What constitutes a “Hardened Home” in Fire Country?


So, here we are on the precipice of yet another drought summer and potential Wildfire-Palooza in California.  More and more of California is moving into what is labeled Special Hazard Interface Area (SHIA).   These areas are being viewed very carefully by the insurance industry as it tries to manage homeowner risk.  Fire hardened homes and communities may be the answer.  But what is a fire hardened home and community?  The State is working on that now:

Under AB 2367, the Insurance Commissioner, the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) and the State Fire Marshal will develop statewide standards for home and community hardening, in consultation with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention (CAL FIRE) and the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research.

As the discussions continue at the Capitol, what can you do in the meantime? Do some research at sites like https://www.readyforwildfire.org/prepare-for-wildfire/get-ready/

10 Low-Cost Ways to Harden Your Home

  1. When it is time to replace your roof, replace it with fire-resistant Class A roof material.
  2. Block any spaces between your roof covering and sheathing (bird stops).
  3. Install non-combustible corrosion resistant metal gutter covers on gutters to prevent the accumulation of leaves and debris in the gutter.
  4. Cover your chimney and stovepipe outlets with noncombustible corrosion corrosion-resistant metal mesh screen (spark arrestor), with 3/8-inch to 1/2-inch openings.**
  5. Cover all vent openings with 1/16-inch to 1/8-inch noncombustible corrosion resistant metal mesh screens.**
  6. Caulk and plug gaps greater than 1/16-inch around exposed rafters and blocking to prevent ember intrusion.
  7. Inspect exterior siding for dry rot, gaps, cracks and warping. Caulk or plug gaps greater than 1/16-inch in siding and replace any damaged boards, including those with dry rot.
  8. Install weather stripping to gaps greater than 1/16-inch in garage doors to prevent ember intrusion. The stripping must be compliant with UL Standard10C.
  9. When it’s time to replace your windows, replace them with multi-paned windows with at least one pane of tempered glass.
  10. When it’s time to replace your siding or deck, use compliant noncombustible, ignition-resistant, or other materials approved by the Office of the State Fire Marshal (OSFM). 

5 No-Cost Ways to Create Defensible Space and Enhance the Effects of a Hardened Home

  1. Regularly clean your roof, gutters, decks, and the base of walls regularly to avoid the accumulation of fallen leaves, needles and other flammable materials (see Defensible Space for more details).
  2. Ensure all combustible materials are removed from underneath, on top of, or within five feet of a deck.
  3. Remove vegetation or other combustible materials that are within five feet of windows and glass doors.
  4. Replace wood mulch products within five feet of all structures with noncombustible products such as dirt, stone, or gravel.
  5. Remove all dead or dying grass, plants, shrubs, trees, branches, leaves, weeds, and pine needles within 30 feet of all structures or to the property line.

Special Hazard Interface Area scores are derived from combining information about known climatic and wind patterns with information about distance and direction from heavy fuel risks. New business and renewals in a Special Hazard Interface Area (SHIA) with a score of Slope 3, or Slope 5, or an Adjusted Fuel score of 5 is ineligible unless it meets the following requirements:

  • There can be no wood fences, playground equipment, trellises, or other combustible wood structures with 30 feet of the dwelling.
  • Brush cleared to within 100 feet of the home or up to the property line.
  • There is no vegetation within 10 feet of a propane tank and the tank must be located more than 30 feet from the dwelling.
  • No wood roofs.
  • Gutters, soffit vents, chimney and stovepipe outlets must be covered with non-combustible mesh with openings of no more than ¼ inch.
  • No dead or dying plants, shrubs, or bushes within 30 feet of the dwelling.
  • Eaves and overhangs must be boxed or enclosed with non-flammable materials to reduce the surface area and eliminate any edges that can trap burning embers.
  • There must be at least 15 feet of vertical clearance between the dwelling and overhanging tree branches.
  • Acceptable Site Access Properties located in a Special Hazard Interface Area (SHIA) must also meet the following requirements:
  1. Public Roads: Defined as a road which is maintained by a local city or jurisdiction. The public road must be:
    • All weather road – hard surface, not susceptible to mud or wash out due to adverse weather such as rain
    • Free of obstacles that would impede emergency vehicle access
    • Road width and height are sufficient to allow emergency vehicle access to residence
  1. Private Roads: Defined as a private road or driveway for local access to one or a small group of structures and is owned and maintained by an individual or group. The private road must be:
    • Emergency Vehicle Accessible – Unobstructed (no locked gate, unless key available in fire department lock box, or obstacles that would impede emergency vehicle access)
    • Road width and height are sufficient to allow emergency vehicles access to residence
    • Road is no more than ¼ mile in distance from public road access to dwelling
  1. Dwelling Isolation Factor: Acceptable isolation factor includes a home in a residential area or grouping of dwellings; meaning three or more dwellings in visual proximity of each other. The dwelling must be:
    • Visible from the public road; or
    • Visible from 3 homes

So, if you are in Fire country, or believe you might be included in a new SHIA rating, the thing to do is take inventory of the condition of your home against the lists above.  In the near term, you may have to seek alternate insurance solutions. We can help you with that.

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