Designated bush fire prone areas – Frequently asked questions

The following frequently asked questions (FAQs) are provided to assist industry and homeowners to understand the bush fire requirements under the building legislation, including the Building Code of Australia (BCA) bush fire requirements, and to assist those who wish to upgrade their existing homes for better protection from bush fires.

What are the bush fire building laws? 

The Building Act 2011 and Building Regulations 2012 adopt the BCA as the primary applicable building standard for all new buildings and incidental structures in Western Australia. The BCA also applies for new building work to existing buildings.  The BCA sets out the minimum technical requirements for design and construction and includes specific bush fire requirements for certain residential buildings in bush fire prone areas.

Building work also includes the installation of roof-mounted evaporative coolers on residential buildings located in designated bush fire prone areas (see question 26 for further information).

How do the bush fire building laws affect me?

If you are planning to undertake building work in a designated bush fire prone area, for example constructing a new dwelling or an extension to an existing building, then you may be required to comply with the bush fire construction requirements of the BCA.

Building work also includes the installation of roof-mounted evaporative coolers on residential buildings located in designated bush fire prone areas. (See question 26 for further information.)

What are the bush fire planning requirements? 

The Department of Planning has bush fire planning requirements for development in bush fire prone areas.  These initiatives address more clearly the land use planning elements from the Keelty Report into the Perth Hills bush fire of 2011 by:

  • elevating bush fire issues to the highest level of planning policy;
  • emphasising the need to consider bush fire management measures in strategic-level policy document, including regional and local planning schemes, sub-regional and local planning strategies and structure plans, as well as during statutory planning processes for subdivision and development applications; and
  • seeking the consistent implementation of bush fire management measures across the community.

The bush fire planning measures include:

  • State Planning Policy 3.7: Planning in Bushfire Prone Areas;
  • Guidelines for Planning for Bushfire Prone Areas; and
  • Bush fire planning regulations in the Planning and Development (Local Planning Scheme) Regulations 2015.

Further information about the bush fire planning requirement can be found on the Department of Planning website.

What types of buildings need to comply? 

The BCA bush fire construction requirements apply to the following classes of residential buildings located in designated bush fire prone areas:
Class 1a — A single dwelling being a detached house, or row houses, duplexes, town houses, terrace houses or villa units where attached dwellings are separated by a fire resisting wall.
Class 1b — Includes the following:

  • boarding houses, guest houses, hostels or the like in which not more than 12 people would ordinarily be resident and with a total area of all floors not exceeding 300m²; or
  • four or more single dwellings located on one allotment and used for short term holiday accommodation.

Class 2 — Dwellings, such as apartments and flats in a building containing two or more units.
Class 3 — A residential building which is a common place of long term or transient living for a number of unrelated persons, including:

  • a boarding or lodging house, guest house, hostel, or backpackers accommodation; 
  • a residential part of a hotel or motel; 
  • a residential part of a school;
  • accommodation for the aged, children or people with disabilities;
  • a residential part of a health-care building which accommodates members of staff; or
  • a residential part of a detention centre.

Class 10a buildings and decks associated with Class 1a, Class 1b, Class 2 or Class 3 buildings. Class 10a buildings include non-habitable buildings such as garages, carport, shed, or the like.

How do I know if I am in a bush fire prone area? 

The Map of Bush Fire Prone Areas (the Map) identifies land that has been designated as a bush fire prone area by the Fire and Emergency Services (FES) Commissioner. You can view the Map on the Department of Fire and Emergency Services website www.dfes.wa.gov.au/bushfireproneareas 

Is there a transition period?

Under the Building Regulations 2012 there is a four-month transition period before the bush fire construction requirements of the BCA are triggered for certain residential buildings in new designated bush fire prone areas.  This four-month transition period starts from the date that an order designating a new area as bush fire prone by the FES Commissioner comes into operation.

For example, if the land was first designated on 8 December 2015, then compliance with the bush fire construction requirements was required on and from the 8 April 2016.

Once the four-month transition period ends, applications for building approval for certain residential buildings in those areas, will need to address compliance with the bush fire construction requirements of the BCA.

Please see Industry Bulletin 58 - Building Amendment Regulations (No. 3) 2015 and Industry Bulletin 59 - Launch of designated bush fire prone area reforms for further information.

Is there a transition period for alterations and additions? 

A two year transition period has been provided for certain alterations and extensions. The transition period is until 1 May 2018. 
During this transition period a renovation, alteration, extension, improvement or repair does not need to comply with the bush fire performance requirements of the BCA if 

  • the estimated value of the building work is less than $20,000; or
  • it does not increase the risk of ignition from bushfire attack for the existing building.

