A two year old house constructed with vinyl weatherboard, vinyl windows, fascia boards, vinyl fencing and made with wood-plastic composite (WPC) decking at the front and back, survived the Black Saturday fires which devastated Marysville, Victoria on February 2009. Sitting on a cleared, sloping block, the house was left unscathed while many neighbouring properties were lost.
Local builder, Rowan Steele, Ro-N-Co Construction, spent considerable time researching building materials for fire performance, low maintenance and energy efficiency. He was impressed with the performance of the vinyl products and how they withstood the extreme conditions of the Black Saturday fires.
According to Rowan, a fire-ball passed across the block along the right-hand side of the undefended house closest to the vegetation, dissolving several layers of paint on the timber posts of the rear deck. The ModWood WPC decking at the front and back remained undamaged with only minor scorch marks from embers and a door mat, which burned briefly before being extinguished by a neighbour. The ModWood WPC decking was supplied by Vinyl Council of Australia .
The vinyl weatherboards and window frames escaped significant damage and protected the house from ember attack to the interior. Rowan constructed the house a respectable distance from vegetation and chose fire-retardant materials, including vinyl. He incorporated several energy efficiency principles such as good insulation and kept the house airtight by using double-glazed windows.
According to Rowan, vinyl is fast to put up and the upkeep is easy. It is also suitable to insulate and maintain the heat both inside and outside and does not require any paint. ModWood WPC products that are made from recycled wood and plastic require low, ongoing maintenance as a decking material.
As a consequence of the fires in Victoria, Standards Australia recently fast-tracked a revision to the national standard for construction in bushfire prone areas. AS 3959-2009 is aimed at improving the assessment of bushfire risk and construction of new houses. It assesses properties on a scale of one to six according to their level of bushfire risk. Certain vinyl products are allowed for construction within the new Standard, including steel-reinforced vinyl windows up to specified radiant heat risk levels.
A combination of factors saved the vinyl weatherboard house. Good planning prior to construction, distance from trees, vinyl weatherboards and double-glazed window frames with no air gaps, vinyl handrails, vinyl eves sheeting and the consistent use of fire retardant materials such as vinyl products both inside and outside.