Fire repelling paint a game changer for bushfire protection

Paul Eyers
By Paul Eyers
6 Min Read

Aussie researchers have developed a new type of paint that is predicted to be a game changer for protecting homes against the threat of bushfires.

Engineers from the University of New South Wales (UNSW Sydney) worked alongside experts from Flame Security International to develop FSA Firecoat, a fire-resistant paint that can reduce and prevent fire from spreading across properties.

The team spent nearly five years perfecting the formula, which became the first to pass stringent bushfire simulation Australian standard testing before reaching Bunnings’ shelves nationwide.

The carefully crafted chemicals within the coating see it swell upon heat contact, forming a layer of insulating protective char that expands as a protective barrier between the fire and the building it’s on.

Achieving the ‘Bushfire Attack Level 40’ rating, the paint is indicated to withstand higher levels of radiant heat measuring up to 50kW/m² and is ember resistant.

Director of the ARC Training Centre for Fire Retardant Materials and Safety Technologies at UNSW Sydney, Professor Guan Yeoh, says the paint could save hundreds of homes from extreme fire conditions.

“If a building is not protected in any way and it starts to burn, then it can become a source of heat for the fire to continue, like a chain reaction,” he said.

“So we can say this paint assists in limiting the spread of bushfires because it prevents a building from igniting and therefore compounding the original fire.”

“Many people are saying that we are currently experiencing a dry season. But when it is a dry season, that often means that bushfires are just around the corner.”

Tests impress retailers

Home improvement and hardware retail giant Bunnings secured an initial order of 80,000 litres of the paint after being stunned by its breakthrough tech.

Bunnings managing director Mike Schneider told Build-it the paint would become a game changer just in time for bushfire season.

“It’s never been more important to find new ways to protect the built environment and ensure our communities remain resilient,” he told Build-it.

“We have no doubt this amazing product will become a key feature in asset protection, management and future construction standards.”

Half a decade of research

Professor Yeoh says the paint’s unique chemical concoction was the secret behind its success, after testing more than 200 formulations.

“The special additives we include in the paint mix formula promote the growth of the char, which is the important insulating element. The char is what helps your house or your building stay protected from the fire,” he said.

“In the rigorous tests, you can see this char being created, but at the end, you can just wipe it away, and the wood underneath has virtually no damage.”

While the construction sector has been no stranger to intumescent substances in the past, Professor Yeoh says the new paint created a more durable and reliable form of char, which does not fall off vertical surfaces, unlike past fire-resistant paints.

“Forming a char on a horizontal surface is fine, but for this application, we needed to include additives into the paint formula to ensure the char would also hold very well on vertical surfaces. Which is a challenge,” he said.

“If it just falls off, that defeats the whole purpose. The char – which is basically pockets of air and carbon – can be more than 50mm thick, so retaining it in place can be tricky.”

“But it’s so important because it’s providing the insulation and preventing the penetration of the heat.”

The new paint is DIY renovator-friendly and can be brushed or sprayed onto most surfaces, just like ordinary paint, without additional special equipment.

However, one downside of the product is it is currently only available in grey, although any standard topcoat can also be applied without affecting its fire-protective properties.

Paint to save hundreds of homes

Tony Overstead, CEO of Flame Security International, who helped UNSW Sydney engineer the product, says the paint will make a noticeable difference in strategic bushfire mitigation.

“The release of this BAL 40-rated fire retardant paint, we believe, will better protect buildings and assets from direct exposure to flames and extreme radiant heat,” he told Build-it.

“This will make a significant difference not only to the cost of building in affected areas but also the potential risks to life and property.”

Mr Schneider told Build-it readers that FSA Firecoat would be available in more than 270 Bunnings stores nationwide.

“This has been a really meaningful project for Bunnings to be part of, and we are grateful to our team and everyone at UNSW & FSI International for their innovation and perseverance in bringing Firecoat to market.”

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Paul Eyers has worked as a journalist for a range of media publishers including News Corp and Network Ten. He has also worked outside of Australia, including time spent with ABS-CBN in the Philippines. Stepping away from the media, Paul spent five years sharpening his tools in construction - building his skill set and expertise within the trade industry. His diverse experiences and unique journey have equipped him with an insider view of Australia’s construction game to dig deep into the big stories.