Building a home in “Flame Zone” or BAL-FZ brings with it certain challenges, windows are one of the major ones. Up until recently there has been a lack of BAL-FZ rated windows and doors available on the market however in recent times a number of providers of tested BAL-FZ window systems have entered the market. The emergence of tested systems has enabled the NSW Rural Fire Service to tighten stringency on the selection and certification of windows for BAL-FZ applications.
The recent advice from the NSW RFS
When constructing a new building in the “Flame Zone” (BAL-FZ) the NSW Rural Fire Service (NSW RFS) will require all new window assemblies to comply with the requirements of Australian Standard: Construction of buildings in bush fire-prone areas (AS3959-2009).
In New South Wales there is no ‘Deemed-to-Satisfy’ (DtS) approach to building within the Flame Zone due to the risks involved.
Notwithstanding this, the DtS requirements in Section 9 of AS3959-2009 has generally been used as a guide to determining what is acceptable. This is with the exception that the use of any combustible materials is generally prohibited.
Following the release of AS3959-2009, compliance with the window assembly requirements in Section 9 of AS3959-2009 was considered problematic due to a lack of products on the market. Therefore the NSW RFS had permitted the temporary usage of BAL-40 window assemblies with the addition of non-combustible bushfire shutters in the Flame Zone.
Recently product manufacturers and the peak industry body, the Fire Protection Association of Australia, provided information that there are now several manufacturers providing AS3959-2009 compliant window assemblies. Based on this advice, the NSW RFS is now ceasing to allow the use of BAL-40 windows with non-combustible bush fire shutters in the Flame Zone.
On 15 September 2017 an Information Release was issued by the NSW RFS advising that due to the scale of the change, a grace period would be allowed until 1 January 2018. The grace period allows appropriate time so that projects that are currently underway can proceed where commitments have been made in good faith based on previous window protection requirements.
The grace period will be applied to the date at which development applications are received by council. All development applications received by council prior to 1 January 2018 will be included in the grace period.
During the grace period, the NSW RFS will apply conditions 1, 2 and 3 above to all new development applications referred from council in BAL-FZ. From 1 January 2018, only condition 1 will be applied.
Things to think about
BAL-FZ windows have earned a reputation for being costly, it is important to speak directly to a BAL-FZ window manufacture to get an accurate indication of window cost for your project. Often building in bushfire prone areas may be issued different BAL ratings on individual elevations. For example BAL-FZ on the rear and side and BAL-40 on the front elevation. AWS offers the largest range of BAL-40 rated windows and doors in Australia. One way to reduce the cost of building in a BAL-FZ application would be to consider using AWS BAL-40 tested windows on all elevations with the site rating was BAL-40 or lower.
A tested shutter solution can be used in lieu of a BAL-FZ tested window, in applications where a tested shutter is used there is no requirement to use a bushfire compliant window. This presents obvious concerns, if the home owner is not home to operate the shutters and has standard windows installed in a bushfire prone area when a fire front approaches the home may be left exposed. To ensure a measure of protection in a BAL-FZ where tested shutters are being used to fully cover windows AWS strongly recommends the use of a BAL-40 Tested window system. This will provide some measure of protection for the home if occupants are not available to operate shutters in the event of a fire.
For further information regarding standards and compliance in BAL-FZ applications, please contact a NSW RFS Planning and Environment Service Centre on 1300 NSW RFS (1300 679 737)