How UNSW’s Fire-Retardant Paint Could Protect All Houses From Flames!

The University of New South Wales discovery has been billed as a "breakthrough" for fire resilience in the face of climate change!

Mon 18 Dec 23


As Australia battles one of its worst fire seasons in decades, engineers from the University of New South Wales have developed a new fire-retardent paint, the first to pass BAL-40, Australia’s second-highest Bushfire Attack Level.

The new paint, which has “a secret recipe”, has been described by Professor Guan Yeoh as a “breakthrough,” “which means it can protect all houses.”

The hope is that it could spark “the development of what people think of using common things like paint, or even other devices, whatever, to increase the fire resilience.”

According to Professor Yeoh, the Director of the ARC Training Centre for Fire Retardant Materials and Safety Technologies, “If you apply the paint, which is an undercoat, onto the house, it will transform itself to a very thick, carbon or char layer that actually protects the substrate and deflecting the heat away from the bushfires.”

Breaking down the BAL Rating System – footage courtesy of @UndercoverArchitect.

After application, the undercoat meets the requirements of BAL-40, as outlined in the AS 3959-2018, the standard for constructing buildings in bushfire-prone areas.

“AS 3959-2018 is a guide used to design dwellings that minimise risk for different levels of bushfire vulnerability,” according to Boris Iskra, the National Standards Manager for Forest and Wood Products Australia, who, in September, presented a webinar on BAL ratings with the Wood Central publisher.

Professor Yeoh said the new paint is just like the standard undercoat you will use for many current paints. “But it’s just that it has some secret ingredients that grow the layer.”

“I can’t reveal my secret ingredients to you,” he said before adding that the new formula was like Colonel Sanders’, with researchers “protecting the KFC (like) recipe.”

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Professor Guan Yeoh, Director of the ARC Training Centre for Fire Retardant Materials and Safety Technologies at the University of New South Wales with his “breakthrough” fire coating product. Photo Credit: University of New South Wales.

According to Professor Yeoh, fire reaches “about 1000 °C to 1200 °C” during fire inundation; however, with the help of the protective layer offered by the fire-retardant paint, “that can decrease the temperature from 1000 degrees C to roughly around 25 to 30 °C at the substrate surface.”

Under heat, the paint grows from very thin to very thick to protect the timber; after fire inundation, some residue remains. “But you can see that the wood has not burnt at all,” Professor Yeoh said before adding that you can “prep the surface again, and then you repaint it.”

In recent months, Wood Central has reported on Australia’s “out of control” fires, which have already seen South East Queensland’s worst fires in over 70 years.

Since Victoria announced the closure of its native forest industry, set to take effect next month, Wood Central has reported that desperate manufacturers are importing low-density timbers, which could breach fire BAL compliance requirements.

More than 24% of Australian window manufacturers on the eastern seaboard use Victorian hardwood species, with the decision to close the resource causing chaos for window manufacturers across the country.

Parts of Australia are battling their worst bushfires in decades – footage courtesy of @9NewsAus.

Concerns over the import surge have led the Australian Glazing and Window Association (AGWA) – the glass, glazing and windows industry’s peak body to warn members against using “fast-grown plantation hardwood plantation” as substitutes for bushfire-prone dwellings.

Under “AS 3959-2018, “all timber used in the manufacture of timber windows for window and door frame assemblies less than 400 mm from the ground or deck to have a density of 650 kg/m3 or greater at a 12% moisture content when used in Bushfire Attack Levels (BALs) BAL−12.5 and BAL−19.”

A Technical Fact Sheet, “Compliance Warning for Timber Window Manufacturers,” published by AGWA in August, warned that “with imported and locally fast-grown plantation hardwood alternatives now being offered, it is essential to ensure that you have appropriate documentation to demonstrate compliance with AS 3959.”

Last month, the Wood Central publisher spoke to Daniel Wright, National Business Development Manager for Australian Sustainable Hardwoods (ASH), the country’s largest hardwood manufacturer.

According to Mr Wright, “ASH ruled out several imported options due to concerns with BAL−12.5 and BAL−19 conformance.”

“We needed a timber that all our customers could get behind, and that’s why we opted for Glacial Oak (otherwise known as American Oak), which meets BAL−12.5 and BAL−19.”

For more information about hardwood timber and its properties, visit the WoodSolutions website.


  • Jason Ross

    Jason Ross, publisher, is a 15-year professional in building and construction, connecting with more than 400 specifiers. A Gottstein Fellowship recipient, he is passionate about growing the market for wood-based information. Jason is Wood Central's in-house emcee and is available for corporate host and MC services.


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