Lifestyle Bushfire-proofing expensive but could save lives

Bushfire-proofing expensive but could save lives

Most houses in bushfire zones don’t meet current building standards but costly retrofitting would save lives and property, researchers have found.

An interdisciplinary team of bushfire experts from University of Wollongong and the University of Melbourne looked at properties in two areas of the NSW Central Coast –Toukley/Noraville and Durren Durren.

They assessed the cost of retrofitting them, and to survey the owners’ perceptions of risk and responsibility.

They found that most properties in high-risk areas don’t meet current building standards for new homes in bushfire zones.

But, with the average cost of retrofitting a house almost $25,000 and with estimates ranging from $8,500 to $47,000 for individual houses, the amounts were much higher than homeowners’ felt they could afford.

Professor Ross Bradstock, Director of UOW’s Centre for Environmental Risk Management of Bushfires, said housing in the two areas was broadly typical of the residential developments in south-east Australia most at risk from bushfires, the majority of which pre-date current constructions standards for high bushfire risk homes.

“There’s a lot of property in NSW and elsewhere that would be similar to that surveyed in this study, developments built from the 1960s through to the ’90s,” he said.

“In the Sydney region, there are well over 500,000 houses on the front line in terms of exposures to bushfires. And an awful lot of that would be very similar to this sort of stuff.”

Professor Bradstock said there were also less expensive things homeowners could do that were often overlooked.

“There’s basic things like having a bushfire survival plan, which this study found many people don’t have; tidying up leaves, grass and other vegetation around properties; storing gas bottles away from the house,” he said.

“They’re all relatively inexpensive things homeowners can do and typically you find that not all those boxes are ticked.”

The researchers also found noteworthy differences in homeowners’ perceptions of bushfire risk and responsibility between the two areas studied.

Residents in semi-rural Durren Durren, where block sizes range from two to four hectares, were more aware of the risks and accepted more responsibility for preparing their properties for bushfire.

Those in Toukley/Noraville, where suburban blocks of around 500-800m2 back onto bushland, felt the local council had a greater responsibility to mitigate against bushfires.

Professor Bradstock said the study raised the question of whether there was a role for Government to help with the cost of retrofitting.

“One of the key things that comes out of this study, given the sort of expenditure that would be required, is what might be the best investment strategy in terms of bushfire risk mitigation, and whether it might it be worth it for local and state government to think about helping people out in some way.”

Read more about the study’s findings here. Story credit: University of Wollongong newsroom.

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