BAL Certificate Information & FAQ
Do you require a BAL certificate? Our bushfire specialist Stephen Cotter is a Corporate Member of the Fire Protection Authority and our bushfire specialist and is accredited to BPAD 3, the highest level of accreditation under BPAD. Steven has extensive experience with BAL and is able to help you comply with BAL requirements, in the most advantageous and cost effective manner.
Below you will find everything you need to know and understand about BAL Certificates including an FAQ of the most commonly asked questions about BAL Certificates and Bushfire Hazard Assessment reports.
Why Should You Use a BPAD 3 Accredited Certifier Rather than Council?
A BAL certificate can be issued by a private certifier or your local council, and because council certification fees are cheaper than those charged by a private certifier, many people think they will 'save money' by going to council for certification.
Unfortunately this is a rookie mistake made by many an owner builder, because the few hundred dollars 'saved' on their BAL certification ends up costing them thousands, and sometimes even tens of thousands MORE in extra building costs. Here's how this happens.
Staff in local councils don't have the depth of training ( 5 day course v's an 18 mth diploma) or the breadth of experience that a BPAD 3 practitioner has, and as a result, they tend to be extremely conservative in the way they interpret the BAL, and often issue a certificate for a higher BAL rating than might really be necessary. When this happens (and it happens all the time), the few hundred dollars saved in assessment fees end up costing many thousands more in additional construction costs. This is a big trap for to the uninitiated, which is why it is far more prudent for an owner builder to use a BPAD 3 private certifier in the first instance. So please understand, while a cheap council assessment looks like it will save you money, it often this turns out to be false economy, especially if your site is in a potentially high risk bush fire area.
Another thing worth noting is that if Council rate your site as a BAL 40 or above, they will generally require you to get a private certification done anyway, in which case you will have to pay for 2 BAL assessments, one from council and one from a private certifier, when one from a private certifier would have been sufficient in the first place!
Read on to understand more about the BAL rating system and how it works with the Australian Standard for Buildings in a Bush-fire Prone Areas AS3959, and to learn more about how to make savings on bushfire mitigation costs in construction.
What is a BAL?
Planning law in NSW now requires new development on bush fire prone land to comply with the provisions of Planning for Bush Fire Protection 2006. A BAL Certificate is required to ensure a development satisfies the development standards on bush fire prone land, to ensures that the development is undertaken in such a way that risk to people and property from a bushfire are minimised, as defined under AS3959 - Construction of Buildings in Bushfire Prone Areas. In NSW, developments must also satisfy Section A3.7 of the Addendum to Appendix 3 of Planning For Bushfire Protection.
What is Australian Standard AS3959
AS 3959 is the Australian Standard for buildings in a bushfire prone area, it covers all new construction requirements based on the rated bushfire attack level of a home. Recommendations are based on the individual risk level of your home, which is determined by your BAL rating, so your BAL rating determines the bushfire building standards your development must comply with, and the higher the BAL the greater the cost.
BAL Attack Levels
There are six bush fire attack levels that are used to determine the appropriate construction to be applied to a development:
BAL-40 (High Risk)*
Flame Zone (High Risk - Alternative Solution required)*.
The categories of attack are determined by:
- the type of vegetation
- How close your building is to the vegetation
- What the effective slope is (i.e. fire runs more readily and with greater intensity uphill).
- The Fire Danger Index applicable to the region
- Your Access to water
- The siting of a dwelling on the lot
- Emergency planning
- Landscaping and
- the history of bushfire behaviour in the area.
All of these issues need to be assessed in a BAL assessment and there are many subtleties within these and in the way these elements relate to each other that will determine your most appropriate BAL rating .
FAQ's About BAL Certificates and Bushfire Hazard Assessment Reports
I’ve been told by Council that my proposed house is within mapped bushfire prone vegetation, what does that mean?
A Council is required to map all bushfire prone vegetation within its jurisdiction and to identify a 100m buffer surrounding this vegetation on publically available maps. Any development proposal for a lot that is wholly or partially within the area identified as bushfire prone vegetation or the 100m buffer surrounding such vegetation will require a bushfire hazard assessment. This assessment should describe how the proposed development will meet the objectives of Planning for Bushfire Protection.
