Finance Property How to make your home more resilient to natural disasters
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How to make your home more resilient to natural disasters

Property
Australian home buyers aren't taking into consideration the country's tendency towards natural disasters. Photo: TND/Getty
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Millions of Australians aren’t considering how extreme weather could put their lives and property at risk when house hunting, a new report shows.

As climate change wreaks havoc on Australian weather patterns, data published by Suncorp Insurance shows 46 per cent of Australians aren’t thinking about natural disasters when buying a new home or renovating.

The survey of 1195 Australians shows just one in four have modified their homes to protect from floods, bushfires and cyclones.

Suncorp’s executive manager Bernadette Norrie said Australians are exposing themselves to the financial, physical and mental toll that property damage from natural disasters can cause.

“It’s a real disruption,” she said.

“You often have to leave your home while repairs take place, and you lose irreplaceable and sentimental items.”

Luckily, experts say home buyers can make their homes more resilient once they work out which natural disasters could affect their property.

They can trim trees, move electric wires or landscape their garden.

Here’s how to check whether a home is resilient and what to do when it’s not.

Step one: Location and risk

Before starting any renovations or buying a property, you need to find out what types of extreme weather events are likely to occur in the area.

Suncorp’s data shows many Australians don’t research factors such as elevation, weather history and coastal proximity when house hunting.

But these factors are crucial to working out how exposed a property is and could even affect your ability to secure a home loan, according to Curtin University property lecturer J-Han Ho.

“People don’t realise that every home loan by any major … bank or credit union requires your property to be fully insured,” he said.

However, insurance companies are reluctant to provide insurance for properties vulnerable to natural disasters and may only do so at inflated prices, he said.

Elevation

The first factor to think about is the elevation of the property, Dr Ho said.

Bushfires tend to burn faster as they move uphill, while lower elevation makes a home more vulnerable to erosion and flooding.

And although Australians love living near beaches and rivers, Dr Ho said buying too close to the water is “really risky” amid rising sea levels.

Old properties in some Australian cities are already using underground pumps “24/7” to pump away ocean water, he said.

“You can easily find the elevation of the property on the local council’s [online] Intramaps [and] Google Maps.”

Dr Ho said you should also look at a floodplain map, available on state and territory government websites, to find out how often an area is flooded.

You can find the relevant floodplain maps here:

Wind speeds

Another thing to consider is how exposed a property is to damage from high winds and cyclones.

Dr Ho said only some properties in Queensland and Western Australia are built to withstand winds over 317km/h.

Other Australian homes are built to withstand less severe winds according to local government requirements based on wind ratings.

Dr Ho said even properties in coastal cities outside of the northern region should be built with cyclone-proof designs.

You can check the wind speeds in your area on this website.

Step two: Property upgrades

Once you understand the natural disaster risks facing a property, you can make it more resilient.

Dr Ho said preventative measures are less about cost and more about protecting your family.

“Prevention is normally better than repair,” he said.

For existing home owners or people looking to build, here are a few ways to protect a property.

To prevent fire damage:

  • Landscape smart: Dr Ho said if there are plants and vegetation nearby you are essentially in a bushfire zone. You can divert a bushfire away from your home by trimming trees and getting rid of vegetation that could act as fuel for the fire
  • Switch out metal for plastic fittings: Ms Norrie said PVC plastic gusset fittings will melt if there’s a fire. This will make gutters fall and consequently reduce the risk of embers entering your home or water supply
  • Invest in non-combustible building materials: Ms Norrie recommended external finishings such as core filled blocks and aerated concrete cladding. She also said glazed windows and doors can prevent heat-induced cracking
  • Install a dual-tank water system: In high bushfire-risk areas, Ms Norrie said having two separate water tanks is important; one for firefighting, and the other as a back-up water supply.

To prevent water damage:

  • Lift your electrics: Ms Norrie said installing electrical wiring in roofs and making sure your light switches and power points are at least a metre off the ground will reduce the risk of electrical issues during flooding
  • Invest in waterproof interior insulation: Ms Norrie said waterproof interior wall linings can be removed when wet, then reused once the wall cavity has dried out
  • Upgrade roof gutters: Dr Ho said rainfalls are getting “heavier and more intense”, so some gutters on older houses are now too small. He said you can get slotted gutters or drill holes towards to the top of the sides of your gutters to keep water out of your house.

To prevent wind damage:

  • Strap down your roof to your home’s concrete base
  • Use cyclone-rated outdoor storage to prevent flying debris.