Thursday, July 25, 2013

Wildfires and Home Design: Decks and Patios

Materials for outdoor decks need to be considered when designing for protection, as decks are usually where fires originate. Before a product for the deck is even picked, it is smart to consider a concrete patio underneath the deck and possibly even a concrete wall along the side and then install mesh around any opening, in order to stop embers from igniting your deck from underneath. Products like Fire-Retardant Treated (FRT) Wood can provide protection from flames and smoke while still having the natural wood look. Composite decking is another option for protection and is usually made from a mixture of pvc and wood fibers. If a natural wood deck is what you are looking for, there is a product, TimberSIL, which is a lumber that is baked after being soaked in liquid glass. Want to see how their product holds up compared to the typical deck and wall? Watch this video. Finally, there are wood products that have been soaked in fire-retardant chemicals, providing robust fire protection, but may require more maintenance.

In the first post of the series we mentioned the maintenance of the site and the different offsets of the trees and vegetation from the house. The same thing applies to the deck, making sure that dead leaves and trash don’t collect in the corners or under your deck. Trees shouldn’t hang over the deck in order to protect it, which should include any steps or railings that are attached to the deck which in turn attaches to the house, making it more vulnerable.  

Ultimately, no home is fireproof, but there are many different design decisions you can make to help protect your home from potential fires, while still achieving the look you desire. Designing a new home should be an amazing opportunity to make a house fit your needs and desires, even if you are reconstructing upon an existing foundation.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Wildfires and Home Design: Windows and Doors

Did you know that windows are one of the weakest points in your structure’s survivability? Standard, single-pane windows fail pretty easily from the strong onset of heat. If the heat from a wildfire breaks the glass of your windows, it will allow embers quick and easy access to the interior of your home. Also, if your window frame fails or ignites, the interior curtains or structure may ignite as well, again, sending your home up in flames from the interior. By investing a little money, you have the possibility to save your home.

Although Tempered glass will shatter it will not break.

Some different options for windows include tempered glass, windows clad in steel, double pane glass, triple pane glass and even single-pane Pyrostop glass windows. Also remember that the larger the windows of your home, the less chance of them holding up against the extreme heat. All of these options come with different price tags and fire resistance properties, but they can be big players in the protection of your home. SaftiFirst has a couple of products with fire ratings up to 120 minutes for both radiant heat and fire rating capabilities which would last through the quick, hot burst of a wildfire. Tempered glass is made to withstand the heat of a fire, but can sometimes be pricey. If you don’t want to shell out a lot of money for specialized windows, double and triple pane windows will provide you another barrier of protection against fire. If one pane does break due to heat and fire, then the idea is that the other panes will stay intact.

Windows clad in steel have less of a chance of catching fire and in turn catching the house on fire than if the windows had wood frames. Metal blinds and shutters can help your home's defense against an oncoming fire as well.

Exterior doors can also be beefed up in order to protect the home. Steel doors can provide a high fire resistance rating, but may not be the look you are hoping for. In that case, a wood door with a fire resistant core can be the best of both worlds. There are even some fiberglass doors that look like wood, but have a longer fire rating.

One last measure of protection against wildfires when it comes to doors and windows is to install shutters, shades or have home protection gel on hand. All of these things can be used right before evacuation to try to protect your windows and ultimately your whole home.

Our final post will be about construction of your outdoor deck or patio. Stay tuned!

Friday, July 19, 2013

Wildfires and Home Design: Cladding and Roofing

Once your fire resistant structure is in place, it is time to decide on a roof and a cladding system that can protect that structure. Flying embers that can come at your house like rain is the number one cause for homes being destroyed by wildfires, so there are some simple design choices you can make to protect your home.