(Please note: No retrospective upgrade of existing homes is being considered at this time) 

The transition does not apply:

  • if the existing building was required to comply with BCA bush fire construction requirements;
  • to the installation of a roof mounted evaporative air conditioner;
  • to a new stand-alone building, for example an outbuilding, garden shed or separate ancillary accommodation; or
  • to the relocation of an existing building.

Further information
If you are not sure if your building work needs to comply with the BCA bushfire construction requirements, you should discuss the project with either the relevant permit authority or a private building surveyor.

What are the compliance options under the BCA?

Compliance with bush fire BCA Performance Requirements G5.1 (in BCA Volume One) and P2.3.4 (in BCA Volume 2) for certain residential buildings in designated bush fire prone areas can be demonstrated by:

  • Prescriptive Solutions (also known as Deemed-to-Satisfy Solutions);
  • Performance Solutions (also known as Alternative Solutions); or 
  • a combination of both Prescriptive and Performance Solutions.

For Class 1a or Class 1b buildings and associated Class 10a buildings or decks, Prescriptive Solutions include compliance with:

  • Australian Standard AS 3959 – Construction of buildings in bushfire-prone areas (2009, incorporating Amendment Nos 1, 2, and 3); or
  • National Association of Steel Housing (NASH) Standard – Steel Framed Construction in Bushfire Areas (2014, incorporating Amendment A). 

For Class 2 or Class 3 buildings and associated Class 10a buildings or decks, the Prescriptive Solution is compliance with:

  • Australian Standard AS 3959 – Construction of buildings in bushfire-prone areas (2009, incorporating Amendment Nos 1, 2, and 3). 

How can I access the Australian Standard AS 3959 – Construction of buildings in bush fire prone areas?

To assist the community with the implementation of the bush fire reforms and to improve access to the Standard, the Building Commission provided a one-off, hard copy version of AS 3959 – Construction of buildings in bush fire prone areas (2009) to each local government in Western Australia. Local governments have been asked to make the document available to view, free of charge, at their office or local library.

Alternatively, AS 3959 may be purchased from SAI Global.
Phone (from Australia): 132 242
Phone (from overseas): +61 2 8206 6010
Email: sales@saiglobal.com

What are the AS3959 construction requirements?

The BCA has adopted Australian Standards AS3959 – Construction of buildings in bushfire prone areas, as one way of meeting the bush fire Performance Requirements of the BCA, for the undertaking of building works in designated bush fire prone areas. 

AS 3959 contains two methods for determining the potential intensity of bush fire attack on a building, also known as a Bushfire Attack Levels (BAL). These methods are Method 1 (simplified) BAL assessment and Method

The BAL for the specific building will determine the level of bush fire resistant construction that the building must include.  There are six BAL ratings with corresponding construction requirements:

  • BAL - LOW   (Information available in AS3959 Section 4)
  • BAL - 12.5    (Detailed construction information available in AS3959 Section 3 and 5 )
  • BAL - 19       (Detailed construction information available in AS3959 Section 3 and 6)
  • BAL - 29       (Detailed construction information available in AS3959 Section 3 and 7)
  • BAL - 40       (Detailed construction information available in AS3959 Section 3 and 8)
  • BAL - FZ       (Detailed construction information available in AS3959 Section section 3 and 9)

The standard considers such elements as: 

  • General matters
  • Construction requirements for specific structures
  • External moldings
  • Higher levels of construction
  • Reduction in construction requirements due to shielding
  • Vents weepholes and gaps
  • Bushfire shutters
  • Testing to AS1530.8.1
  • Glazing
  • Sarking
  • Timber log walls
  • Subfloor supports
  • Floors
  • External walls
  • External glazed elements and assemblies and external doors 
  • Roofs, including verandah and attached carport roofs, penetrations, roof lights, eaves, fascia’s, gables, gutters and downpipes 
  • Verandahs, decks, steps, ramps and landings 
  • Roof mounted evaporative coolers
  • Water and gas supply pipes
  • Flame Zone testing to AS1530.8.2

Any associated structures such as garages, carports, decks or verandas that are attached or adjacent to a building required to comply with the standard also need to comply. This could mean that the structure will need to meet the same construction requirements as the house, or be adequately separated from the house either by the nature of its construction or by its distance from the house.

While AS 3959 improves the performance of buildings subject to bushfire attack, there is no guarantee however, that a building will survive a bushfire on every occasion. This is due to the unpredictable behaviour of fire and extreme weather.

What is the BAL Assessor accreditation?

A framework for the accreditation and training of Bushfire Attack Level (BAL) Assessors and bush fire planning consultants has been developed by the State Government.  The framework provides guidance for organisations that are seeking to become accrediting bodies and provide accreditation schemes forbush fire planning consultants in Western Australia. 

