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5 Ways to Improve Your Home’s Fire Defense

Summer is approaching fast, and with some of the lowest rainfall recorded in recent years, homeowners in Sonoma County, Napa County, and Marin County need to take necessary steps to protect their property. California’s drought emergency is highly concerning. Even with another highly volatile fire season looming ahead, there are ways you can retrofit your current home for improved fire resistance. Firebrand Safety Systems, Inc. is proud to help home and property owners throughout Northern California boost their fire defenses and preparedness.

Retrofitting your home against wildfire isn’t something you should put off. According to numerous post-fire assessments, the research shows that many property owners could have protected their home from wildfires if they addressed three main areas:

  1. Home construction design and materials

  2. Landscape and vegetation maintenance within immediate home radius

  3. Management of additional vegetation and combustible materials on the surrounding property

These areas don’t have to involve complex projects, redesigns, or removal of all vegetation. While some homes may require more retrofitting than others, the overall goal is to ensure the safety of your family, the security of your home, and the prevention of wildfire spread to your community. Whether the effort required is minimal or major, retrofitting your home against wildfire has become essential

Below are some steps you can take today to ensure your home is as fire-resistant as possible.

Creating Defensible Space

Chances are that if you have a home in Sonoma or a surrounding county, you’ve heard about the importance of defensive space. Creating defensible space around your property can be one of the most effective strategies for preventing wildfire damage. Having a buffer of protection can not only defend your home, but also minimize the spread of the fire. Ensuring your property has defensible space can involve everything from tree removal to landscape layout and design to regular maintenance and debris clearing. Defensible space is especially important for homes on steep slopes or with large parcel lots with thick vegetation or combustible materials. Simply put, the goal is to stop a fire in its tracks and do everything possible to make firefighters’ jobs easier.

Maintaining Fences & Decks

As an extension of your physical home, fences, decks and other outdoor structures should be treated with just as much -- if not more -- attention and care when it comes to fire defense. These construction elements typically face the potential fire threat before your physical home, which means making them as fire-resistant as possible is essential. Though decks made of redwood, tropical hardwoods, or cedar are often beautiful, they can be the most prone to wildfire spread. If a wooden deck were to ignite from a floating ember, it could in turn cause the whole home to be engulfed in flames. There are alternative options, such as pressure impregnated fire retardant treated wood deck materials, which are specifically designed to be more resistant to fire and stray embers. Other options include plastic composite decking, metal deck boards, lightweight concrete, and flagstone. When paired with noncombustible joists (such as steel), it can have a major impact on the overall fire and ember resistance of an outdoor deck.

The same approach should be used for property fences, which can unintentionally create a direct flame path to a home if surrounding vegetation or debris were to cause wildfire spread. If replacing a current fence line with noncombustible fence materials is not possible or within budget, ensure that the fence is either separated enough from the house or at least the last 5 feet are upgraded to a noncombustible option. It is also important to remove any landscaping directly touching the fence and regularly clear vegetation debris that may fall nearby. Also, avoid using any part of a fence as a plant trellis, as this can result in an ignitable vegetative debris spot.

Selecting More Resistant Siding Materials

While not in everyone’s fire prevention budget, a great way to make your home more resistant to fire is upgrading to noncombustible siding material, such as stucco, steel or fiber cement. If it is a new home build, you can start off on the right foot with one of these options and also incorporate a one-hour wall design, providing you with an additional fire-resistant layer. If a home’s siding ignites, it can quickly penetrate through the stud cavity and into the home, which is why it is so important to reduce the vulnerability of your house’s exterior siding. Following your home’s landscaping and outdoor space, the siding is one of the last lines of defense you have against wildfire damage. By choosing the right materials and maintaining proper exterior defensible space with vegetation, you can ensure your home is set up with the strongest fire resistance possible.

Protecting Vents from Ember Intrusion

Moving into the house, one area to regularly maintain is your home’s attic or crawl space vents. These are entry points for embers, which can find their way to combustible materials within an attic. Make sure that you minimize or completely remove any materials that may result in embers turning into flames. This can include items such as cardboard boxes, old magazines, papers or documents, etc. Additionally, vents should be at the very least covered by ⅛-inch noncombustible corrosion-resistant metal mesh screening, which will greatly reduce the size of straying embers. It is also important to regularly inspect vents to ensure there is no damage to the screen, debris clogs, tears, or other concerns. You may also want to consider completely replacing your vents with fire and ember-resistant material.

Keeping Your Roof Ready for Fire Threats

Even if a fire encroaches closely to your home, it doesn’t mean it will automatically catch fire. Flying embers and ash can often spread from a far distance when winds pick up, landing on roofs, nearby trees, or even in gutters, which is why ensuring your home is clear of combustible materials. It is essential that homeowners make their roofs fire-safe, selecting the highest fire rating roof coverings when possible (Class A). This includes fire-retardant roof materials such as asphalt fiberglass composition shingles or clay, that can greatly reduce roof vulnerability. In addition to updating roof materials, steps should be taken to remove any accumulation of debris (dead leaves, branches, dried vegetation, etc.) from the roof, roof edges, and gutters. This may involve regular roof clearing maintenance, especially during fire season. Other areas to look out for include roof-to-wall locations where the roof and a wall of the house intersect, often creating a combustion threat. You can replace more combustible siding with a more fire-resistant material. Lastly, in regards to gutters, consider upgrading to a noncombustible gutter cover, which can also help reduce the risk of debris accumulating.

Not sure if your home is as fire-resistant as it could be? Don't take that risk. Let one of the fire defense experts at Firebrand Safety Systems assess your home and provide you with a home hardening plan. We proudly serve homeowners in Sonoma, Napa Valley, Marin and beyond.

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