Ten retrofits to protect homes against flood, fires, heat and cold
By Julie Power
A new NSW program will provide scientifically proven advice on how best to retrofit and protect homes against climate change and extreme weather, such as the floods that have left families homeless, and reduce energy bills.
The program by the Bushfire Building Council of Australia will provide homes with a single assessment. The Disaster Resilience and Energy Efficiency Ratings program will give advice, ratings and professional help – and train builders and tradespeople.
Experts say it could also end a cycle of disadvantage where the most vulnerable Australians live in houses that are the least likely to survive – and the most expensive to heat, cool and insure.
Bushfire Council chief executive Kate Cotter said repeated floods across NSW, with some people flooded three times this year, were “really disheartening”.
“It makes you want to throw your arms up and say there’s nothing we can do, and that’s probably how a lot of people feel. What we are doing is bringing the science together, making it accessible to people, and providing practical information, so people are empowered to improve their resilience.”
Some retrofits protect against more than one disaster and cut energy bills.
Cotter said sealing windows and doors was inexpensive but effective. “Some of the designs we work on have set back windows with screens that provide protection, both in terms of sunlight and direct heat, but also for ember protection in bushfires, preventing debris and breaking windows in floods and storms.”
The $2.2 million program is one of 13 projects costing $13 million aiming to reduce disaster risk across NSW to target common hazards such as floods, fire, heatwaves and storms.
About 90 per cent of Australia’s 8 million houses were built before energy ratings, and are too hot, too cold and vulnerable to climate-induced disasters.
Without change, the council estimates the cost of disasters in NSW will total $372 billion between 2020 and 2060, an average of $9.3 billion in direct economic losses per year.
“There’s no time to waste,” Cotter said. “There is hope, and there are practical solutions for every household.”
The Actuaries Institute estimated in August that a million households (about 10 per cent of all) spent more than a month’s gross annual income on home insurance. Of those households paying more than $2000 in premiums, half earned less than $65,000.
The author of the research, Sharanjit Paddam of Finity Consulting’s Climate & ESG Risk Practice, said the gap between vulnerable and other households would widen because of climate change.
“The impact will be far greater on vulnerable households – those already facing affordability pressures,” Paddam said. “This will make it harder for them to recover from natural disasters or to prepare and pay for measures to reduce their risk.”
Andrew Hall, the chief executive of the Insurance Council which is partnering with the Bushfire Council, said extreme weather events were affecting those who could least afford it.
“They end up creating a cycle of intergenerational poverty because you lose everything, and you are uninsured, and you never get ahead,” he said.
The Herald reported last week people living in high-risk areas such as Eugowra, where the floods washed away homes, faced $40,000 insurance bills. Others could not afford insurance.
Hall said, “If you can’t get insurance, you can’t get a mortgage, and ownership isn’t within your reach.”
The council’s program for home owners does not begin until 2024, but it is now reviewing the science to find out what is most effective. Jointly funded by the state and federal government, it will be offered in NSW first before going national.
The Bushfire Council is also working with James Cook University Cyclone Testing Station, the University of Wollongong Sustainable Buildings Research centre, JDA Co architects who specialise in floods, and a range of government departments and organisations.
“In the long run, the only real solution to this problem is to build more secure homes in the right places – including not on flood plains,” Paddam said. “We also have to face up to the fact that there are some communities where resilience measures are not possible or are prohibitively expensive, and buy-back schemes and other forms of retreat will sadly be the only option.”
Ten retrofits that protect homes
- Having your roof inspected and repaired, including sealing gaps and installing metal mesh over openings, increases resilience against all hazards and provides energy efficiency benefits.
- Sealing gaps around windows, doors, and building penetrations, such as pipes and AC units, protects the house from ember entry, wind-driven water and reduces air leakage.
- Installing metal screens on doors and windows protects the house from embers, reduces radiant heat, protects from debris impact caused by high winds and rushing water during floods.
- Trimming or removing trees or branches that overhang the house protects the home from ignition and storm and cyclone damage.
- Using non-combustible hard landscaping elements such as retaining walls protects the home from ignition from adjacent materials.
- Creating a cleared pathway around a home from non-combustible materials such as crushed stone or pavers.
- Using metal mesh to screen in underfloor spaces prevents ember entry and protects services from debris impact in storms, floods and cyclones.
- For flood-prone areas, installing a waterproof membrane and tiles using epoxy grout and water-resistant adhesive has been shown to be effective in preventing water damage.
- When retrofitting for energy efficiency use non-combustible insulation and toughened glass.
- Install fire-rated seals and draught stoppers around doors, which provides resilience in bushfires, storms, floods and provides energy efficiency benefits.
Source: Bushfire Council and FortisHouse.org
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An earlier version of this report misstated the value of the Disaster Resilience and Energy Efficiency Ratings program. It is worth $2.2 million, and is one of 13 programs with a total value of $13 million.