Your guide on building a house in a fire risk zone - By Malika Junaid

Jan, 08

Wildfires are a common occurrence in California and unfortunately around the world. They typically appear towards the end of the hot and dry summers. The climate change is to blame here as it sets off “boom and bust” cycles of rainfall and drought, making firetraps of California forests. With rainfall low, temperatures and winds high and the dry spell prolonging, the heatwave of California fires that we’re currently battling are heavily taxing our first responder assets. More fires will undoubtedly follow if these conditions continue. First responder assets aside, these fires have affected local civilians. Thousands have evacuated, and many find nothing but charred vacant lots when they return. This begs the question, “What are some ways people in high fire risk zones can protect themselves, their homes, and actually help firefighters in the process?”

Rebuilding after a fire

Although tragedies usually lead the field in newscasts, stories still abound of how some homeowners managed to protect their properties from wildfire. You can, too! While the climate’s changing state may seem like an inflammatory factor that is out of your control, there is a lot you can do as an individual to protect your home from going up in flames.

Anticipating problems is the best way to beat them, am I right? Similarly, by fireproofing your home, you can avoid future loss and damage to property and life at home. While it is true that there is no way to guarantee that your abode will ever be 100 percent fireproof, but it is important that you take whatever preventive measures you can in order to give your home a fighting chance.

You can improve the odds against you, your family, and your home falling victim to a fire with a clear fireproof home design plan. When it comes down to it, all that it really takes to make your house designing project a success and your house to stand after a flashover event is the use of the right materials, the right landscaping, and smart detailing. With that in mind, I’ve compiled a list of some key, architect-approved elements to rebuild homes to make them fire resistant:

  • Use non-combustible material for internal frames

Noncombustible materials such as fiber cement, brick, stone, and steel should be used to construct external walls. These materials are more affordable than traditional materials and are easy to procure and assemble, but more importantly, they have a lot more resistance than untreated wood and vinyl in case a fire breaks out.

  • Upgrade windows

When it comes to facing the heat of a wildfire, insulated glass windows generally hold longer than standard laminated glass windows, so that is what you should go for. I would recommend you against window panes that are a size too big as smaller window panes have better fireproofing capabilities. While you are at it, refrain from installing acrylic skylights as well. They can melt pretty easily and leave a gaping hole in the roof.

  • Seal windows and doors

By sealing the frames of doors and windows, you will reduce the risk of embers getting into your home in case there is a fire. A home that is well-sealed is very effective when it comes to withstanding fire. This is why I would recommend using noncombustible fire shutters made out of aluminum, bronze or steel on all windows and doors in areas where the fire risk is extremely high.

  • Keep the design simple

If the shape of the roof or the house itself is complicated, it generally offers more places for embers to get into and stay inside. So, try and minimize on the areas of the roof that are likely to accumulate embers by sealing the eaves and installing gutter guards that are noncombustible.

  • Paint pergolas and decking with fireproof paint

Pergolas and decking are often made from highly inflammable traditional timber, so you may want to build these structures with composite instead, which is less flammable. If you do use wood, you must treat your decks and pergolas against fire, which will greatly decrease the likelihood of the wood igniting in case a fire breaks out. It also pays to position Pergolas and decking structurally away from home.


Perimeter Defense

A defensible space, as the name implies, is your first line of defense against a wildfire. The purpose of this space is to slow the spread of the wildfire toward or from your home and allow a safe area for firefighters to be able to beat back the fire if it comes too close.

  • Clear the fuel

Maintain a ‘fuel-free’ area of landscaping around the home. The State Forest Service recommends the removal of dead or flammable vegetation with 15 feet of a home’s walls. Keep the grass mowed to no more than 6 inches, creating a defensive zone of 30 feet from all structures. Other measures to take is to thin the pine trees on your property to 10 to 12 feet between the crowns of the trees. This will help to prevent the fire from jumping from tree top to tree top. Prune their branches to a height of 10 feet above the ground. Thin continuous trees and brush from around all structures. Small shrubs and trees should be removed from under the tall trees. This will prevent the fire from climbing the small tree in the process and setting fire to the taller trees.

  • Select plants that are high-water-bearing

Plants that have higher levels of water content may prevent the fire from spreading quickly, so you may want to opt for them. You can also keep the surroundings wet to keep the plant bed moist. If you install a sprinkler system in the garden, the plant bed can be kept damp, which will reduce the intensity of the fire in case one breaks out.

  • Unclutter the gutter

Clean your gutters at least twice a year to remove highly inflammable natural materials such as dry leaves, seeds, and branches that are carried by the wind. These materials may become embedded in the gutter. You can choose to place non-combustible mesh over the gutter to avoid flammable and decaying plants and leaves.

Not a lot of people design their dream homes with regards to the wildland-urban interface and the dangers of imminent fires until something tragic sees the light of day. Don’t be one of them. Just keep the above-mentioned elements in mind and include them in your home building plan and you can outlast California’s wildfire’s lapping flames.

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