Wildfire Community Preparedness Day occurs the first Saturday of May each year to bring awareness and action to reduce the risk of wildfires.
Maui was the most recent victim of wildfires, with more than 100 people losing their lives and over 2,200 structures destroyed to date. Knowing how to fireproof a home is vital to protect your home and other structures, should disaster strike.
Investing in properties is a big responsibility, and knowing the home is protected from wildfires is important. They can happen when you least expect it, and once they start, it can be too late to save the property.
Where Are Wildfires Most Common
Wildfires can happen anywhere—no one is exempt from fire risk. That means you should always prepare.
However, knowing if a property you want to purchase is in a wildfire-prone area can be beneficial, allowing you to take more steps to mitigate the fire risk in your investment property.
According to the National Interagency Fire Center, wildfires occur most often in:
- North Carolina
This doesn’t mean wildfires aren’t prevalent in other areas; these states just have the largest number of wildfires, according to the latest data from 2022.
How to Fireproof Your Home From Wildfires
Since you have investment properties, you may not live in the area where your investment property is located. In that case, you can hire professionals to handle your tasks.
The key is building the home and its accessories with noncombustible material and ensuring the home is properly maintained, and all fire risks are mitigated.
It only takes small flames or flying embers to touch something combustible to start a disaster.
Here are seven essential steps for homeowners to take to keep their properties from being destroyed by wildfire.
1. Fireproof the roof
The roof is the most vulnerable part of structures, which is why many homes burn during wildfire season. Wood and shingle roofs are at the highest risk and should be treated with fire retardant or installing a rooftop sprinkler system.
However, the best-case scenario is to have Class A roofing material, including clay or concrete tiles, metal, or asphalt shingles. Each of these materials is created to be fire resistant and can withstand extreme fire exposure.
If the property has a wood or shingle roof, strongly consider replacing it. While this increases the cost of purchasing and maintaining a rental property, it can save you much more money and devastation if a wildfire hits the area.
2. Maintain roof and rain gutters
Flying embers can lodge in openings or catch on fire fast if plant vegetation is present. Even installing fireproof roofing or gutters isn’t enough. Missing shingles, cracks, or broken tiles leave room for embers to enter the property and cause combustion.
Embers that enter the home can turn into engulfing flames in seconds from carpeting, window treatments, or any other flammable materials in the home. In addition, the gutters can house vegetation and debris that can ignite, putting the property at risk.
This is why it’s essential to have the property’s roof inspected annually to ensure it’s in good condition and to pay for regular gutter cleaning to ensure the gutters don’t pose a fire hazard.
It’s especially important for properties in areas known for wildfires but is also a precaution you may want to take on any property.
3. Seal all openings
Embers easily penetrate any weakness in the property and ignite, putting the property at risk. It’s important to seal all openings, including:
- Pet doors: Don’t use pet doors during fire season, and ensure they are properly sealed.
- Windows: Install weather stripping on all windows to ensure a proper seal, keeping the weather elements outdoors while also preventing embers from entering.
- Eaves: Box in all eaves using noncombustible materials.
- Vent openings: Install 1/16- to 1/8-inch metal mesh on all vents and ensure all vents meet Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) standards.
- Rain gutters: Enclose rain gutters using wire mesh to ensure plant vegetation and other debris that could catch fire quickly are not in the gutters.
- Chimneys: Install a nonflammable metal screen to cover the chimney and keep embers out, and close the flue during fire season.
- Garage door: Install weather stripping around the garage door to keep embers out.
4. Install double-pane windows
Radiant heat, or the heat you feel from the fire even if you can’t see the flames, can quickly melt plastic skylights, weakening the plastic and causing the glass to burst.
Single-pane and large windows can quickly melt or burst, putting the property at risk of severe fire and giving embers easy entry. To prevent this, install double-pane windows with at least one pane made of tempered glass.
Also, if the home faces a large amount of vegetation, limit the number of windows, if possible, and install screens on all windows to provide another barrier to embers.
5. Choose fire-resistant siding
Consider the siding options for a property, as wood siding, including panels and shingles, are not fireproof. The most common fire-retardant siding materials include metal, fiber cement, and three-coat stucco.
This is an important consideration in any wildfire-prone area but is especially important if the property is within 30 feet of surrounding homes.
If the property doesn’t have fire-retardant siding, consider paying for new installation to protect the property and your investment. Consider it a cost of purchasing the property and setting your investment up for success.
6. Prepare the home ignition zone
The areas encompassing 200 feet from the home are your ignition zone. This means you must create defensible space around the property, ensuring no combustible materials can make it easy for a fire to spread to the property from radiant heat or flames.
Homes have three zones:
- Immediate: This is the zone zero to five feet from the house and includes roofing, gutters, vents, eaves, and windows, as well as all areas immediately surrounding the property.
- Intermediate: This is the zone five to 30 feet from the property and mainly includes landscaping and grasses, but also fuel breaks such as driveways and sidewalks.
- Extended: This zone extends 30 to 200 feet from the property and should help minimize fire by keeping grass short, keeping trees 10 to 12 feet apart, and removing vegetation near sheds or other structures.
Consider the following areas:
- Vegetation: Keep vegetation at least five feet from the home, and regularly remove dead leaves and other materials.
- Decks: Ensure all decks are built with noncombustible materials and that no combustible items are stored on the deck.
- Mulch: Use nonflammable mulch in all landscaping to prevent the risk of fire near the property.
- Trees: Keep the height of tree branches manageable.
- Grass: Tall grass can pose a fire hazard, so keeping grass short is essential.
The property’s defensible space is much larger than most property owners realize. But there are many ways to protect the property.
The key is regular maintenance, so it’s important to include the costs in your property management, including:
- Lawn maintenance: Regularly watering the lawn and vegetation reduces its risk of becoming a burn hazard; paying for lawn care is a way of taking care of your investment.
- Maintain landscaping: Paying someone to remove dead plants and other debris and trimming tree branches to keep tree height manageable reduces the risk of grass and trees burning.
- Raking: Having the property regularly raked to remove any flammable materials can further reduce the risk of fire spreading.
- Limit fuel sources: Fuel sources may be less obvious than you think, as they include all organic products around the property, including mulch, plants, pine needles, and fences. Having as few of them near the property as possible protects the defensible space.
7. Work with neighboring homes
Even though you don’t live in or near the property, you can connect with homeowners of neighboring homes to keep the defensible space as risk-free as possible.
This is especially important in densely populated areas where the homes are within 100 feet of one another.
Knowing how to fireproof your home is something homeowners should consider. When you invest in real estate properties, you should take every precaution to ensure they are safe, especially if the property is located within a densely populated area.
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Note By BiggerPockets: These are opinions written by the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions of BiggerPockets.