When it comes to cladding there are also many different options allowing you to achieve the look you desire, while still protecting your home from scorching destruction. Stone Veneer or Brick Masonry with fire rated mortar can give your home a strong defense while still providing a very natural look. Fiber Cement Siding that covers a piece of 5/8” x rated gypsum board and your structure can provide the look of vinyl siding while protecting your home for 2 to 4 hours. Stucco is an economical choice as a finish and provides a better fire rating than wood shakes, but not as good as brick, stone or fiber cement. Also, wood that is treated with fire retardant chemicals can provide a natural wood look of shake siding with a desired fire resistance. Lastly, the more complicated the joints in the siding, the less likely that embers will blow up under the siding and start the structure on fire.

Fiber Cement Siding

Want the log cabin feel for your home in the woods? Logs can easily burn, but there are products like Everlogs that look like real logs but are made out of concrete and protect your home against the destruction of wildfire. They even make their “logs” with knots and growth rings! Everlogs also specialize in cement “timber” if you are looking to create a magnificent wood entry into your home.

Everlogs provide the look of logs but could save your home from fire.

When choosing materials for your roof, there are many different materials that can be effective to prevent your home from burning quickly. Fiberglass-Based Asphalt Shingles provide an economical and popular option for the roof of your home. Recycled Rubber Tile can provide your roof with a top rated material without breaking the bank. Metal Tile, Clay Tile and Slate roofs can provide both elegance and the needed fire protection for your new home as well, but come at a little higher price.

Fiberglass-Based Asphalt Shingles

When designing your roof, it is important not to forget about the possibility of heat and embers getting trapped in eaves and getting into the attic. The best way to protect your roof is to have a fully enclosed soffit and a vent in the fascia which will deflect away heat and gases. Covering all vents in the roof should be a fine mesh screen that will keep out flying embers.

The roofs are only affective if they are clear of debris and flammable materials. This means that each year the gutters need to be cleaned out and dead leaves need to be removed from the roof’s corners in order to protect it from flames.

Did you know that the windows and doors you choose to use can make a difference in the effectiveness of your cladding and roofing systems? Stay tuned for some better window and door choices.  

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Wildfires and Home Design: Structure and Safe Room

The first aspect of your home that can be enhanced to provide greater protection against fire is the structure. The materials that make up the walls of your home have an enormous effect on the potential for your home to sustain a wildfire. There are a couple alternatives to wood-framed construction that can significantly increase your home’s chance of withstanding the danger of fire. Autoclaved Aerated Concrete Blocks, which provide an hour of fire protection per square inch, are blocks made of concrete and aluminum, but are half the weight of standard concrete blocks and come in manageable widths. A video on the blocks can be found here!  Another option are walls made from Insulated Concrete Forms (ICFs) that can withstand flames for about three hours.  ICFs are ultimately molds filled with 4 to 6 inches of concrete. Unlike wood and steel, concrete does not burn, soften or bend. It takes thousands of degrees Fahrenheit for concrete to start to break down, which means ICFs are a solid (no pun intended) choice for the structure of your home. 

If you decide to go with the popular wood framed house, there are still insulation options that allow your house better protection. Not only will the type of insulation affect the fire resistance of the house, but it will help your house stay cool during the summer and warmer in the winter. One type of insulation that does wonders when protecting from fire is mineral wool insulation that can withstand heat up to 1,800 degrees F.  Cellulose insulation is known to withstand temperatures up to 1,200 degrees F and can be a defense against burning.

Have you ever thought about designing a safe room into your home? A safe room, usually used in tornado and hurricane prone areas, is a hardened structure that provides "near-absolute protection" in extreme weather events. Although FEMA designates these structures for tornado and hurricane areas, they can also protect belongings during a wildfire, with some of the structures having a four hour fire rating. The safe rooms can be placed anywhere within the house and are constructed out of an insulated concrete ceiling, an insulated steel door with multiple deadbolts, and a cast in place steel frame. The room can be as large or as small as you wish and can incorporate “normal” interior finishes. In homes, these rooms can protect personal belongings from theft and fires.

Watch for our next post about how to cover these fire resistant structures with cladding and roofs.