Checklist for fire-wise construction in urban wooded areas
Editor’s Note: This article is the last in a four-part series.Are you thinking about or in the process of building a home in an urban wooded setting?If so, this article may give you some tips on how to construct your home and where to position it on your property so both you and it will survive a wildland fire.The following is a fire-wise-construction checklist:When constructing, renovating, or adding to a fire-wise home, choose a fire-wise location, design and build a fire-wise structure, and employ fire-wise landscaping and maintenance.To select a fire-wise location, observe the slope of terrain; be sure to build on the most level portion of the land, since fire spreads rapidly, even on minor slopes.Set your single-story structure at least 30 feet back from any ridge or cliff; increase distance if your home will be higher than one story.In designing and building your fire-wise structure, remember that the primary goals are fuel and exposure reduction. To this end: -Use construction materials that are fire-resistant or non-combustible whenever possible.-For roof construction, consider using materials such as Class-A asphalt shingles, slate or clay tile, metal, cement and concrete products, or terra-cotta tiles.-Constructing a fire-resistant sub-roof can add protection, as well.-On exterior wall cladding, fire-resistive materials such as stucco or masonry are much better than vinyl, which can soften and melt.-Consider both size and materials for windows; smaller panes hold up better in their frames than larger ones; double pane glass and tempered glass are more effective than single pane glass; plastic skylights can melt.-Cover windows and skylights with non-flammable screening shutters.-To prevent sparks from entering your home though vents, cover exterior attic and underfloor vents with wire mesh no larger than 1/8 inch; make sure undereave and soffit vents are closer to the roof line than the wall; and box in eaves, but provide adequate ventilation to prevent condensation.-Include a driveway that is wide enough – 12 feet wide with a vertical clearance of 15 feet and a slope that is less than 12 percent – to provide easy access for fire engines. The driveway and access roads should be well-maintained, clearly marked, and include ample turnaround space near the house. Also consider access to water supply, if possible. -Provide at least two ground level doors for safety exits and at least two means of escape – either a door or window – in each room, so that everyone has a way out.-Keep gutters, eaves, and roof clear of leaves and other debris.-Make an occasional inspection of your home, looking for deterioration such as breaks and spaces between roof tiles, warping wood, or cracks and crevices in the structure. -Also, inspect your property, clearing dead wood and dense vegetation from at least 30 feet from your house, and moving firewood away from the house or attachments, like fences or decks.Any structure attached to the house, such as decks, porches, fences, and outbuildings should be considered part of the house. These structures can act as fuses or fuel bridges, particularly if constructed from flammable materials; therefore, consider the following:-If you wish to attach an all-wood fence to your home, use masonry or metal as a protective barrier between the fence and house.-Use non-flammable metal when constructing a trellis and cover with high-moisture, non-flammable vegetation.-Prevent combustible materials and debris from accumulating beneath patio deck or elevated porches; screen under or box in areas below ground line with wire mesh no larger than 1/8 of an inch.-Make sure an elevated wooden deck is not located at the top of a hill where it will be in direct line of a fire moving up slope; consider a terrace instead.A good reference book on this topic is “Firewise Construction Design and Materials,” by Peter Slack, you can get a copy by contacting the Colorado State Forest Service in Grand Junction at 1-970-248-7325.If you have questions, call your local fire protection agency or Ron Biggers, fire protection analyst for the Glenwood Springs Fire Department, at 928-6033.
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