With the bushfire season starting earlier this year and expected to last longer, builders and homeowners in bushfire zones need to be extra prepared to ensure their buildings can withstand the threat of fire. The Natural Hazard Cooperative Research Centre has predicted an above average fire threat due to high temperatures, heightened wind patterns and exceptionally dry conditions.

Residents and builders in bushfire zones rely on the government’s Bushfire Attack Level (BAL) scale to measure a building’s potential fire risks. There are six levels of BAL rating, ranging from Low (insufficient risk to warrant specific requirements) to FZ (flame zone). The BAL scale also provides the required construction criteria for buildings at each level.

Protecting your building against the threat of bushfire begins with addressing the most vulnerable parts of the structure such as doors, windows, and façade. Increasingly sophisticated fire retardant products are being developed to protect the home and enhance its appearance throughout the year.

Non-combustible cladding with designer looks

There are materials in the market today that allow homeowners in bushfire zones to create their desired look while protecting their property too. James Hardie Australia offers a range of premium fibre cement cladding products in a choice of profiles to suit any home design – these materials are deemed non-combustible.

The iconic Queenslander style is a popular rural look, with an emphasis on natural materials and traditional craftsmanship. James Hardie’s Linea Weatherboard delivers the quintessential deep shadow line aesthetic of timber options traditionally used in Queenslander style – its certified BAL-40 rating provides an innovative upgrade to traditional style.

At the other end of the design spectrum, Matrix panels (BAL-29) create large scale detailing suited to modern minimalist and mixed material looks. Similar to all James Hardie premium fibre cement cladding products, Matrix panels resist flaking, warping and swelling, as well as damage from moisture and termites.

James Hardie’s cladding of 6mm thickness or more is certified for use in bushfire prone areas to help reduce the risk from burning embers, radiant heat and/or flame contact, in line with Australian Standards AS 3959-2009 Construction of Buildings in Bushfire Prone Areas.

For the most extreme FZ Bushfire Attack Level, use James Hardie’s HardieSmart Boundary Wall system in conjunction with fibre cement cladding and weatherboards of more than 6mm thickness.

For more information, please see James Hardie’s technical supplement on ‘Construction of buildings in bushfire prone areas to AS 3959 2009’.

Secure and stylish doors

Doors are an important consideration for bushfire defence. BAL-40 doors are primarily designed to withstand ember attack, flame contact and radiant heat from 29KW/m² through 40KW/m². To ensure full protection, the entire entry door system needs to be specified as part of the build including the door, frame, hinges, seals, handle and lock.

“Homes in bushfire zones need to satisfy radiant heat and flame exposure requirements outlined in the government’s Australian Standard AS1530.8.1-2007. To meet these standards, doors must be installed into frames fitted with fire retardant seals such as Corinthian’s Enviro-seal in order to insulate the entrance from fire. Corinthian’s Enviro-seal frames also provide insulation from wind, noise, water and air around all four sides of the door when closed,” says Amy Ryan, marketing manager, Corinthian Doors.

“It’s important to install doors in a system with the correct seals. This helps to reduce smoke from entering the home and minimises the effect of smoke inhalation.”

Thanks to the development of new products, builders and homeowners can get both safety and aesthetics in a single package. Corinthian’s range of 15 BAL-40 rated door designs offers solid or glazed options, and is available in veneer or primed, ready to be finished to suit any architectural style.

Protected and picturesque windows

Windows represent a critical shield against the primary source of bushfire damage – interior flame ignition. Certified windows act as a barrier, inhibiting flames from entering and reducing the risk of significant property loss. Now, modern materials have improved the function and form of safe windows.

Stegbar’s Cedar collection is Australia’s first certified BAL-40 cedar system. Unlike deem-to-satisfy products, which do not undergo testing but are simply deemed to meet requirements, Stegbar’s BAL-40 windows and doors are independently tested by CSIRO to ensure compliance with AS3959 and AS1530.8.1 criteria.

The Cedar range includes casement, awning, sliding and fixed windows, as well as bi-fold, sliding, stacking and hinged patio doors. Each window or door creates security without the need for bulky shutters. All are built to endure harsh environments, reduce glare and aid in regulating building temperature, with Stegbar’s BAL-40 tested Aluminium and Merbau collections offering the same benefits. The organic look of these materials blends seamlessly with the outback landscape, providing contemporary, unobtrusive and protected living.

“When developing Australia’s first BAL-40 certified Cedar windows and patio doors, we combined innovation and longstanding expertise to provide options that had never before existed,” says Christine Evans, director of marketing at Stegbar. “Beyond a precedent of safety, we are dedicated to upholding Stegbar’s hallmark beauty, and from these standards the Cedar range was created.”

Fire resistant safes

Implementing an emergency action plan and investing in a high-quality, fire-resistant safe to protect your valuables are important steps in your bushfire preparation checklist. Sentry Safe minimises the potential damage that may occur to documents, digital media, records or valuables during a bushfire incident.

Sentry Safe offers a variety of chests from $99.00 that are classified for fire protection for 30 minutes at 843°C, and fire-resistant safes for up to one-hour fire endurance at 927°C. Sentry Safe will keep your possessions protected all year round, safeguarding you against theft, flooding, fire and other potential natural disasters. Sentry Safe’s high security features include locking bolts, pry-resistant doors and concealed hinges.