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John and Sarah bought their property on a beautiful block in St
Andrews overlooking a neighbours vineyard and with plenty of
kangaroos for company some years before Black Saturday in 2009.
Even before the fires, John and Sarah had planned a bushfire
resilient home for the property. The events of Black Saturday
enforced to them the importance of resilient and environmentally
efficient building. In this process, they benefitted greatly from
the local knowledge of their neighbours and CFA advice.
Practicalities of the site, and needing to build immediately after the fires, inevitably led to a number of trade-offs. The most spectacular views from their hilltop were to the west - an obvious problem for building orientation and solar control. John and Sarah like a cool house but were resolute not to install
Moveable perforated metal panels over all western and eastern glazing and deep roof overhangs over northern glazing were specified to exclude 80% of heat. In the event, even more control was needed on the hottest days and the panels are now supplemented with external roller blinds to provide total block-out.
A thick polished concrete slab flooring provided marvellous
thermal mass, but the original intention to use fly-ash concrete in
order to reduce embodied energy had to be abandoned. The difficulty
of obtaining supply from concrete plant to St Andrews, the longer
curing time required for fly-ash concrete and recurrent
difficulties of scheduling tradesmen in the rush of jobs after the
fire all meant that standard concrete became the only practicable
They used a treated ECOply that would char but not burn in the event of another fire. They also ensured that their steel roof was secured in continuous sheets, to prevent embers coming into the ceiling cavity. They used hard wood window frames with a fire retardant painted on to reduce their risk of burning. The windows on the home
are toughened glass with doubling glazing. The perforated metal window screens provide ember protection as well as temperature control, while all other glazed surfaces such as sliding doors are fitted to take emergency solid galvanised sheet steel screens (stored in the adjacent garage and machinery shed) to protect them. In this way, the house can quickly be "locked down" on days of serious fire danger.
Fire hoses are supplied from water tanks by a petrol pump housed in a special shelter on the most protected side of the garage shed, with a further pump and tank mounted on a trailer for dealing with spot outbreaks away from the house itself.
Apart from the home's resilience, it is also environmentally efficient with PV panels on the roof supplementing the grid electricity. Hot water is also powered by solar energy and the house is heated by a slow combustion wood stove, with occasional top ups from a slow combustion heater in the living room. Extra insulation was also used to regulate the temperature and they used LED or mini fluorescent lights.
Thanks to careful consideration and planning, Sarah and John have an incredible home that is both environmentally friendly and resilient - in a beautiful part of the world.
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