Home Hardening – Preparing for Wildfires

On January 1, 2021, a new law took effect that requires sellers to disclose whether their residential property has been hardened against the threat of wildfire. The law pertains to residential properties with up to four units constructed prior to 2010 (including condominiums and manufactured homes) located in high or very high fire-hazard-severity zones—which includes almost all of the Ukiah Valley and much of Mendocino County.

Home hardening refers to managing vegetation and retrofitting your home to make your property more resistant to wildfires. At readyforwildfire.org, there’s a whole section on home hardening that provides a downloadable retrofit guide and tips on how to be more fire-safe, including recommended “ignition-resistant” materials for roofs, siding, decks, patio covers and more.

Anyone who has lived in Mendocino County for a few years knows that we now have an annual wildfire season and that fireproofing your home just makes sense. As a rule, I’m not a fan of new legislation, but I do agree that making your property as fire-resistant as possible is a wise investment.

Personally, I have had to do quite a bit of work to transform my home from what a firefighter would have called a well-organized pile of perfectly seasoned kindling. I bought my home 15 years ago. It had a redwood shake roof, redwood batten-board siding, and a redwood deck. I knew I would have to replace the roof, even though those redwood shakes were considered premier roofing material when they were installed 50 years earlier. Redwood is beautiful and durable, but not fire-resistant. The 55-year-old house also had single-pane windows through which I could look down the hill to see a beautiful, grassy meadow full of mature oak trees. Just out of view, was also a homeless encampment where people were not always careful about extinguishing cooking fires. (If you know my insurance agent, please don’t mention any of this to him.)

Since I bought my home, I’ve done a lot of improvements. I replaced the roof with fire-retardant composite shingles, installed dual-pane windows with one pane being tempered glass, and I replaced my deck with Epay wood that is splinter-free and not likely to combust the moment an ember lands on it. I also mow that grassy meadow every year to keep it under four inches tall and I prune the trees, so the lowest branches are at least ten feet off the ground. CalFIRE only requires six feet but given the trees’ proximity to my house, I go a little higher. Unfortunately, I had to completely remove a few trees that provided nice shade because they hung directly over the roof, providing easy access for fire to jump from branches to the house.

One thing to look for when pruning back vegetation is a potential fire ladder. Fire ladders occur when a fire jumps from a lower fuel source to a higher fuel source, so from grass to a bush to a tree, for example. The rule of thumb when trimming tree branches is to make sure the lowest branches are at least twice as far off the ground as the height of any nearby bushes. Once wildfire reaches the trees, it spreads faster and farther, with embers traveling more than a mile sometimes. In fact, in recent years, wind created by the firestorms was sufficient to carry a whole burning shingle two miles away.

If you want more information on local resources to fireproof your home, visit the Mendocino County Firesafe Council website at firesafemendocino.org . A while back, folks from the Firesafe Council came through my neighborhood and cut back vegetation on the street-side of my property with a particular eye toward fire ladders. They know what they’re doing, and they’re happy to answer questions about how to improve fire safety.

If we all take steps to fireproof our properties, this little paradise we call home won’t go the way of Paradise, California, turning to ash before people had time to realize what was happening.

If you have questions about property management or real estate, please contact me at rselzer@selzerrealty.com or call (707) 462-4000. If you have an idea for a future column, share it with me and if I use it, I’ll send you a $25 gift certificate to Schat’s Bakery.

Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business for more than 45 years.

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