There have been an increasing amount of emails and phone calls from clients concerned about their homes and if they have fire coverage due to the extreme losses people have been experiencing due to wildfires. The answer is yes you do! Homeowners insurance was first created to protect against one peril, FIRE. The exceptions are fires due to arson or in a vacant property.
1. Clear combustible debris from around your home
The first step is often the most effective, and it's a doable project for a homeowner: clear combustible debris from around the house. This includes obvious things like dry grass, brush, stacks of firewood and debris – and some not so obvious things like a wood fence and even a wooden deck. Defensible spaces should stretch out at least 30 feet from a house, and large concentric rings of fuel reduction set further out improve the odds. The clearer the area, the better the chance a fire crew will stay to protect your property.
2. Secure your home's eaves and vent openings
Eaves and vent openings are a perfect place for embers to fly into and start a home ablaze from the interior. Making sure they are properly screened and maintained may seem like a little detail, but it is often the first place embers can enter a house in a wildfire. Even keeping gutters clean can help protect your home's vulnerable eaves.
3. Protect your home's roof
Roofs are often the most vulnerable part of a house in a fire, so it goes without saying that cedar shakes are out of the question – even in urban areas. Class A rated roofs are the norm, including many asphalt shingle types, but tile and steel are preferred options. Same goes for siding—a shingle or wood wall offers very poor fire resistance while fiber cement or stucco stands up well. A low or non-flammable underlayment dramatically improves the fire resistance.
4. Upgrade your windows and drapes
Windows are also exceptionally venerable, as the intense heat can go right through and actually catch drapes and furniture on fire. The easy solution is replacing the window fabric with a more heat-resistant product. Windows can break as well, so smaller tempered units are more stable than large windows. The best choice is installing outside non-combustible shutters which can be quickly closed in an emergency.
5. Plan your home to be fire-resistant from the ground up
Designing a new home provides the perfect opportunity to incorporate fire-ready measures. Providing good access to the property for emergency vehicles is a must. Avoiding complex shapes and bump outs reduces places for embers to lodge and cause a hotspot. Sprinklers help but, alas, someone needs be there to turn them on – so having a standing water source for firefighters can be just as effective.
6. Select a fire-resistant site
"Location, location, location" is not just a tagline for resellers. Placing a house in a thick stand of trees is plainly asking for trouble, but so is setting a home on a hilltop or overhanging a prominent rock outcropping where it becomes a clear target for a moving fire.
All too often people design their dream homes without regard for the wildland-urban interface and the hazards of oncoming fires – a few simple steps can make all the difference in protecting homes from mother nature's fury.