It’s wildfire season—here’s how to harden your home
It's time to forgo wood
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As the high season for wildfires approaches across the country, homeowners need to prepare the house and belongings and keep them safe. There are ways to secure your valuables and remove certain things from your home and yard to prevent embers and radiant heat from creating a fire situation on your property.
There’s also plenty to do to lower the risk of your home catching fire.
The Home Ignition Zone is the area that stretches from your home’s foundation all the way out to the property line (or 200 feet out, depending on how big your parcel of land is), and there are ways you can safeguard it from the threat of wildfire.
Most importantly, maintaining the trees and vegetation on your property, properly spacing them out and adding fuel breaks (breaks in vegetation that can slow the spread of fire) like a driveway, rock mulch, or other hardscaping, are important ways to prevent fire from encroaching on your home.
When you take measures to safeguard the actual building structure within this defensible space, it’s referred to as hardening your home, and there are several ways to do this.
DIY home hardening
First, there are the low-impact (and low-cost) ways to harden your home. Just as it’s important to remove combustible organic debris from your yard, it’s important to remove it from your home as well, so make sure your roof and gutters are clear of leaves, pine needles, and other organic matter, and trim tree branches that touch the exterior of your home.
It can also be helpful to install a noncombustible gutter guard and cover to prevent the buildup of leaves and other debris.
Repair or replace any loose or missing shingles or tiles on your roof, as these spots can become entry points for embers that land on your home.
Vents in places like attics can also become entry points for embers to land on or even get sucked into your home, so cover any vent openings on your home with 1/16-inch to 1/8-inch metal mesh screening to lower the risk that embers can enter.
Installing 1/16-inch to 1/8-inch metal screens in windows can also prevent embers from entering the home in the event that glass window panes break during a fire.
In the event of the threat of wildfire, remove any outdoor furniture from decks and patios and store inside the home, or at least 30 feet away from the main building structure to reduce the threat that they’ll ignite your home or other items around them.
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Call in the professionals to harden your home
It’s easy to make small changes to the exterior of your home yourself or with the help of a handy person. But, there are many ways that you can upgrade or retrofit the materials on your house to make sure they are wildfire-resistant.
Whether or not you need to consider making structural changes to your home will depend on how recently your home was built, where you live, and how much money you’re able to spend, but we’re including several of the most important things to address if your home isn’t up to the current fire safety standards of your area.
We’ll break it down by areas of the home.
I can’t write about this section without running the Bloodhound Gang’s catchy 1996 hit song, “The Roof Is On Fire,” through my brain, if only to suggest that if that roof had been retrofitted with shingles made of metal or a noncombustible composition, or perhaps clay tile, they might not have had to let it burn.
Repairing or replacing a roof can be one of the most costly things you can do to your house, but if you find yourself needing to replace it, consider re-roofing with the materials mentioned above, as wood or traditional asphalt shingles are at high risk for combustion, and your roof is the most vulnerable part of your home in a wildfire.
A deck is simultaneously an outdoor space and an extension of the home, as it usually abuts the actual building, which means fire can easily spread to a home if a deck ignites.
If you’re considering new deck construction, look out for ignition-resistant, noncombustible materials to build it from. (This doesn’t mean your deck can’t be wood, as certain woods are treated with fire-retardant, but you’ll want to make sure the wood you choose has been treated.)
Other types of ignition-resistant materials include, certain types of composite materials, pressure-treated wood, and aerated concrete.
It’s also crucial to keep your deck free of ignitable debris like leaves, and to keep things like firewood and propane tanks stored at a distance of at least 30 feet.
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Any kind of glass can shatter when exposed to incredibly high heat, and single-pane glass—typically found in older homes—and larger windows are the most vulnerable to breakage.
If you’re looking to replace your current windows for a more fire-resistant kind, consider dual-pane windows where one of the panes is tempered glass for the highest resistance to radiant heat and breakage.
There are several kinds of siding that, if ignited, will easily melt, or can trap flames and embers, leading to it gaining access inside the home.
Vinyl siding and exterior wood panels or shingles, for instance, are more combustible and lose their structural integrity more easily than other materials.
When considering retrofitting or constructing a home with noncombustible siding, consider fiber-cement, three-coat stucco, and brick, which provide the best protection.
Certain types of wood siding that have been treated with an exterior-rated fire-retardant chemical may also improve the performance of siding against the threats of radiant heat and flame contact exposures.
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If you choose to have a fence around your home or yard, the most important thing to consider is whether or not it will actually touch your house. It’s recommended that you use a noncombustible material for the five feet of fencing closest to the home in order to reduce the chance of the fence from bringing fire to your home.
While it certainly helps to use the right kinds of noncombustible building materials, you don’t have to spend thousands to retrofit your home to mitigate the threat of wildfires.
Creating a fire-resistant defensible space around the exterior of your home, and taking small steps to harden your home are the key to keeping wildfires at bay on your property.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.