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Building bushfire resilience and stronger communities

About this case study

Climate change effect


Who it affects


Adaptation tool(s)

Climate smart design

Owning a home is the cornerstone of the Australian way of life. Unfortunately, so too are bushfires.

Projections for the region show that the intensity and severity of bushfires is set to increase, presenting greater risk of damage to homes and communities.

Leanne Barnes, Canberra Region Joint Organisation

Over the last two decades, the Canberra region has experienced a number of devastating bushfires. The Canberra bushfires of 2003 and the ‘Black Summer’ bushfires of 2019-20 burnt 5.5 million hectares of land across NSW and the ACT. The fires destroyed 2,476 and tragically took 26 lives.

But the 2020 NSW Bushfire Inquiry found “more trucks and more firefighters are not the answer” to the scale of the challenge Australia faced during the ‘Black Summer’ bushfires of 2019 and 2020. Instead of addressing bushfire risk as a seasonal activity, we must focus on building bushfire-resilient homes.

The Canberra Region Joint Organisation (CRJO) provides a forum for 10 NSW councils, state agencies and other stakeholders to work together at a regional level.

With funding from the NSW Government, and in partnership with Local Government NSW, Insurance Council of Australia and the Minderoo Foundation, CRJO led the project to accelerate the adoption of climate-resilient housing across the Canberra region.

The project started with technical investigation from consultants Edge Environment and engagement with more than 30 industry, agency and government experts. Edge Environment’s analysis of the CRJO region’s housing stock identified five common housing archetypes: older brick veneer; newer brick veneer; weatherboard; timber clad; and metal clad homes.

Edge Environment assessed the bushfire resilience of each archetype by using two tools developed for the Insurance Council of Australia: the Building Resilience Rating Tool and the Building Resilience Knowledge Database.

Canberra Region Joint Organisation Bushfire Toolkit
Canberra Region Joint Organisation Bushfire Toolkit

The bushfire resilience of existing homes in the CRJO region was found to be generally poor, with around 60% of properties scoring 2 stars or less on a 5-star scale. None of the five identified housing archetypes, accounting for almost 90% of the region’s housing, scored more than 3 out of 5 stars in their standard construction.

By modelling the effect of replacing less bushfire resilient elements with cost-effective alternatives, Edge Environment was able to assess the benefits of retrofitting each archetype. Over a 50-year lifespan of a detached home, the benefits of undertaking upgrades to improve housing bushfire resilience outweighed the costs for all archetypes. These findings then formed the basis of the toolkit.

The toolkit is complemented by a suite of technical resources, guidance for community and councils, and marketing assets.

The toolkit combines science, strategy and storytelling to help people improve their homes beyond minimum compliance.

Leanne Barnes, Canberra Region Joint Organisation

The science of climate change continues to evolve rapidly. To ensure the toolkit presents accurate and defensible advice it underwent a confidential peer review by an independent technical specialist. Following this, the outputs of the toolkit were re-scoped to focus on behaviour change interventions and to provide advice and guidance in a top-line format that empowers councils, community and industry to consider changes to their homes as part of an overall plan for improving resilience.

Balancing technical advice with a ‘call to action’ is complex. The toolkit encourages homeowners to consider a range of common factors so they are better informed when they choose to renovate, retrofit or rebuild. The approach also helps councils and industry to understand the mix of housing types and potential risks in their local areas and design targeted programs to build adaptive capacity and resilience to current and future risks.

Canberra Region Joint Organisation Bushfire Toolkit promoted on bus shelter

This project was proudly funded by the NSW Government with support from Local Government NSW.