Friday, July 12, 2013

Wildfires and Home Design : Site Design and Maintenance


For years, building codes have helped to protect your house from the possibility of interior fires, but after witnessing all the destruction of wildfires recently in Colorado, we have decided to give some insight into how you can help your house withstand a massive but brief exterior attack with some simple design decisions. We will have 5 different posts, highlighting different design decisions you can make when building and maintaining a home, that may save it from destruction.

First and foremost, it is important to know that firefighters quickly classify structures into three basic categories when a fire is approaching: Needs little or no attention (can survive on its own), needs protection, and cannot be saved. It is in your best interest to be in the category that needs little or no attention and to design to that classification.

We will start with the design of the site of your home, which is ultimately most important and will take yearly maintenance in order to keep your home safe. You start with your home and the 30 feet surrounding it, otherwise known as Zone 1. Within Zone 1, the first 5-15 feet of your home need to be covered by non-flammable ground cover, like water or rock gardens, raised flower beds, patios, and stone walkways. The second part of Zone 1 allows the ground to be covered with vegetation, but it needs to be low to the ground and have space between each plant. All of the vegetation in this zone needs to be able to hold substantial amounts of moisture and not contain high amounts of sap or resin. If you really want vegetation, remember that a short, green lawn will not carry fire, so if you keep it watered and cut, a lawn can protect your home, but don’t have it within 5 feet of your home. Within Zone 2, the next 10-20 feet, the landscape really requires you to make sure that none of your trees are touching and have at least 10 feet between the branches, as well as the branches being trimmed up to the 10 ft mark. Zone 3 has no specific distance and needs less maintenance, but it is smart to clear out dead branches, fallen pine needles, and trim the underlying vegetation. This zone really needs to be a transition point between your manicured Zone 2 and the forest beyond.

Every year thereafter, you will need to make sure and keep the rock area around your house clean of dead leaves and needles, as well as keep the vegetation trimmed and short. Dead branches need to be removed immediately, and trees need to be trimmed. Also, don’t forget the little things; make sure your wood pile is outside of Zone 1 by March, that your address is visible from the main road while everything is in full bloom and that you have easily accessible gates for your fencing. People have been lucky enough to have their home saved from flames by doing these few simple tasks. Don’t believe us?? Watch this video!

Do you have a propane tank? If you do, it is important to place the tank at least 30 feet from your home and surround it by non-combustible ground cover within 10 feet of every side!

Another important aspect to consider when designing your home is the accessibility for fire fighters and their trucks. If your driveway is narrow and without a turn around, firefighters may choose to avoid your home and focus their attention on a more accessible home. Not only does a wide, paved driveway help fire fighters access your home, it also provides another barrier of non-flammable protection around your home. It is ideal that your driveway is at least 12 feet wide up until 150 feet and then 20 feet wide if it is longer, with a turnaround near the house that is at least 30 feet in radius. Don’t forget that the rear of your house needs access as well, so you might want to consider a driveway that circles the home. 
Be looking out for our next post about the design decisions for the structure of your home, but if you are looking for more information immediately, the Colorado State Forest Service has some great resources on their website. Click here to check it out.

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