Thoughts On Fireproofing Your House
I have been watching the series in This Old House that centers on the devastation of the entire town of Paradise, California due to a relentless forest fire last year. The item that struck me most was the fact that most of the residents plan to rebuild their homes there knowing that what happened could happen again.
Having lived in the state for many years, I am well aware of the dangers of living there. If you are not trying to live through earthquakes, mudslides, and flooding, you still have high winds and forest fires to deal with. And these disasters happen every single year.
The concern about a town nestled within the vulnerable mountain forests of California is that it will always remain a prime location for another devastating fire. But the former residents don’t care. They will rebuild and live there again. So this blog will deal with my thoughts on fireproofing a House.
I am now living in my first house with a metal roof. Since this is also our first house in a forest environment, I have a roof system that is not readily damaged by fire. If embers from a burning tree land on the roof, the area will turn black but not burn through. I did make the important decision, however, to replace all 2500 screws that hold the roof in place with larger ones along with fresh washers that seal against water penetration. Might as well upgrade that important resource while it is still viable.
A previous home we owned had an old tile roof that was eventually damaged by a hurricane and a fat man pressure washing the tiles which eventually resulted in broken tiles. That time, I replaced the whole roof with new Spanish tiles that provided a solid fireproof system along with rigid protection against high winds and rain.
Most roofing material that I found to exist in California was either Fiberglass Asphalt shingles or Wood Shakes/Shingles. Both of these materials are highly flammable, even if treated with fire retardant chemicals.
When I watched the TOH episodes, I noticed immediately that featured houses were once again covered with the Fiberglass Asphalt shingles. Even though stricter codes were initiated to lessen the chance of devastating damage from another forest fire, this facet of the house should have received better consideration. Yet it did not.
When Kevin O’Conner, the TOH commentator, interviewed a contractor installing siding on one house, I was surprised by the material being used. It was ship lap siding (8” x 1/2”) that was not fire-rated and made of OSB board material. Even though the material behind the siding had a 1 hour rating, the siding itself gets burned to a crisp in the maelstrom.
When I built new customer homes in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, I did not want the problem of dry rot or termite damage coming back to haunt me. So I installed all the homes I built with cement board siding which looked liked wood, but did not invite infestation by insect critters or mold. It was also fire proof.
Another thing that I did was to caulk all the seams and joints so that no insects or creepy critters could sneak in and cause problems. It cost me more money to do this, but I never had any complaints later on. Maybe a moot point in this discussion, but important, nevertheless.
Do you know where your water sources are located? I had one exterior outlet when I first move in. It was located 15 feet from the front of house and it was broken. When I activated the water pump, water shot out like a gusher.
After fixing it, I added 2 more outlets. I installed one on the side of the house and one in the rear. I can now reach every part of the house in case of a fire with a 75 foot garden hose (commercial grade).
In case the fire destroys the power lines to the house, I have a generator that can run the water well pump to keep water flowing to put out the fire. (That’s assuming I am still alive and not turned into a piece of charcoal by then).
Something that few people pay attention to is the proximity of trees and shrubbery close to their house. Dry grass, dead bushes, and large trees with branches that contain no leaves can be formidable pathways for fire to use and destroy your sanctuary.
I had a windstorm in California cause an electric transformer buried inside dry tree limbs next to a house we lived in at the time to catch fire. I sprayed water on the area surrounding the burning box, but not on the unit itself. I was able to contain the fire until the transformer fire died out. Needless to say, we lost power for awhile, but saved the house.
Now, I have no trees close to the house and keep the nearest ones trimmed. My biggest threat is a large, tall tree alongside the water pump house (20 yards away) that could reach my overhead power lines to the house if it fell towards them. But it has a massive trunk and a long deep main root down into the ground. It would take an apocalyptic event to topple it.
If I had lost my home in a town that was constantly threatened by, and then completely destroyed by fire, I would collect the insurance money, leave, and never look back. But that is easy for me to say. Especially since I have never left one of my homes to seek safety when they were battered by a hurricane at one time or another.
If you love the place that you live in, you will be empowered to find a way to start over again and risk the possibility of something happening again. It’s part of life I suppose.
But if you get a second chance, make the best decisions you can to give yourself a better opportunity to survive. Add to that factor a better chance to come out of your dilemma alive. A lot of people didn’t.
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