiant heat proof aluminium sliding doors and stainless steel flyscreens from Denmark Windows. Photography by Ian Weir
Other than AS3959, Australia also has product standards for fire reduction and resistant performance. All products claiming to be fire safe and rated to building standards and regulations should state exactly what regulations and requirements they meet, as well as being able to provide technical and specifications to ensure peace of mind and complete confidence in the product selection and suitability of application.
Standards and guides include:
- AS 3959:2009 Construction of Buildings in Bushfire Prone Areas
- AS1530.4 Fire resistance tests of elements of building construction
- AS1530.8.1 Tests on elements of construction for buildings exposed to simulated bushfire attack – Radiant heat and small flaming sources
- AS1530.8.2 Tests on elements of construction for buildings exposed to simulated bushfire attack- Large flaming sources
- AS1851 Maintenance of fire protection systems and equipment
- AS1905.1 Components for the fire protection of openings in fire resistants walls Part 1: Fire Doors
- Bushfire Attack Levels (BAL)
- Building Code of Australia (BCA) Flammability Index, Spread-of Flame Index, Smoke Developed Index
The following are products that provide various levels of fire protection, reduction and control.
Bushfire Sealing Systems by Raven Products
Ember attack is one of the most common ways a building can catch fire during a bushfire with embers collecting in the window frames and doorways making it imperative these elements of the building are up to Australian Standard. To achieve the various BAL’s, appropriate door and window seals in conjunction with an approved system can be used. Raven use BAL icons to highlight what Bushfire Attack Level their products or systems may be suitable for. The new Raven architectural catalogue also details a range of systems that may be used in accordance with AS 3959 to meet these requirements.
BAL-FZ (Bushfire Attack Level Flame Zone) Windows & Doors by Paarhammer Windows & Doors
Paarhammer BAL-FZ are tested and approved to Australian Standards AS3959-2009 and AS1530.8.2. BAL-FZ is the highest rating on the Bushfire Attack Level rating scale. The products in the BAL-FZ range can withstand temperatures of 850° and have less than half the heat transfer of the 15kwh allowance and windows are double glazed for the highest energy efficiency. Products in the range include: tilt and turn windows, French doors, fixed glass units and sliding doors. These bushfire safe windows and doors offer peace of mind without the need for shutters.
Windows and Doors by Technical Protection Systems Pty Ltd
Especially designed systems from TPS are designed to be fire resistant and approved to AS1530.4. The range includes Insulated glass and fire doors and windows, non-insulated fire doors and windows, timber glass fire doors and fire windows, bushfire windows and doors. Insulated glass doors and windows provide protection for properties, lives and fire fighters and restrict the flames, smoke and heat. The non-insulated windows and doors are suitable for stopping the spread of fire from flame movement.
Visioneering Glazing by Smoke Control
Visioneering Glazing from Smoke Control is virtually maintenance free and all the products in the range are certified to various Australian Standards. Their range is finds harmony within performance and price as well as being produced by a designer, fire engineer and technical representatives to ensure the highest quality products are produced. Available in varying frameless systems, the clear break resistant glass is a Class A in safety. Smoke Control offer a range of decorative glass finishes available along with their fire integrity’s ranging from 30-120, they also offer excellent radiation shielding properties and smoke containment.
uPVC Windows by Mint Window and Door Solutions
The windows and doors offered from Mint Window and Door solutions have thermal efficiency insulation as well as fire safety. Fire tests show that uPVC materials are flame retardant through their product life. The profiles do not support combustion and are actually self-extinguishing. In addition to this, they are also weather resistant to extreme temperatures and severe weather conditions and will not be affected.
Batwing Smoke Systems by Lorient Pty Ltd
Lorient has an International reputation for designing and manufacturing a wide range of innovative door sealing solutions for the containment of fire, smoke, sound and energy. The Lorient Batwing seal is primarily designed to contain and restrict the spread of medium temperature smoke around the perimeter of door assemblies. Lorient also produce a complete range of fire rated door sealing solutions that ensure buildings comply with current fire safety regulations.