Image of combustible leaves and twigs in a gutter.

Reducing Wildfire Damage to Your Home

Updated March 5, 2022 . AmFam Team

Many homes in fire-prone areas are not prepared for wildfires. Check out these important tips that will improve your home’s ability to defend itself against the elements.

There was a time when builders selected roofing material that added beauty and longevity to a home and paid little attention to fire-retardant materials. Times have changed. Wildfires seem to consume more and more acreage with each passing season, but the fact remains that many rural homes were built for fire conditions that have shifted in the last several years. Now drought is common where it once was rare. And many of the roofing and building materials used to make homes decades ago are now vulnerable to igniting as wildfires enter new, formerly fire-safe areas. Starting at the roof and working our way down, let’s explore the ways you can help to keep your roof and home safe from wildfires.

Determine the make-up of your roof. Fire resistant roofing materials come in three classes: A, B and C with A being the most fire retardant. If you live in an area that may be threatened by wildfires, and your roofing materials are rated less than A, consider upgrading. You’ll also want to consider replacing your roof if it has more than one layer of shingles because this will only add fuel to the fire. And be sure to verify that a fireproof underlayment was applied to the roof deck before the final layer was applied. If not, get one installed under a new roof.

Stop the fire at its source. Roofs are most vulnerable to embers because they make up the largest area where embers can land on a home. Remember, barriers are your friend. Install steel cladding in the space between the roof gutter and other areas preventing exposed wood from the risk of igniting.

Regularly clean out debris. The materials that collect in gutters and downspouts are also at risk of igniting fires, especially if they go unchecked during fire season. Install steel gutter screens to prevent sticks and leaves from collecting. And regularly remove debris from the sloped corners, taking care to dispose of the debris in a location that won’t pose a fire risk.

Think about fire suppression. If the budget is there, consider installing an exterior roofing sprinkler system. These systems can really make a difference if a continuous water supply is in place. As water from the sprinklers flows down the roof, it will flow into gutters and downspouts helping to stop fires from igniting there.

Get smart. Install a series of smart home smoke detectors that will send you real time notifications. When paired with a home monitoring system, this addition will inform you of trouble weather your home or away. Single source providers like ADT offer both hardware and monitoring services that connect you to real-time conditions (wherever you are) through an easy-to-use app.

Wildfire Protection for the Whole Home

Examine the vents, eves and soffits. The spaces between the vent fins or mesh leave your attic exposed to embers. Install baffles to block embers from directly entering the attic, again using fire resistant or non-combustible materials.

Look into your windows. Large, single sheet windows are most likely to break when exposed to high heat, frequently before the home ignites. Flames can then enter the interior of the home and do real damage. Consider swapping out large pane glass windows with smaller, tempered and double-paned windows.

Check out your exterior walls. The best materials for fire protection are stucco, fiber cement siding and fire retardant, exterior- treated wood. Other products, like boards, panels and cedar shingles provide nominal protection and should be replaced with fire resistant materials. Be sure that the application of the wall materials cover from the foundation to the roof.

Go to the garage. Prevent embers from entering your garage by installing fire resistant weather stripping to the bottom of your garage door. And remember to store flammable materials in a fire rated cabinet. Don’t forget to keep charged, annually-inspected fire extinguishers away from doors and windows. In case your home is at risk of a wildfire, keep your steel rakes, shovels and buckets easily accessible in your garage.

Consider a local water source. The addition of an above-ground pool is an inexpensive way to cool off in the summer and can also serve as a water reserve if a fire should break out nearby. You’ll need to think about safely storing hoses, a generator, gasoline and an electric pump to get the water where you need it. The same goes for a pond, if it’s close to structures you want to protect, though you’ll likely need a filter too.

Make yourself known. Post your address so that it’s clearly visible at the street level as emergency vehicles will need to know exactly where you live. If you have a gate be certain that a fire truck can get through easily. Also, be sure roads on your land are at least 20 feet wide, and clear out low hanging branches that may prevent first responders from getting where they need to go.

Remember, slow and steady wins the race. Start by taking on the biggest priorities and work your way toward improving the weak spots — soon your home will be stronger. As drought conditions continue to move into new areas, more and more homes will need to revisit their exterior materials to defend against the dangers of wildfires. It’s a good idea to consider reviewing your homeowners policy to be sure your property coverage matches the evolving demands of your location. It may need a little tuning up as well. After you’ve taken on these tasks, your home will be a safer from wildfires and you’ll feel great knowing your home and your family are protected.

This article is for informational purposes only and includes information widely available through different sources.

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