This tutorial will help you identify the best location to site your new home (or other fixed structure).
Siting (the process of positioning your home on your property) and site layout (the positioning of features around the main building) are two of the most effective ways to reduce your exposure to bushfire attack. Ideally, buildings should be located away from steep vegetated slopes, the tops of narrow ridges, and next to Classified vegetation. It is also best to site buildings close to public roads and large open spaces – that are either clear or contain a low amount of vegetation.
We recommend following the step-by-step tutorial below. This tutorial will assist you in siting your home, as well as any sheds, outbuildings, accessways and parking spaces on your lot or property. To assist in this approach, it is recommended you print out a scale map of your property as well as scaled cut-outs of individual footprints (of other buildings and objects) you would like to site on your property.
Siting for bushfire protection is important, but don’t forget that your home needs to be a functional, liveable space. When siting your house, consider how the position of the building will affect the overall aesthetics of the property. Think about how you can incorporate the following bushfire resilient design principles with the intended look, feel and function of your home and its surrounding landscape.
- Step 1 - List your requirements
Write down each element that you need to site.
- List each object that you need to site. In addition to the house, this might include sheds, parking spaces, a swimming pool, fixed play equipment, gazebos, and carports.
- For each object, write down its approximate size and shape. This might be easiest as a drawing of the object’s footprint. This doesn’t have to be exact, but it should give you an idea of the object’s relative size and shape.
- Step 2 - Site your building
Use the hazard map (which you developed in the guided Hazard assessment) to identify the hazards around your property and other important details, such as nearby roads, access ways, neighbouring buildings, and any existing structures on your property.
- Site to improve access to your home. Access is taken to mean any movement onto or off the property by yourself, other occupants, or emergency responders. In practical terms, accessways include any roads, driveways, walkways, and traversable open spaces onto, through or adjacent to the property. Make sure to consider the level of exposure to each access route and then adjust the siting of the house and the layout of the accessways to avoid exposure to vegetation and other combustible objects. Access should not pass close to other identified hazards. More information can be found here.
- Site to avoid tree strike. Position the house away from existing trees. This includes small trees that may create a hazard when grown to maturity. Falling trees can damage buildings and trap occupants during a bushfire. The siting of your house or building can readily address this hazard. Trees should be located at least 1.5 times their mature height away from buildings and other vulnerable elements (including access roads, escape routes, and defendable spaces). More information can be found in Siting for vegetation hazards and Siting for other hazards.
- Site to avoid hazardous vegetation. Position the house away from Classified vegetation to avoid flame contact and to reduce ember attack and exposure to radiant heat. Try to maximise the distance from the vegetation. Use your BAL assessment to determine the distance required so that your house will be further than BAL 29 (or above) from the classified vegetation.
- Site to avoid wind attack. Position the house to minimise exposure to high wind loads and wind-driven debris. Landforms, hedges, and trees can be used to screen the house from the strong winds that accompany a bushfire. Take advantage of any existing features to reduce your exposure. If possible, use the existing terrain and any existing artificial features (such as non-combustible fences, retaining walls, and low flammability vegetation) to screen the home. By the same token, avoid ridge lines and areas that are naturally prone to strong winds. There are moderate-cost implications involved to design and build your house to address the exposure from wind attack, but it often possible to address these risks through siting.
- Site your home away from buildings and other fixed structures. Position the house away from neighbouring buildings and other fixed structures. Neighbouring homes and structures can spread fire, debris, and dangerous levels of heat to your property (and vice versa). If possible, aim for a separation distance of 12 meters (or more) between the house and any adjacent structures.
- Site your home away from parking spaces. Flame and heat from burning vehicles can cause damage to your house and potentially spread fire to other parts of the property. Fortunately, this risk can be ‘designed out’ by appropriate sitting of the house or building. Position the house away from parking spaces, roadside vehicle parking, and other typical locations where combustible movable objects will be parked or stored.
- Step 3 - Complete your site layout
After siting the house, position any other elements in a way which limits their exposure to bushfire hazards.
- Position any other fixed structures. Ideally, you should provide a separation distance of at least 12 meters between the new structure and vulnerable elements of the house. Vulnerable elements include windows, vents, doorways, and combustible eaves, framing, decking and cladding. You will need to take into account additional heat exposure from adjacent buildings that are closer than 12 meters to the house. The cost for additional construction principles to be incorporated to the house to avoid heat exposure increases the closer the other buildings are to the house. The highest costs will occur if they are closer than 6 meters and will reduce significantly if they are 10-12 meters.
- Position parking areas. After siting the house and other fixed structures, position parking areas (including car parking, boat parking, and caravan parking) in a way which limits their exposure to hazards, and which does not create a new hazard to the house. Ideally, there should be a separation distance of parking areas from the vulnerable elements of a house. Vulnerable elements include windows, vents, doorways and combustible eaves and cladding. The separation distance to a house with no construction protections should be at least 6 meters for small items like cars and 10 meters for large items like caravans.
- Position landforms and earthworks. Position artificial landforms and earthworks to screen the house from flame and radiant heat exposure. Ideally, position landforms between the house and the likely direction of the fire hazard (e.g., between the home and an area of Classified vegetation).
- Position defendable spaces. Strategically position defendable spaces in the area surrounding the house, including a secondary place of shelter using the principles outlined above. Also ensure there are multiple access ways connecting the house and the secondary place of shelter. More information can be found in Siting defendable spaces and Siting shelters.