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Options for building in a bushfire area.

For many Australian homeowners, the setting to build their dream home is often within close proximity to the unique Australian bushland. However with this “idyllic” location comes the ever present threat of bushfires. This must be considered when building or renovating!

In response to the tragic Black Saturday fires in Victoria in 2009, Australian Standard 3959 has been updated and the Building Code of Australia referenced the new standard across every state in May 2010. The updated Australian Standard 3959 established updated building and construction requirements for bushfire-zoned areas, covering all aspects of the external built environment, including windows and doors.

So what does the standard encompass and what does it mean for homeowners when designing their homes in terms of specifying their windows and doors?

The old Australian Standard had four levels of bushfire attack however the updated standard now has five levels of severity, expressed as Bushfire Attack Levels or more commonly referred to as ‘BAL’. The purpose of updating AS3959 was to establish a construction technique for buildings that were more likely to withstand the attack of bushfires.

Making sense of BAL

In assessing the likely bushfire threat to a building AS3959 requires a review of the fire danger index, vegetation type, distance of the building from vegetation, and the effective slope under the vegetation. Following this assessment, each elevation of the building is designated a Bushfire Attack Level (BAL) of which there are five:

  • BAL 12.5: Low
  • BAL 19: Moderate
  • BAL 29: High
  • BAL 40: Very high
  • BAL FZ: Flame zone

In terms of windows and doors there are two options within each BAL category, prescriptive based and performance based, to enable a range of alternative solutions to meet the requirements of AS3959.

The prescriptive alternatives that are deemed to satisfy AS3959, involve either the fitting of a metal screen/bushfire shutter, or the construction of a window or door system to defined construction methods for the frame, glass and hardware.

The performance based alternative requires certification and uses AS1530 Tests on elements of construction for buildings exposed to simulated bushfire attack, to define the performance requirements for window and door systems.

A window or door system tested and certified under AS1530 may be used in any BAL category up to the approved category, up to a maximum height of 3000mm and an indefinite length as long as individual lites do not have a glass area larger than 2.4m2.

Jeld-Wen DoorsTo assist homeowners and builders, the JELD-WEN Australia brands of Airlite, Corinthian and Stegbar have developed an extensively tested range of windows and doors that meet BAL 40 certification.

How do you know if your home is in a bushfire zone?

To determine a home’s BAL rating and any special requirements for building in a particular area, builders and homeowners must consult their local council, government or local fire authority in their state.

For homeowners needing to build a house rated BAL 29 or higher there will be additional costs involved in construction. Many homeowners only become aware of this additional cost at the planning stage and are surprised to find how it might affect their building or renovating budget.

Fortunately there are a number of helpful websites available to assist homeowners with their planning and ultimately the right selection of product so their house meets the code requirements.

JELD-WEN Australia and BAL 40 - window and door options

To assist homeowners and builders, the JELD-WEN Australia brands of Airlite, Corinthian and Stegbar have developed an extensively tested range of windows and doors that meet BAL 40 certification. Each brand’s BAL 40 range encompasses innovative design with stringent construction and quality components and materials, all complying with AS3959 and AS1530.8.1 specifications and independently tested by the CSIRO.

The Stegbar and Airlite premium BAL 40 ranges feature cedar, aluminium and merbau windows and doors, giving homeowners peace of mind against the threat of bushfires and eliminating the need for bulky shutters, fire curtains or screens on fixed glazing.

The Corinthian range of Entrance Doors includes 15 beautifully crafted doors that can be painted or stained, a choice of four different door handle options and either a hardwood or Enviro-Seal™ sill. The Entrance Door System includes a door with an innovative fire retardant core, hardwood frame, a specialised glazing and beading system and unique sealing between the door and the frame.

Once you have your BAL rating, you can trust the JELD-WEN brands to ensure your first choice in windows and doors will come without compromise. The JELD-WEN brands have a reputation with homeowners, renovators, architects and builders as being synonymous with innovation, quality and service.

BUSHFIRE ATTACK LEVEL (BAL)

Description of predicted bushfire attack, levels of exposure and risk

  • BAL LOW: Risk = Very Low
    There is insufficient risk to warrant specific construction requirements but there is still some risk.
  • BAL 12.5: Risk = Low
    There is a risk of ember attack. The construction elements are expected to be exposed to a heat flux not greater than 12.5kW/m2
  • BAL 19: Risk = Moderate
    There is a risk of ember attack and burning debris ignited by wind borne embers and a likelihood of exposure to radiant heat. The construction elements are expected to be exposed to a heat flux not greater than 19kW/m2
  • BAL 29: Risk = High
    There is an increased risk of ember attack and burning debris ignited by wind borne embers and a likelihood of exposure to an increased level of radiant heat. The construction elements are expected to be exposed to a heat flux not greater than 29kW/m2
  • BAL 40: Risk = Very high
    There is a much increased risk of ember attack and burning debris ignited by wind borne embers, a likelihood of exposure to a high level of radiant heat and some likelihood of direct exposure to flames from the fire front. The construction elements are expected to be exposed to a heat flux not greater than 40kW/m2
  • BAL FZ: Risk = Extreme / Flame zone
    There is an extremely high risk of ember attack and burning debris ignited by wind borne embers and a likelihood of exposure to an extreme level of radiant heat and direct exposure to flames from the fire front. The construction elements are expected to be exposed to a heat flux greater than 40kW/m2

For more information visit the Jeld-Wen website at www.jeld-wen.com.au or call the Home Option Gallery on 02 8860 9333.