Owning a home in Northern California (especially Sonoma County) comes with many advantages, from the beautiful scenery and wine country hills to the amazing restaurants and community culture. There are challenges that come along with that beauty though — specifically during fire season. Due to a number of factors, such as climate change and increasing home construction in wildlands (nearly one in three homes in the state lies in the wildland-urban interface), California’s wildfire threats seem to get more extreme each year.
Though there are a number of initiatives being put in place to help combat climate change and wildfire concerns, some of these measures will take years, if not decades to create real change in the level of risk homeowners face during fire season. That is why California laws continue to become more strict and specific when it comes to new construction, with the goal of protecting homeowners and communities from the ever growing wildfire danger.
Fire-Resistant Materials Protect Properties
There are an estimated 4 million properties throughout California in zones that are deemed highly vulnerable to wildfire. In 2020, Napa County suffered agricultural infrastructure damages due to fires that resulted in more than $35 million in losses. The NorCal community is in serious need of new construction and fire rebuilding that not only meets the latest fire safety codes and mandates but takes it to the next level with home hardening defenses. The smallest details can make the biggest difference — after all, most homes catch fire due to flying embers. Home hardening can include everything from structural awareness (such as knowing when to close your fireplace flue) to actual construction updates, such as incorporating safer materials.
Some key areas that home hardening addresses include:
- The home’s roof – As one of the first lines of defense, a roof is designed to protect a home from all the elements. Flying embers can be difficult to defend against with wood shingles and other flammable materials commonly used on older roofs. That’s why newer constructions utilize materials such as slate, metal and tile that offer the safest ratings.
- Exterior walls – Selecting non-combustible materials for the home’s exterior walls is important. Common exterior materials like vinyl siding, concrete masonry, or even brick, will melt or crumble in the event of a fire. Fire-resistant materials such as metal or stucco (or sometimes fire-treated wood in certain features) are preferable to create a strong exterior home defense.
- Windows – Winds can often whip up infernos that threaten to shatter normal windows under such pressure. Tempered glass or dual-panes are the stronger alternatives that have been found to be more durable and resistant to higher temperatures, offering more protection for a home interior.
- Attics, basements & crawlspaces – Winds are notorious for pushing flying embers towards vents that lead to attics or crawl space areas that may have debris, insulation, boxes, or other flammable materials. These openings can make a home particularly vulnerable to firebrands. Upgrading to ember-resistant vents in these areas can greatly improve fire defense.
- Chimney & fireplace – An uncapped chimney can be a fire hazard for a home, which is why installing an additional spark arrestor (usually made from woven wire mesh with ¼ inch or smaller openings) and keeping the flue closed whenever the fireplace isn’t being used can reduce the threat level.
- Fire safe landscaping – Utilizing fire-resistant plants, vegetation, and designs materials is crucial when creating defensible space around a home. Landscaping can still be beautifully designed while maintaining fire safety. This can include everything from the types of plants selected to the space between trees and structures, to creating fire breaks with gravel and other fire-resistant materials.
Some HOA’s in the Sonoma area even mandate that certain materials be used in any new construction, such as metal roofing and framing, fire-resistant spray foam insulation, three-coated stucco finish, automatic fire sprinkler system, tempered windows, and more. t’s clear that for any new construction in California, wildfire safety must be a priority.
Is Home Hardening Really Worth the Investment?
Home hardening is one of the best defenses available against the current wildfire threats. Studies have shown that comparatively, structures that utilized fire-resistant materials and other home hardening strategies withstood fires much better than traditional structures. While it cannot guarantee a home 100% protection, when combined with defensible space and emergency preparedness, it gives Sonoma County homeowners the peace of mind they need during fire season.
There are now fire-resistant construction materials available to homeowners that don’t have to add a major cost to the budget. Often, when working with a knowledgeable contractor, items can be shifted around to ensure home hardening can be added without inflating the budget beyond what the homeowner is comfortable with. At the end of the day, the increase in price tag, whether large or small, is well worth the investment for homeowners who live in dangerous wildfire risk zones. The threat of losing a home full of precious memories and invaluable property can be combated much more effectively when home hardening has been incorporated.
Annadel Builders, Inc. is a proud builder of luxury homes in Sonoma, Healdsburg, and across Northern California. If you are seeking a custom design home that utilizes the latest in fire-resistant materials and home hardening strategies, get connected with our team today.