How to Build Fireproof Homes

Building and Remodeling for Fire Safety 101

Many homeowners don’t think about how to protect their homes from a wildfire until it’s too late. Not everyone needs to consider this type of protection when they are buying, building or remodeling a home or office but if you do, then it’s a great idea to plan ahead and be prepared.

With fires raging all around us here in the Methow Valley, the Pacific Northwest and various parts of the country, it reminded us of the importance of fireproofing homes, businesses and property.

Western Red Cedar Siding, Mazama Wa

Today we wanted to review all the steps you can take to make sure your family, animals and property are safe and protected during this fire season and any upcoming ones. 

Now you may be wondering how a wildfire might go from the forest into a city if they are not directly connected. This can happen in a few different ways. In fact, more then half of homes that ignite on fire are caused by embers. These can start small fires around your home or office that can burn down the entire structure even if the wildfire is a mile away.

The good news is that there are many ways you can prepare your home and yard to make it as safe as possible. While there are some things we cannot prevent, we do have the ability to reduce our risk significantly by making some changes to our landscaping.

To keep your home safe, start by walking around it fully and taking note of anything near the house that might be flammable.

The first 5 feet around any structure are the most important to ensure fire safety. If you have wood or wicker patio furniture that is up against your home, be aware that it could ignite easily in an ember storm. If you learn there is a fire nearby, move all furniture, including grills, far away from your home.

Wildfires are also spread through direct flames from the ground, from trees or even from neighboring homes. Radiant heat from nearby structures along with flying sparks can help fire spread rapidly. So one of the best things you can do is to remove anything on and around your building that might catch one fire, spread fire or increase the intensity of any fire that does start.

This creates a defensible space around the structure. Ideally you live on and/or are building on this area in which vegetation, debris, and other types of combustible fuels have been treated, cleared, or reduced to slow the spread of fire to and from the building.

When it comes to fire safety, it is important to figure out what the key issues are going to be.

  • If you’re building your home on a steep slope, keep in mind that decks are commonly attached to houses and often times will overhang the slope below. This downslope area is often heavily vegetated and an overgrowth of vegetation can lead to a faster growing and deadlier fires.
  • It’s a good idea to either remove this excess fuel yourself or have a landscaper remove it so you don’t have a bunch of dangerous material hanging out underneath your home. One of the best ways to know if your plants are highly combustible or not is to look for these characteristics; aromatic resins and oils, narrow leaves, long thin needle like leaves, waxy or fuzzy leaves or loose/papery bark. 
  • It is also important to keep in mind that fire can move vertically or horizontally, it all depends on air flow and placement of fuel. This is part of the reason to avoid densely packed neighborhoods or even just putting buildings on your property too close to each other.
  • That being said, large lots aren’t any better if you have stacks of wood, unmaintained shrubs and trees or a messy tool shed. When you leave combustible materials around your buildings you increase the likelihood of fires growing, restrict safe moving space for firefighters, and increase the likelihood of surrounding areas catching fire. 

There are many low cost ways to protect your home from wildfires and can be implemented for almost anybody.

  1. Replace or build your roof with Class A fire rated roofing material (asphalt fiberglass composition shingles, clay and cementitious tiles (both flat and barrel shaped), and some metal roofing materials). 
  2. Cover your chimney and stove pipe outlets with noncombustible corrosion resistant metal mesh screens.
  3. Caulk gaps larger than ⅛ inch sound exposed rafters to prevent flying embers
  4. Replace or build with windows that are multi-paned and have at least one pane of tempered glass
  5. Block any spaces between your roof and sheathing
  6. Install a non combustible gutter cover to prevent accumulating leaves and debris

Then of course there are some completely free things you can do in order to ensure maximum fire protection.

  • Keep regularly cleaning your roof, gutters and deck to avoid accumulating leaves and other flammable debris. 
  • Do your best to remove any combustible materials from within five feet of your home.
  • Replace wood mulch within five feet of your home with dirt, grass or rocks.
  • Remove all dead or dying grass, plants, shrubs, trees etc. within 30 feet of your home. 
  • Another great way to protect your property is to use driveways and gravel paths as natural firebreaks, along with planting fire resistant vegetation and keeping any wood piles at least 30 feet away from your home and structures.
  • Ensure that your patio furniture is made of metal or at least 30 feet away from the home. 

Using stucco, fiber cement wall siding, fire retardant and/or treated wood for your walls is another great step to take. We also recommend installing weather stripping all around and under your garage door to prevent stray embers from getting inside.

There are a million little tricks to keep in mind and plenty of resources exist to fully fireproof your home to the best of your ability. At the end of the day, stay safe and stay vigilant.

Fire season is not something to take lightly and we could all use the extra eyes from our neighbors and a few more safety nets to help protect our homes and businesses.   

Are you planning on building or remodeling in a fire prone area?

Reach out and let us know if you would like any advice on the best materials to use for your project. We have a wealth of information and direct experience that can help you build successfully and avoid burnouts.

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