This is of special importance to me since I live in fire country. Every year the threat rears its paranoia inducing head and forces me to look at my wooden dwelling as a potential hazard. No matter where you live, there is always a natural disaster threat. Although this one pertains to all who live in a wooden house, no matter where it is. Just because you live in a swamp doesn’t mean you are excluded. Since humans keep building wood homes, fire is always a problem.
By Pineslayer, a contributing author
If you use wood to heat, chimney fire. That can take all your belongings as quick as a wildfire. As we discuss the ways to help keep your home safe from forest fires, all of them can be applied to protecting it from riotous mobs too. It is not much of a stretch to imagine a group who would be willing to burn you out if you didn’t let them have what they want. History is full of such tales (click for details).
You need to understand how houses catch fire from the outside. We have all seen pictures or video of a charred hole in the ground that used to be someone’s home and the trees next to it still green and standing. How can that be? It takes a lot of energy to cause a green healthy tree to burst into flames, not so much for a dry wooden home. I cut down trees all summer long, thin them out, create a healthier forest, promote diversity, it is good to do, but the home still needs work. When a forest fire is raging through an area, it creates a lot of embers that spread their wings. An ember can travel over a mile and start up wherever it lands if it has fuel and air.
You can have the nicest plot around your home, but you are still subject to the whims of the forest beyond that is overgrown, dry and ready to explode. When those embers fly to your home, will they find wooden decks? Firewood piled up next to the house? That pile of priceless artifacts that you hope to do something with, someday, that are heaped next to a propane grill? Those embers will hit a vertical surface and drop, looking for fuel to stay alive. They are alive and don’t care if you are nice person or not. Stephen King couldn’t write a better terror novel.
Now that I have your attention, what can you do? Clear all flammable materials away from your perimeter. Some groups, municipalities, insurance companies will say having a 6’ ‘skirt’ is a good starting point, and I agree. Further is better. If you can keep all unnecessary items 20’ or more away from the outside wall of your home, you get a brownie point. When deciding how far is far enough, imagine that pile of wood catching fire, how hot could it get? Would it get hot enough, with the right winds, to break that window due to heat? That window shatters and embers enter the home, bye-bye house.
There are safety films on the market that can be applied to your glass. These films won’t keep your window from shattering, but they can keep the glass in place. That would be a great benefit if the heat gets close to your house, one less entry point for the devil. The bonus is that films can be tinted, for privacy or UV protection. And, those same films make it hard for thieves to gain entry. Your windows are the easiest way to gain entry into the house and one of the easiest problems to fix.
Back to your decks and porches. Stand on your deck and look at your home. If you were a spark and flew at the house, where would you land? Is that area made of dried deck boards? One or two sparks does not a fire make, but how about a few hundred. This step might be the most expensive or frustrating of them all. I have no silver bullet to solve this one. You could get rid of the deck, ground based ones can be replaced with a stone patio, problem solved. It’s those second story ones that can give your heartache. I have replaced my cedar based decks with fresh treated joists and synthetic boards, it was pricey and not even fire-proof, but it is fire-resistant. It would take a lot of embers to start it up. The best woods out there to build a fire resistant deck with are expensive and are probably being illegally harvested to death.
Here are a few:
1) IPE (Brazilian Walnut), Lapacho. My friend gave some pieces to play with and it is very dense. You would need a blowtorch to set it ablaze.
2) Cumaru (Brazilian Teak) and Southern Chestnut
3) Orange Tree, yep an Orange Tree. If Florida continues to lose orchards then maybe there will be a surplus supply.
When replacing those decks remember to use galvanized flashing vs. aluminum, it is much more effective in reducing heat transfer if those pesky embers make it down that far.
Clean your gutters. If you have wood shingles, well that’s another big job. Metal is king, but there are some architectural grade asphalt shingles out there, that are 50 year rated and are damn near fire proof.
If you have an older home with an attic, does it have vents? Those vents that promote air flow in the summer to vent heat out, also give embers an avenue into the top of your dwelling. Cover them with steel or aluminum screening, the finer the better. Check out Vulcan Vents (click here)
Let’s Wrap It Up
Now that I have found a way to spend your retirement money, look at it this way, if you lose your home and all it contains, can you recover? Emotionally, financially, and spiritually. There is more to a home than stuff, there are memories, a place to gather, and a legacy for your beneficiaries. Next to your mortal life and family, there are fewer things more worth protecting.
Lastly comes your trees and vegetation around the house. Trim up lower branches that can let ground fires spread into the trees, ladder fuels. 2’ to 3’ tall dried grasses can create a wall of flames 8-10’ high, keep them cut down. Some people say that
“limbing” your trees up to 12’ is the way to go. I think that is excessive, but your terrain, type of vegetation and tolerance for a State Park look determine the height. I like to start with 6-7’. That makes it easy to walk through the trees without bashing your head. Remember, you can always take more, but once they are removed you can’t put them back. That goes for your trees too. If you open up the forest too quick you are more susceptible to blow down. Let the trees get used to the wind and spacing slowly. Crown spacing is what your end game is. If the trees are touching each other, fire can spread more easily. The forest didn’t get crowded over night and you can’t fix it in one season. Do a little every year and the result will be better and you won’t be shocked by the new look.
Back to the problem of angry desperate mobs. Having a line of sight through the trees is crucial. What you give up in privacy is the price you pay for safety. This is a tough one for me and I continue to look for a balance. If you look at your property like a crook, a fire, think like the enemy, you will find things to fix.