Too many Aussies homes vulnerable to natural disasters, study shows

Nearly half of all Aussie homes at risk of damage from climate-related weather events, new research has found, with rising insurance costs only making the problem worse.

A report from property giant Domain has found millions of Australian homes are not built to a sufficient standard to withstand extreme events such as bushfires, floods, storms and coastal soil erosion, all of which are occurring more frequently.

Home insurance premiums have increased astronomically in response, compounding the issue and leaving millions at risk of losing everything to Mother Nature.

The research found 5.6 million of the nation’s 10.9 million dwellings were at risk from bushfire alone, risking around $4.6 trillion in assets.

Approximately 953,000 homes (8.1 per cent) are vulnerable to flooding, putting $768.5 billion at risk, while more than 160,000 homes have been built within 160 metres of a shoreline, putting them at risk from coastal erosion and rising sea levels.

The highest bushfire risk was found to be in Victoria’s Upper Yarra Valley region, the highest flood risk in the NSW town of Ballina and the highest risk of coastal erosion damage in the densely populated Gold Coast region in Queensland.

Aussies don’t know what’s coming

Nicola Powell, head of research at Domain, told a recent housing forum the research also showed most of the people living in these at-risk homes were unaware of the potential danger they’re in.

“We found that just 29 per cent of Australians know the risks associated with their homes when faced against a natural disaster,” she said.

“We are seeing more people live on perilous land in order to find a place to call home,”

And the situation only appears to be getting worse.

A report from the University of NSW found the number of extreme events hit a new peak last year, with Cyclone Jasper, early season bushfires and floods in Queensland; a heatwave in South Australia, extreme winter heat in NSW and fires and floods in Victoria all occurring in 2023.

Professor Andy Pitman, leading climate scientist and co-author of the study, says while it can be difficult to pinpoint the exact causes of individual events, its clear they are happening more frequently.

“What was unusual about 2023 is how intense some of these events were and how they kept pushing records,” he says.

“Some of them were occurring one after the other or close to each other. These temporally and spatially compounding events had a substantial impact on our environment and were difficult for us to deal with.”

The research is backed up by insurance data. Figures from NRMA found winter 2023 had the highest level of weather-related home damage in six years, accounting for 40 per cent of all home claims.

What can I do to lower my risk?

Just like Domain’s research, NRMA found awareness of the risks posed by climate-related weather events was low – and that even when people were aware of the risk, they were unsure of what steps to take.

They’ve partnered with the SA State Emergency Service (SES) to raise awareness of weather risks and raise general community preparedness for extreme events. NRMA executive general manage Matthew Bennett says that in addition to preparing your home, knowledge of local weather conditions is pivotal.

“Our research shows the number-one barrier to getting prepared is thinking it won’t happen to me and the second is not knowing what to do,” he says.

“It’s clear that education is key to helping protect … from the impacts of extreme weather, and that’s why we’re proud to partner with the South Australian SES to raise awareness of risks and provide practical advice.”

“We also recognise the tremendous work the SES volunteers do to keep our communities safe. When severe weather strikes, they are often the first to respond, with volunteers putting their lives on the line to help others. They are there to help us, and by getting prepared we can help them too.”

While controlling the weather is impossible, there are steps you can take to get your house better prepared in the event of something like a bushfire or flood.

Depending on the type of event you’re facing, the SES recommends:

  • Cleaning your gutters of leaves and twigs
  • Installing metal gutter guards
  • Repairing damaged or missing tiles on the roof
  • Installing fine metal mesh screens on windows and doors
  • Fitting seals around doors and windows to eliminate gaps
  • Keeping lawns short and gardens well maintained
  • Cutting back trees and shrubs overhanging buildings
  • Cleaning up fallen leaves, twigs and debris around the property

Have you suffered damage to your home from the weather? Have your insurance premiums increased? Let us know in the comments section below.

Also read: Home insurance keeps going up. What can you do?

Brad Lockyer
Brad Lockyer
Brad has deep knowledge of retirement income, including Age Pension and other government entitlements, as well as health, money and lifestyle issues facing older Australians. Keen interests in current affairs, politics, sport and entertainment. Digital media professional with more than 10 years experience in the industry.
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