To find out more about the accreditation framework, including accrediting organisations recognised by the State Government, and details of training courses, please visit the Department of Planning website.

What are the bushfire attack levels?

Australian Standard AS 3959 - Construction of buildings in bushfire-prone areas (2009, incorporating Amendment Nos 1, 2 and 3)  requires  the building to be assessed to determine the “Bushfire Attack Level” (BAL). The standard defines (BAL) as: 

  • A means of measuring the severity of a building’s potential exposure to ember attack, radiant heat and direct flame contact, using increments of radiant heat expressed in kilowatts per metre squared, and the basis for establishing the requirements for construction to improve protection of building elements from attack by bushfire. 

The determination of a  BAL in accordance with AS 3959 f is a site specific assessment that takes into consideration a number of factors, including the slope of the land, types of surrounding vegetation and its proximity to any other buildings or structures on the site. The assessment will assigned one of the BALs in the table below. This assigned BAL will determine the specific construction requirements for the building.

Bushfire attack level

Description of risk and levels of exposure

BAL – LOW

There is insufficient risk to warrant specific construction requirements.

BAL – 12.5

Risk of radiant heat is considered low. Primarily risk of ember attack.

BAL – 19

Risk is considered moderate. Increasing levels of ember attack and burning debris ignited by windborne embers together with increasing heat flux between 12.5 and 19 kW m2.

BAL – 29

Risk is considered high. Increasing levels of ember attack and burning debris ignited by windborne embers together with increasing heat flux between 19 and 29 kW m2.

BAL – 40

Risk is considered very high. Increasing levels of ember attack and burning debris ignited by windborne embers together with increasing heat flux with the increased likelihood of exposure to flames.

BAL – FZ

Risk is considered extreme. Direct exposure to flames from fire front in addition to heat flux and ember attack.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am building a new house in a bush fire prone area, what approvals do I need?

Before you start designing your home, you should contact your local government to determine what approvals may be needed for your property. There may be two parts to approval –

  • Planning approval 
    Planning approval may be for the design and location of buildings or structures within bush fire prone areas. Your local government can provide information about any planning approvals your design may require, or alternatively you may wish to visit the Department of Planning’s website.
  • Building approval 
    Before you can start building work, your building will need to be assessed by a qualified building surveyor to ensure compliance with the BCA, including any specific bush fire construction requirements that may be applicable to your building. You will need to provide the building surveyor with detailed plans and specifications of your proposed building work.

Once your design demonstrates compliance with the applicable planning and building requirements, you can apply to your local government for approval to build.

What is considered in assessing a property's bush fire risk?

The BCA requires an assessment of the potential intensity of bush fire attack for certain classes of residential buildings located in designated bush fire prone areas. Australian Standard AS3959 - Construction of buildings in bushfire-prone areas (2009, incorporating Amendment Nos 1, 2, and 3) provides methods for measuring the severity of the building’s potential exposure to ember attack, radiant heat and direct flame contact. 

The determination of a building’s Bush fire Attack Level (BAL) is a site specific assessment that takes into consideration a number of factors including the slope of the land, the types of surrounding vegetation and the distance of the building to that vegetation. At the end of the assessment the building will be assigned one of six BALs. The assigned BAL determines the level of bush fire resistant construction required for the building.

The BALs are as follows:

  • BAL-LOW - very low risk (bushfire resistant construction is not required)
  • BAL-12.5 - low risk
  • BAL-19 - moderate risk
  • BAL-29 - high risk
  • BAL-40 - very high risk
  • BAL-FZ - extreme risk (Flame Zone)

Who can I contact about bush fire construction requirements for my building? 

In the first instance queries about the application of the BCA bush fire construction requirements should be referred to the building surveyor who will be signing, or has signed, the relevant Certificate of Design Compliance for the building.

For uncertified building permit applications, this may be the building surveyor at the permit authority. For certified building permit applications this may be either the building surveyor at the permit authority (if the permit authority provides that service) or a building surveying contractor (private building surveyor).

How do I find a building surveyor? 

Your local government will have building surveyors or access to building surveyors; alternatively, you can engage the services of a building surveying contractor (also known as a private building surveyor). The Building Commission’s website provides a list of registered building surveying contractors

How do I find a bush fire risk assessor?

The Fire Protection Association Australia has been recognised by the State Government as an accrediting body for Level 1 Bushfire Attack Level (BAL) Assessors, and Level 2 and Level 3 Bushfire Planning Practitioners.  The FPAA provides a list of accredited practitioners for Western Australia on its website at www.fpaa.com.au/bpad.aspx

Who determines if my proposed building complies with the BCA bush fire requirements? 

