WA’s building regulator is working closely with industry to improve understanding of bushfire building requirements after an inspection report highlighted some areas that were unsatisfactory.
Most new residential buildings constructed in WA’s designated bushfire-prone areas need to include specific bushfire-resistant construction that meets Building Code of Australia (BCA) requirements. The type of construction usually depends on the building’s bushfire attack level (BAL) rating.
Building and Energy’s General Inspection Report Three – Bush fire building requirements in Western Australia evaluated work carried out by building surveyors, bushfire consultants and builders at 54 new homes in bushfire-prone areas across 14 WA local governments during 2017 and 2018. The sample group included a wide range of building types and BAL ratings.
The inspections followed bushfire building and planning reforms introduced in WA in December 2015, after recommendations from an inquiry into the February 2011 Perth Hills bushfire.
“We wanted a snapshot of how the WA building industry was responding to the bushfire reforms by checking whether approval documentation – and the constructed dwelling itself – adequately demonstrated compliance with the BCA bushfire building requirements,” Building and Energy Executive Director Saj Abdoolakhan said.
“Allowing for a relatively small sample size, the report concluded that industry was responding well to the requirements, but some improvements were necessary to increase confidence in compliance.
“While much of the work was satisfactory, it was disappointing that none of the dwellings had a complete set of plans or specifications that fully addressed all the relevant inspection points to show how the building complied with the BCA bushfire requirements.”
The inspections found:
- Many plans and specifications had insufficient information about how the building met the BCA bushfire requirements.
- Some BAL assessments did not accurately reflect the bushfire risk identified on site.
- Although all building surveyors completed bushfire statements on their certificates of design compliance, some did not provide detail on the use of alternative methods – known as performance solutions – to achieve BCA compliance.
- Builders generally complied with the BCA bushfire requirements but some materials and methods of construction needed improvement, such as use of timber with inadequate fire resistance, plastic window components rather than metal fittings and excessive gaps around garage doors.
While Building and Energy’s main aim was to monitor implementation of the bushfire requirements and identify areas for targeted education or training, the regulator also took action on unsatisfactory work by direct liaison with the builder or referral to the relevant local government permit authority.
“If people have concerns about whether the bushfire building requirements have been applied to their homes, I encourage them to contact their builder to discuss this,” Mr Abdoolakhan said.
“Building and Energy is continuing to monitor compliance with the bushfire building requirements through its regular inspections and audits.”
Following the inspections, Building and Energy liaised closely with industry to reinforce the requirements for bushfire-resistant construction through stakeholder meetings, metropolitan and regional roadshows, presentations to building companies, advice to garage door installers and bulletins (Indicative BAL ratings in bushfire risk assessments and Bushfire construction details for housing) to a database of more than 10,000 building industry participants and stakeholders.
“Industry has responded well to our proactive work to clarify and refresh their knowledge in this area,” Mr Abdoolakhan said.
“Bushfire-resistant construction can save lives and property when every second counts, so it’s vital that the bushfire building requirements are understood and implemented.”
Improving the quality of plans and specifications was a key part of options presented in a recent Building and Energy public consultation on residential building approval processes.
Building and Energy is also working closely with the Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage and the Department of Fire and Emergency Services to improve the State Government’s bushfire policy framework in response to the Bushfire Framework Review 2019.
- General Inspection Report Three – Bush fire building requirements in Western Australia is available at the Building and Energy website (dmirs.wa.gov.au), along with information on building in bushfire-prone areas.
- WA’s Map of Bush Fire Prone Areas can be found at the Department of Fire and Emergency Services website (dfes.wa.gov.au).