This thesis examines the way in which the architecture of a house, specifically construction materials and the structure’s immediate environs, influences residents’ perception of bushfire risk. Three research questions were used to consider different aspects of risk perception for domestic architecture within a bushfire context. These questions were:
• Do residents living in bushfire-prone areas of Australia give the same bushfire risk rating to their locality and their house? Do these reflect the bushfire risk for the same area as assessed by the state fire authority?
• When anticipating a bushfire, which parts of their current house do residents in bushfire-prone areas of Australia believe to be the safest and which parts the most vulnerable?
• What architectural interventions might change residents’ perceptions of the bushfire risk of their homes?
The method used to test the research questions was mixed methods with pragmatism as the research worldview. A questionnaire containing both quantitative and qualitative questions was distributed to residents in eight sample sites selected from bushfire-prone areas of the Blue Mountains and the Central Coast of NSW, Australia. The questionnaire was completed by 252 respondents either in print or electronic form.
The majority of respondents gave a lower bushfire risk rating for their local area than their local fire authority, the NSW Rural Fire Service. The majority of respondents gave the same or a lower risk rating for their house than for their local area.
During a bushfire respondents indicated they intended to take shelter in up to twenty different places/parts of their house and immediate environs. While the bathroom was the most frequent choice, it represented less than one quarter of responses given. Respondents identified up to ten different places/parts of their house and immediate environs that they intended to avoid during a bushfire, with upstairs rooms and spaces being the most frequent choices. Materials used in the construction of homes did not appear to influence how respondents allocated the bushfire risk to their house. Rather it was the area directly surrounding their house and its proximity to bushland (particularly National Parks) that respondents used to determine the bushfire risk of their property. Non-architectural variables such as gender, age, pet ownership, property ownership, and responsibility for dependents had little effect on the way respondents allocated their bushfire risk. The age of the house also did not influence respondents’ perception of their bushfire risk with respondents in houses constructed to the latest building codes (AS 3959) not indicating that their houses had greater bushfire resistance.
Respondents identified fifteen architectural improvements to increase the safety of houses during a bushfire; the most frequently ones were, roof sprinklers and the clearing of vegetation close to the house. For architectural improvement, four overarching themes emerged: specific bushfire-resistant additions; building construction; cleared space/limited vegetation; and building maintenance/defence.
The findings of this research, when evaluated against industry knowledge, may be useful in developing new regulatory standards or providing advice in relation to new or existing homes in wild/forest/bushfire-prone areas of the world.