It’s an unfortunate reality that many Americans must be prepared for: Wildfires happen, and they’re only becoming more common in this era of climate change. If you live in what’s known as a WUI (wildland-urban interface) area, your home is potentially at risk of being damaged or even destroyed by an out-of-control wildfire.
In addition to doing your part to prevent wildfires from starting, the best way to protect your home is to implement preventative measures now, essentially called “home hardening”. Let’s explore two key categories of wildfire preparation you should focus on, and address some of the main tasks involved in each.
#1. “Firescape” your yard
Your first course of action to protect your home actually begins outside of it, in your yard. If a wildfire is headed your way, the type of yard you have can either facilitate or hinder its arrival at your house.
That’s why “firescaping” has become common for homeowners in the WUI. Beyond California, Colorado, Utah, Oregon, Washington, Texas, Montatan, and even some states in the East are rolling out “home hardening” programs. It’s the practice of designing a yard that provides your home with a measure of “defensible space” around it as protection from an approaching fire. Here are some firescaping strategies to help you design a more fire-safe yard.
Take care when choosing plants and trees
The core concept behind this type of protective landscaping is to create an area around your house that slows a fire’s spread, rather than acting like kindling or a fire path that leads straight to your house.
That’s why you should choose plants, shrubs, trees, and flowers that are less likely to ignite and/or quickly burn in the event of a wildfire. Fortunately, there are plenty of lovely-looking species that naturally fit this description. In other words, a firescaped yard can still be a beautiful one. Plus, firescaped yards tend to require less watering and can improve your property’s value.
Although there are no completely fireproof choices out there, you should look for fire-resistant plants. Those that naturally hold plenty of moisture, grow closer to the ground, and don’t contain much oil or resin are typically best. Think iceplants, aloe, lavender, and trees like oak, cherry, and maple. Your local nursery is a great place to inquire about other options that are native to your area.
Carefully consider the layout
Choosing the right plants is only part of the equation. The way you space them out is also crucially important. First, consider vertical spacing. For trees, there should be at least six feet of distance between the ground and the lowest tree branches. This tactic makes the fire less likely to climb and engulf the entire tree.
Next, consider horizontal spacing. If the plants in your yard are too close together, one catching on fire can cause them all to go up in flames. If your yard is flat or on a slope of less than 20%, the distance between two shrubs should be at least twice the height of a single shrub.
Trees should be at least ten feet apart. If your yard is on a slope steeper than 20%, follow adjusted spacing rules. Finally, consider adding elements like gravel, stone, and concrete retaining walls between groups of plants. These materials can help slow fire spread even more.
Don’t neglect upkeep
Regular upkeep is a key component of effective firescaping. Make sure to prune any dried-out or dead plants often, as these are ideal fire fuel. This applies to the entire area around your home (up to 100 feet away from your house), too.
If certain parts of your yard (such as the sides or edges) aren’t landscaped, consider covering them with fire-resistant materials like gravel, or at least keep them free from flammable materials like pine needles. Don’t forget to keep your gutters clear of debris, too.
Finally, if you add mulch to any of your plants, choose a fire-resistant type. One study done by the University of Nevada, Reno showed that composted wood chips are one of the best non-combustible materials for this because they’re less prone to fire spreading than other types.
#2. Harden your home
“Hardening” your home is the practice of proactively preparing it to withstand wildfire flames. If you’re building a new home in any of the most fire-prone areas, take the following tips into account throughout the process. If you already own a home in one of these areas, consider options for retrofitting, adding, or replacing certain parts of your house in the interest of fire safety and potential damage mitigation. Remember, the pointers below are just a starting point. A contractor in your area can help you with more specific preparedness techniques for your particular home.
Select the right materials for your roof, windows, and outdoor spaces
The materials you choose for your home’s construction are incredibly important when it comes to how they’ll hold up in wildfire conditions. These three areas are especially essential to get right:
- Roof. You should use roofing materials that are ranked as “Class A”, which is the top rating given to the most fire-resistant options out there. These include concrete and certain specific types of shingles or tiles. These non-flammable materials are least likely to allow your roof to catch on fire if an ember should reach the top of your home.
- Windows. When single-paned glass windows are exposed to radiant heat from a fire, they tend to break easily. Installing dual-pane, tempered glass windows instead can help prevent this from happening.
- Outdoor spaces. This category includes porches, decks, and patios. It’s crucial to construct these spaces with fire safety in mind. Concrete is best. If you do use wood, choose a type that’s compliant with building codes and make sure flammable materials like pine needles don’t accumulate between or underneath the boards.
- Gutters. Leaves and debris can collect in your rain gutters. When this debris dries out, it becomes a potential tinder box. Installing metal mesh gutter guards drastically reduces your home’s risk of catching fire.
Install fire- and ember-safe vents | Vulcan Vents
Did you know that 90% of homes destroyed by wildfires ignited because of wind-blown embers? Regular vents (such as attic vents or eave vents) offer free passage for these small but dangerous firestarters to the inside of your home.
That’s why replacing yours with fire- and ember-safe vents like Vulcan Vents is a major step toward reducing the risk of a home fire starting this way. The most effective type of vents are Vulcan Vents which feature an intumescent coating. Vulcan’s “baffle free” design allows for maximum airflow. This allows for the home to have few vents to maintain ventilation while also providing protection from embers and flames from entering the home.
Prepare for fire season
Once you’ve prepped your home and yard for fire resistance, the only thing left is to create an emergency plan for how you’ll respond if a wildfire begins in or spreads to your area. Sign up for wildfire alerts, have backup power and supplies on hand, and arrange for how you’ll quickly evacuate if that becomes necessary. Review the plan with all family members so everyone knows what to do. There are many new and exciting resources available online from your local fire department, Firewise group, or Fire Safe Council.
If you’re ready to start preparing your home for fire season, start by installing fire- and ember-safe vents from Vulcan Vents. Learn more about how our vents can help protect your home from wildfire risk.