The USS Quad Damage

A Fireproof House

Just a quick idea on how to build fireproof homes

Tonight’s Four Corners is going to talk about a phantom cause of many bushfires. Phantom not because it’s elusive, but so often ignored. I’m talking about overhead power lines. Apparently, this part of the distribution grid causes more than half of all fires. Climate change aside, we can see that the trend for bushfires in Australia is up, and we need to think about ways to mitigate the risk. Here’s a simple idea I had:

Electricity distributed the “classical” way is actually pretty silly to begin with. You lose a huge amount of power purely in transmission, and with a remote community, you’re potentially losing even more than a city. For this reason, and the fact that the power lines are a major fire risk, it makes a lot more sense to use localised electricity generation, something like Solar. However, Solar might not provide the same kind of power that a regular electrical connection provides.

To that end, we need to think about how a household consumes electricity. In the past, we used to consume a lot just to light the house, but with efficient lighting, a household’s electricity for lighting is reduced by a factor of 5. Add other efficient household appliances and you can get similar savings. A small TV (think laptop screen) could be 1/5th the power usage of an old CRT or a giant plasma. This leaves two big items: cooking and heating.

For some cooking, electricity is required, like toasting or microwaving. However, these are short tasks, in 5 minute bursts. Most proper cooking would hopefully happen with LPG cylinders or coal in remote communities, which results in better food as well as less electricity usage. For heating and cooling, a similar factor of 5 saving could be realised, but this requires an efficient house, and this means very good insulation.

However, very good insulation often has a side benefit: It’s fireproof!

What this means in practice is designing a house that’s both fireproof and very well insulated. These two goals work with each other. Add to that lower systemic risk by removing power lines, and you have a community that’s well equipped to deal with fire.

In a bushfire prone region, having a bushfire proof house could be well worth the effort and cost. It could become a staple Australian design like the Queensland home.