As green building continues into the mainstream, the concept of site orientation is gaining importance among builders, remodelers, and architects. But as one Washington state homeowner recently learned, site selection is about more than daylighting and passive heating. In wildfire zones, choosing the right location could mean protection against losing everything.
A photojournalist for the NBC News Photoblog recently captured the below image of a house miraculously not succumbing to the encroaching wildfire. According to the article, a spokesperson from the Washington Department of Natural Resources says, "the home was saved by defensible space. The placement of the driveway, and the lack of trees and brush up against the house help prevent the flames from reaching the house."
In fact, "defensible space" was the exact phrase used by representatives of the National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA) when they visited Hanley Wood offices in 2010 to introduce the Firewise Communities program. The initiative continues to promote the responsible use of technology, policies, and practices that minimize the loss of life and property in wildfire-prone zones.
"A house burns because of its interrelationship with everything within 100 to 200 feet of its surroundings," according to Dave Nuss, now manager of NFPA's Wildland Fire Operations. "What happens within this zone is critical to structure survival, and a wildfire's potential relationship with a house can be interrupted here."
Creating Defensible Space
Steps such as increasing the amount of hardscaping around a home, and pruning trees and shrubs so limbs stay away from the structure are easy ways to improve this defensible space, Nuss says, adding that "defensible space can be beautiful," when the right materials are used. With the number of wildfires that have overtaken portions of the U.S. this season, rebuilding in those areas will require important considerations. Choosing from a wide selection of fire-rated materials can make a home easier to defend in a fire situation, or at least provide a longer egress period in case of evacuation.
Click through the product slide show above for a taste of what fire-rated materials look like. Many of the products in the slide show are approved for use in Wildland-Urban Interface areas, or otherwise carry UL-listed fire ratings. As always, confirm fire safety details of individual products with manufacturers to ensure they comply with any necessary codes. Be sure to check out these articles from our sister publication, Builder magazine, for more on building in wildfire-prone areas.
Green Homes, in Every Color: Canyon Residence, Emigration Canyon, Utah, featuring steel shingle cladding
Ladera Residence , featuring roll-down steel doors
Facing Fire: What can builders do to moderate the risk? A codes and standards overview by Ted Cushman