Rachel Fieldhouse

Real Estate

See the tiny houses made to withstand bushfires

See the tiny houses made to withstand bushfires

Designer and builder Tom Coupe creates tiny houses on wheels, and they are built with a particular purpose in mind: bushfire protection.

The minimalist homes feature fewer, smaller windows than a standard minimalist house, complete with shutters that can be quickly closed, and an exterior that resembles a bunker.

These differences are some of 125 modifications Coupe has implemented to create tiny houses on wheels (THOWs) that are bushfire-resistant, a speciality he has been working on since 2018.

Surprisingly, THOWs aren’t required to be fire-proof, despite their frequent use in rural areas. With their attached wheels, THOWs are classified as caravans and aren’t subject to the bushfire attack level standards other new houses built in fire-prone areas are required to meet.

But, Coupe’s time living in the small township of Kinglake - where effects of 2009’s Black Saturday fires still linger - has informed his fire-resistant work.

“Tiny houses are, by nature, portable - no one really knows where they will end up,” he says.

“With the potential for almost every house in Victoria to be affected by fire, I believe it’s beneficial for all houses, portable or not, to be resistant to airborne embers and smoke.”

To achieve this, Coupe reduces the number of weak points where fire could enter his houses. With the shutters, the airtight lips around the windows, and the fireproof mesh covering the vents, the chance of embers or burning debris finding a place to ignite drops.

For Coupe, the main goal is to prevent heat from getting inside, and he meticulously seals cracks and gaps - a step he says is often overlooked with tiny houses. He says fabric and furnishings inside the home are “far more flammable than anything that’s on the outside of the house”, making radiant heat the biggest threat to homes.

His most recent builds have even gone completely electric to remove the gas risk, and complete fireproofing sees the tyres removed.

All of his developments are tested under flame and intense heat to give a realistic and accurate idea of their effectiveness.

He then shares much of his experimentation on YouTube, and even makes his designs easy to reproduce by other builders.

“I don’t have fancy machinery or equipment and I don’t import materials,” he says. “Either of these would make replicating these houses untenable to the average owner-builder or commercial builder.”

With that in mind, Coupe chooses materials that are easy to purchase, including his fireproof paints, fire-resistant insulations, and low-ignitability timbers.

“Australia needs too many of these [fire-resistant THOWs] for me to build them all,” he says.

Though the fire-resistant modifications push the price up, Coupe says it’s “not as pricey as most would expect” and costs significantly “less than rebuilding”.

The markup ranges from about 10 percent for a medium fire-resistance level, up to 50 percent more for the highest level of protection.

Importantly, Coupe says the homes are designed to be unharmed while their occupants head to safety.

“Leaving early should be an easy decision,” he says. “My houses need to look ready for battle at a moment’s notice or much of their benefit can be lost from the outset.”

Images: TC Tiny (Facebook)

Our Partners