When you make a decision to build or buy a residential property, whether it is a single family residence of a large apartment or townhouse complex, there are a host of considerations to ponder. One important one, which is often forgotten or glossed over, is how defensible is both the building and location should a fire situation develop. Being armed with the proper knowledge can help you avoid making a bad decision as well as protect your existing properties from being destroyed by flames.
There are many factors that contribute to the spread of fire and destruction of property. The following is a list of the key things you need to consider when protecting your property:
Location: This issue is often overlooked. Are the roads leading to the property wide enough and in good enough condition for emergency vehicles to easily access your property and for an orderly evacuation to occur? Since these activities could be going on at the same time, the access roads should be able to accommodate both.
Also, make sure that your complex name and/or address is visible from the road. You don’t want firefighters getting lost trying to reach your property.
Clear Space: Despite what local or state rules dictate, you should keep at least 100 feet of vegetation clear space (more if your city or county rules say so) between the edge of your property and any surrounding trees or brush. The most common reason that a building is lost during a large fire is not because the fire originates there, but because it jumps to the property from exposing fuel (aka trees and shrubs). Also, remember that fire ignore gravity. A hot burning blaze spreads uphill much faster than down, so if you have a downslope near your property, make sure you at least double the 100 foot clear space in that area.
Roof Construction: The most common way a fire spreads to a building is with a hot coal jettisoned from the existing blaze landing on a combustible roof. Most residential buildings are constructed of wood frame, but you can mitigate this problem some-what by the installation of composition, clay or concrete shingles that are non-combustible. If you have wood shake shingles on your buildings, you need to re-roof as soon as financially practical. At the very least, make sure that the shingles are treated regularly with a fire retardant until they can be replaced.
Building construction features: Avoid wood siding on your buildings if you can. Plain old stucco is a good short-term barrier against fire. Even if you don’t have extreme weather conditions, consider installing double or triple pane glass to help prevent high heat from radiating into your building. Also, install mesh in your vent openings and around the open space below any decks to help prevent hot coals from spreading flames to your structure.
Speaking of decks, avoid storing combustible items under them and don’t allow plants to accumulate there either. The clear space under a deck is a perfect environment for a fire. Spark arrestors in any fireplace chimneys are also important, not only to help seal the house from incoming hot debris but also to keep hot coals from the fireplace from exiting and landing on a roof.
If you can, enclose the eaves. Open eave structures tend to trap rising heat against the side of a building increasing the danger of ignition.
Landscaping: Make sure you remove any vines or climbing plants from the side of your buildings as well as any tall shrubs that are coming into contact with your walls. All trees should have their branches prunes so that they are at least 6 to 10 feet above the ground.
Consider replacing some of your more volatile plants, such as pine trees, with trees and shrubs that are less combustible (consult a local nursery for more information).
Keep lawns hydrated and maintained. If it is brown, cut it to reduce fire intensity.
Community Rules: Restrict use of charcoal BBQ’s to clear areas away from structures. Never leave any open flame unattended and enforce this rule with your tenants!
Insurance Coverage: Planning can help to prevent fires from impacting your property, however nothing will prevent 100% of fires which is why you should always have proper insurance coverage in place to cover your property. CIBA’s insurance program give your property the coverage it needs before it needs it and has an in-house claims team standing by to assist 24/7 in case you need them. Talk to a broker today about how CIBA can help protect your property.
Taking the proper precautions can go a long way toward protecting your investment from destruction.