As part of the building approval process, a registered independent building surveyor is required to sign a Certificate of Design Compliance (BA 3 Form) stating that if the building is completed in accordance with the plans and specifications it will comply with the applicable building standards, being the BCA.

This will include checking compliance with the BCA bushfire construction requirements for Class 1a, Class 1b, Class 2 or Class 3 buildings and associated Class 10a buildings or decks located in designated bush fire prone areas.

Who is responsible for ensuring the completed building complies? 

Generally, the person who is named as builder on the building permit is responsible for ensuring that:

  • the building or incidental structure to which the permit applies is completed in accordance with the plans and specifications that are specified in the applicable Certificate of Design Compliance; 
  • the building work otherwise complies with the building permit including each condition that applies to the permit; and
  • on completion of the building or incidental structure to which the building permit applies, that the building or incidental structure complies with each applicable building standard (being the BCA).

For building work that can lawfully be done without a building permit then the owner is responsible for ensuring that on completion of the building or incidental structure, that the building or incidental structure complies with each applicable building standard (being the BCA). The local government and/or permit authority has powers to enforce these requirements.

What do I need to do to upgrade or rebuild following a bush fire event?

There may be some instances where an area has been designated as bush fire prone after your original home was built. So if you intend to rebuild or upgrade your home, then the new work may need to comply with the bush fire requirements of the current BCA. Even if your building work is not in a designated bushfire prone area, you should make every attempt to increase the resistance of your home to bush fires by constructing to the same requirements. A building surveyor will be able to advise you of any bush fire  requirements that may apply if you are looking ot upgrade, repair or or rebuild your home after it has been damaged or destroyed by a bushfire. 

The process for approval to upgrade, repair or rebuild will be similar to applying for building approval for a new house. After a bush fire event, many local governments will have procedures in place to ensure that applications are quickly dealt with to ensure a smooth and speedy transition of your application. 

Contact your local government to find out what planning and building approvals you may require.

Do the new laws mean I have to upgrade my existing house?

Building standards and regulations are generally not retrospective. 

If you purchase or already own an existing house in an area that has been designated a bush fire prone area after the house was constructed, there may not be a regulatory requirement to upgrade to the new standards. 

However, if you are thinking about extending or carrying out extensive renovations to the existing house, you should seek advice from your local government, qualified building surveyor or other appropriately qualified practitioner, as to whether any of the existing house needs to be upgraded and what design features would improve the building’s performance when subjected to bush fire attack.

How can I retrofit my existing home? 

Refer to the Building Commission’s free publication Building in designated bush fire-prone areas - a home owner’s guide.    

What are the requirements for roof-mounted evaporative air-conditioning?

The installation of a roof-mounted evaporative cooler in a designated bush fire prone area is captured under the State’s building laws and must therefore comply with the performance requirements of the BCA.  This generally requires compliance with AS 3959 - Construction of buildings in bushfire-prone areas (2009, incorporating Amendment Nos 1, 2 and 3).

Proposed roof-mounted evaporative coolers should be discussed in detail with the building surveyor and builder at the outset of planning for the project. Or if the work is exempt from a building permit, you need to discuss with the retailer or manufacturer for the details of achieving compliance with AS 3959-2009. 

If you are considering installing a roof-mounted evaporative cooler in a designated bush fire prone area you need to have your property assessed for its level of bush fire risk as this will determine the appropriate level of protection that your evaporative cooler will require.  See question above 'Who determines if my proposed building complies with the BCA bush fire requirements?'.

For full requirements refer to the Building Commissions publication Roof-mounted evaporative coolers.

How do I achieve compliance with skylights?

Proposed skylights should be discussed in detail with the building surveyor and builder at the outset of planning for the project, or if the work is exempt from a building permit, you need to discuss with the retailer or manufacturer for details of how to achieve compliance with the bush fire construction requirements of the BCA.

Can I have timber decking, stairs, windows, screens or the like? 

Proposed timber decking stairs and the like should be discussed in detail with the building surveyor and builder at the outset of planning for the project. or if the work is exempt from a building permit, you need to discuss with the retailer or manufacturer for the details of achieving compliance with AS 3959-2009.

Proposed timber windows, screens or the like should be discussed in detail with the building surveyor and builder at the outset of planning for the project or if the work is exempt from a building permit, you need to discuss with the retailer or manufacturer for the details of achieving compliance with AS 3959-2009.

What do I need to do about garages, carports, verandas or similar structures?

See Section 3 of AS 3959.
 
Proposed garages, carports, verandas or similar structures should be discussed in detail with the building surveyor and builder at the outset of planning for the project, or if the work is exempt from a building permit, you need to discuss with the retailer or manufacturer for the details of achieving compliance with AS 3959-2009.

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