In many parts of the US, wildfire threatens homes and businesses alike. According to the Insurance Information Institute, about 9.8 million acres burned in the 2017 period, and 8,700 structures were destroyed in Northern California alone.
A structure can be threatened in three ways: direct exposure to flames, radiated heat, and airborne firebands. According to the National Fire Protection Association, airborne firebands, such as ember fall-out, account for the majority of structures affected by wildfire. Embers are burning pieces of airborne wood and/or vegetation that can be carried more than a mile via wind and can cause spot fires and ignite homes, debris and other objects.
Fire-Resistive Construction Techniques
The Insurance Information Institute states that when homes are fire resistant, not only are they less likely to burn but they also act as a fire break, potentially reducing the size of the fire and enabling it to be brought under control more easily. Whether building a new home or considering major renovations or a roof replacement, incorporating fire-resistive materials can help protect your home from wildfire.
- Roofs – The roof is extremely receptive to ember fall out. By installing a Class A, fire-rated material, such as standing seam metal, concrete tile, slate or composite roofing, burning embers may roll off before they have time to burn through the material. Wood shingle/shake roofs provide fuel for the falling embers and can be the ignition point for the home. Remember, if you do use fire-rated wood shingles/shake, the treatment is only good for a limited time. Lastly, a steeper pitched roof is more fire resistive than a flat roof.
- Exterior walls – When choosing exterior siding, consider non-flammable materials such as brick veneer, stone veneer, stucco or fiber-cement siding. By avoiding untreated wood siding, you may prevent the home from catching on fire. A fire-resistive exterior siding helps prevent fires from spreading from the ground level up the exterior walls and to the roofline.
- Decks – Consider alternatives to the traditional wood deck. Decks made of composite materials will help prevent the fire from moving as quickly as it might with untreated wood material. Furthermore, alternatives to the classic deck, such as concrete products, terraces and other landscaping techniques, provide less fuel for the fire.
- Windows – Before a window is touched by flames, the intense heat of a wildfire can cause the glass to break. To help protect your house, use double-paned or dual-paned windows, which will not only double the amount of time it will take the fire to break your windows, but will also be more energy efficient. Steel framing for the window will offer the best protection followed by wood and aluminum.
- Vents and Eaves – Cover all critical entry points with 1/8 inch wire mesh to prevent flaming material from finding entry to the interior of the home. Critical areas include soffit vents, gable end vents and dryer vents. Open eaves should be boxed in with fire-resistant materials to keep out open embers.
In addition to using these fire-resistive building techniques, homeowners should also incorporate defensible space around their home and evaluate their home’s fencing to further protect against fire damage.
James Milek is a Risk Consultant with Chubb Personal Risk Services.