There are two avenues available to obtain approval for residential development in bushfire prone land.
- If the proposed dwelling meets the criteria of the NSW Housing Code and can be assessed as Complying Development, you may engage a private certifier instead of your local Council to obtain development approval. In this case a Bushfire Attack Level (BAL) assessment and certificate is all that is required. This can only be prepared by an accredited BPAD practitioner. Molino Stewart has BPAD accreditation to level 3 which is the highest level available.
- If you choose to lodge a Development Application with your local Council because the land may be affected by other issues (flooding, environmental constraints, etc.) you will need to submit a Bushfire Hazard Assessment report. The NSW Rural Fire Service strongly advices that these reports are prepared by suitably qualified bushfire consultants. Molino Stewart is a member of the Fire Protection Association of Australia and recognised by the NSW Rural Fire Service as suitably qualified to prepare a Bushfire Hazard Assessment
I only wish to extend my house to add another room to my existing home. Why do I need a BPAD assessment?
If your property is within bushfire prone vegetation as mapped by your local Council, you are required to demonstrate how any development will meet the requirements outlined in Planning for Bushfire Protection. Your proposal will be considered as In-Fill development and you will need to demonstrate how the completed dwelling will provide a better solution for bushfire protection than the existing building. You may not be able to meet all requirements for asset protection zones and access but need to demonstrate how you are mitigating the bushfire risks and making the situation better than it is.
All new construction will need to comply with the current building standard: AS3959-2009 Construction of Buildings in Bushfire Prone Areas as well as Section A3.7 of the addendum to Appendix 3 of Planning for Bushfire Protection. Whilst it is not a requirement to upgrade the existing dwelling, you would be strongly encouraged to reduce the bushfire risk by improving the bushfire protection of the existing dwelling. As an accredited bushfire consultant Molino Stewart can provide advice on any aspect of the develop that is being considered.
I’m developing a childcare centre or an aged care facility, what planning approvals do I need to obtain?
Any development application for a child care centre, aged care facility, school, hospital or place of worshipis considered as a Special Fire Protection Purpose (SFPP) development. The full list of SFPP developments is containing in Section 4.2.2 of Planning for Bushfire Protection, Section 100B part 6 of the Rural Fires Act and Section 46 of the Rural Fires Regulations. For these types of development applications there is a greater emphasise on reducing the radiant heat on the occupants and emergency evacuation procedures rather than on construction levels of the building. The services of an accredited bushfire consultant such as Molino Stewart should be obtained at the earliest possible time to advise of the bushfire constraints that will affect the approval process and to work with your town planners and architects to ensure measures are incorporated into the design as early as possible to save you time and costs later.
Why do I need a bushfire assessment for a shed?
If you are within identified bushfire prone vegetation as mapped by your local Council, then any development in NSW that is assessed as Class 1, 2, 3, 4 (part), 9, 9A and 10a,b & c under the National Construction Code must demonstrate how the performance criteria outlined in Planning for Bushfire Protection will be achieved. A shed is Class 10a and is captured by this bushfire planning provisions and an assessment is required.
I have water connected to my rural property, why do I need to install a rainwater tank for fire fighting operations?
For residential properties with R1 or R2 land use zoning, no additional water supplies are required for bushfire protection if the property is connected to mains water supply and a hydrant is located within 60 metres of the dwelling. If a dwelling is located further away, additional water supplies are required.
For all other land use zones (particularly R5) an additional water supply is required. As a minimum 20,000 litres may be required. This can be offset by other storage areas such as swimming pools. Storage which is used for domestic or irrigation purposes cannot be included in the storage for bushfire fighting because it could be depeleted and unavailable at the time of the fire.
Molino Stewart as an accredited bushfire consultant is able to provide advice on the water requirements and how these can be incorporated into the development proposal to minimise impacts on your open space.
Molino Stewart will ensure that any project planning and decision making regarding your design is done in the most cost effective and practically functional manner to ensure your building plan is safe, compliant and as cost efficient as possible. This could save you thousands, and in some circumstances even tens of thousands of dollars in building costs. So speak to an expert, contact our office now to discuss your BAL Certificate requirements Call 02 9354 0300.
* For these developments a Bushfire hazard Assessment report is required.