Posted On March 20, 2019
Approximately 14,000 homes were destroyed in two of California’s worst wildfires in 2018, equating to $19 billion in damage to residential and commercial real estate. After a year of dangerous wildfires, home builders are experimenting with more fire-resistant construction techniques. While a fully fireproof home might not be possible at this time, investing in more fire-resistant construction could prevent future damage.
Droughts caused by climate change have increased the risk of wildfire all over the country, especially in states like California, Colorado, Texas, Florida, Tennessee, and South Carolina. The Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety (IBHS) is leading the way with the development of two test homes, built to better resist fire damage. CEO Roy Wright, a former FEMA official and native Californian, said of the mission of the project, “there are steps that we can take so that the impact of that fire is narrowed, it doesn’t spread as far, and it impacts far fewer structures.
Though one might expect the primary cause of fire damage may be actual flames, 90% of fire damage is caused by flying embers. IBHS research engineer, Daniel Gorham explained, “fire resistance means you’ve incorporated building materials and design features that will get the ember exposure, will get the fire exposure, but would resist it.”
On the fire-resistant prototype, the siding is a fiber cement composite instead of wood shingles or planks. Landscaping also plays a crucial role in fire resistance. The prototype home has rocks instead of mulch and plantings that are at least five feet away from the siding and sitting six inches off the ground. The noncombustible landscaping and strategic spacing reduces the risk of embers catching ornamental vegetation and later the home. Additionally, the prototype home uses metal gutters instead of vinyl gutters to reduce the risk. Dual-paned, tempered glass windows are harder to break and make it harder for the fire to penetrate the home. When subjected to equal amounts of embers, a regular home was engulfed in flames while the prototype home was fine.
As climate change continues to fuel stronger and more devastating natural disasters, the way builders construct homes and other buildings will have to evolve to protect property and more importantly save lives.