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Harden Your Home

Learn how to protect your home against wildfires

How Homes Ignite

Buildings ignite during wildfires as a result of one or more of the three basic wildfire exposures: embers (also called firebrands), radiant heat, and direct flame contact.

Some helpful videos:

Learn more about how homes ignite

How to Protect Your Home

To protect your home from wildfires:

  1. Create adequate defensible space, based on the wise selection, placement, and maintenance of near-home vegetation.
  2. Select building materials and designs that are resistant to ignition.

Create and Maintain Defensible Space

A coupled approach, using a fire-hardened home AND good defensible space is necessary to provide the greatest level of protection. Preparing and maintaining adequate defensible space will guard against flame contact and radiant exposures from nearby vegetation. When it comes to protecting your home against embers, fire-resistant building material and design considerations cannot be ignored. Similarly, if you don’t have defensible space–or don’t maintain it–the wildfire will produce maximum ember, flame, and radiant exposures to your home. It is very unlikely that even hardened buildings can survive such exposure, as a weak link will likely exist somewhere in the building enclosure.

Some helpful videos:

Learn more about defensible space

Use Fire-Resistant Building Materials & Designs

In this section, we have outlined building features that are most vulnerable to igniting during wildfires. In most cases, these can be easily built or retrofitted to significantly improve wildfire resistance. Upgrades to these features may be the most effective steps one can take to protect their home from wildfire.

The University of California’s ”Home Survival in Wildfire-Prone Areas: Building Materials and Design Considerations” and the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety’s "Protect Your Property from Wildfire” publications are excellent resources with additional details on home hardening.

  • Roofs
  • Soffits & Eaves
  • Gutters
  • Vents
  • Walls & Siding
  • Windows
  • Patios & Decks
  • Outdoor Furnitures & Accessories
  • Fences
  • Sprinklers, Foams, Gels & Paints
  • Chimneys
    • Chimneys require a spark arrestor screen with openings no smaller than ⅜” and no larger than ½” to prevent sparks and embers from escaping and igniting a fire.
  • Garages
    • Install weather stripping around and under the garage door to prevent embers from blowing in, and store all combustible and flammable liquids away from ignition sources.
  • Driveways & Access Roads
    • Driveways should be built and maintained in accordance with state and local codes to allow fire and emergency vehicles to reach your home. All gates should open inward and be wide enough (12’-16’, check local code requirements before installing) to accommodate emergency vehicles and equipment.
    • Maintain vegetation along driveways, access roads, and other public roads adjacent to your property with a minimum of 10’ of clearance on either side (the same standard as Defensible Space Zone 1).
  • Address Numbers
    • Remember that firefighters may need to locate your home quickly at night, during a storm, or in smoky conditions. Help them find your home by making your address clearly visible from the road.
    • In California, a minimum of 4" address numbers on a contrasting background is required by law.
    • Brass or bronze numbers will oxidize and become difficult to read against a weathered wood background. Instead, use white, stainless steel, or reflective numbers.
    • Illuminate your numbers, if possible, and place them where they can be seen from the road by emergency vehicles traveling in both directions. 

The Cost of Building a Fire-Resistant Home

When building a new home, research shows that there is negligible cost difference between a typical home and a home constructed using wildfire-resistant materials and design features. Retrofitting an existing home may incur additional expenses, but the investment is usually worth it. Decades of research and post-fire assessments have provided clear evidence that building materials and design, coupled with landscaping on the property, are the most important factors influencing home survivability during a wildfire.

Read the full report: “Building a Wildfire-Resistant Home: Codes and Costs”

Other Considerations

There are other actions you should take to protect your home in the event of a wildfire:

  • Keep a fire extinguisher, tools (such as a shovel, rake, buckets), and extra garden hoses and nozzles available for fire emergencies in your garage.
  • Consider having multiple garden hoses that are long enough to reach all areas of your home and other structures on your property.

Sources:

  • “Home Landscaping for Fire,”  University of California Davis, 2007.
  • “Wildfire is Coming: Are You Ready?,” CAL FIRE, www.readyforwildfire.org, 2012.  
  • Ray Moritz, Urban Forester and Fire Ecologist, Urban Forestry Associates.
  • “Protecting Your Home From Wildfire,” Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety, 2017.

Resources

Homeowner's Guide to Wildfire Preparedness in Marin County A Guide to Living with Fire in Marin County

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