You can take proactive measures to harden your home and prevent or significantly reduce the risk of fire damage to your property.
It’s important to note that the following tips are general guidelines, and the specific recommendations may vary depending on your location and local regulations. Consider consulting with your local fire departments or regional wildfire prevention agency for personalized advice tailored to your area.
1. Create Defensible Space Around the Home
One of the fundamental steps in home hardening is creating a defensible space around your property. This acts as a buffer zone, reducing the risk of fire spreading from vegetation to your property and home. There are three home ignition zones: Zone 0, 1, and 2.
Zone 0: Immediate/Ember-Resistant Zone
The goal is to create a fire-resistant perimeter and eliminate or reduce potential ignition sources within the first 5 feet of your home’s exterior. This includes decks, porches, and other structures attached to your house.
“Zone 0 should be free of flammable vegetation and combustible materials. That means minimal planting using only fire-resistant species,” says Kevin Lenhart, a landscape architect and director of design at Yardzen. He also recommends using inorganic materials such as gravel, stone, or other hardscaping over wood chips, bark mulch, and other highly flammable materials.
You should also cover vents to prevent embers from spreading fire into your home.
Zone 1: Intermediate/Lean, Clean, and Green Zone
Zone 1 extends from the outer edge of Zone 0 (5 feet) to 30 feet from your home. Remove or prune trees and bushes to create a spacing of at least 10 feet between them to help prevent fire spread through continuous fuel sources.
“The goal is to interrupt the fire’s path and keep flames smaller and on the ground,” says Sean Coffey, a fireplace expert with Regency Fire. “Clear vegetation from under propane tanks. Create fuel breaks with driveways and walkways. Pruning trees up would stop the flames from catching fire through any leaves or plants.”
Zone 2: Extended/Reduce Fuel Zone
From the outer edge of Zone 1 (30 feet) to 100 feet from your home is Zone 2. Here, the goal is to reduce the density of flammable vegetation and create a landscape that slows the spread of fire. “Dispose of ground litter and debris. Remove dead plant and tree material and vegetation adjacent to storage sheds,” says Coffey.
Maintain spacing between trees and large shrubs to help prevent rapid fire spread through continuous vegetation. Remove or prune low-hanging branches, shrubs, and other vegetation that could provide a ladder for fire to reach the tree canopy. Regularly mow grasses and ground cover to keep them short and well-maintained.
2. Choose Fire-Resistant Building Materials
Fire-resistant building materials create a protective barrier against flames, embers, and radiant heat, reducing the risk of ignition and increasing your home’s chances of withstanding a wildfire. Opt for noncombustible options like metal, concrete, or clay tiles and fiber cement siding for roofs and walls. Prioritize tempered glass, dual-pane windows, and solid-core doors to enhance heat resistance.
Make sure you choose materials that comply with local building codes and regulations. Consider consulting with professionals or local authorities on fire-resistant construction for specific recommendations based on your region’s wildfire risks.
3. Harden Parts of Your Home
Home hardening requires a comprehensive approach, addressing vulnerabilities in various parts of your property to minimize the risk of wildfire damage. By taking proactive measures, you can significantly increase your home’s chances of withstanding a wildfire and protect your loved ones.
Chimneys, Garages, Driveways, and Address Numbers
- Install spark arresters on chimneys to prevent embers from entering.
- Keep garages and driveways clear of flammable materials and debris.
- Ensure address numbers are clearly visible for emergency responders.
Coatings and Gels
- Apply fire-retardant coatings or gels to vulnerable surfaces such as fences, decks, and exterior walls.
- Follow manufacturer instructions for application and reapplication.
Decks, Patios, and Porches
- Build decks and patios with non-combustible materials and maintain them free from debris.
- Keep a 5-foot noncombustible zone around the base of elevated decks.
Exterior Sprinkler Systems
- Install exterior sprinkler systems that can wet the home’s exterior during a wildfire.
- Ensure proper maintenance and testing of the system.
- Choose non-combustible materials such as metal or masonry for fences, since they offer better fire resistance than traditional wood options.
- Maintain a clear space between the fence and surrounding vegetation.
- Regularly clean out gutters, roofs, and other areas where embers may accumulate. Embers can easily ignite these areas and increase the risk of fire spreading to your home.
- Install non-combustible gutter guards to prevent debris accumulation.
- Keep plants well-irrigated and regularly maintain them to prevent dead or dry vegetation from accumulating.
- Choose fire-resistant plants and avoid using highly flammable materials near your home.
Outdoor Furniture and Accessories
- Choose fire-resistant materials for outdoor furniture.
- Store cushions and other flammable accessories indoors during fire-prone seasons.
- Choose fire-resistant roofing materials such as asphalt shingles or metal, concrete, or clay tiles.
- Keep your roof debris-free and regularly inspect it for damaged or missing shingles.
Siding and Exterior Walls
- Seal gaps and cracks in the home’s exterior to minimize the entry of embers and radiant heat.
- For exterior walls, consider noncombustible materials that can withstand high temperatures—such as stucco, brick, stone, or fiber cement.
Soffits and Eaves
- Replace combustible soffits and eaves with non-combustible materials, such as metal or fiber cement.
- Seal gaps and joints to prevent ember entry.
- Avoid using tarps on roofs or other structures during a wildfire as they can catch and hold embers.
- Install ember-resistant vent covers to prevent ember intrusion.
- Use metal mesh with a maximum opening size of one-eighth inch to cover vents.
Windows and Doors
- Install dual-pane or tempered glass windows that are more resistant to heat and shattering.
- Consider installing metal screens or shutters for added protection.
Create an Accessible Water Source
Having a reliable and accessible water source is essential for firefighting efforts and protecting your home during a wildfire.
- Install outdoor water outlets around your property, equipped with hoses that can reach all areas of your home. These can be used for firefighting or wetting the surrounding area during a wildfire.
- Ensure proper functioning of sprinkler systems.
- Maintain an easily accessible water supply such as a well, swimming pool, or water storage tank.