5 Ways To Prepare Your Home For Wildfires (#1 Is Kinda Hard…)
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UPDATED: Mar 16, 2021
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The summer season is in full swing, and so is the 2018 fire season.
It’s heart-wrenching to see so many Americans lose their homes to a wildfire.
That’s why having the best homeowners insurance for you and your home is absolutely critical.
It’s also why understanding what your homeowner’s insurance policy covers is important–especially if you live in a high-risk area for hurricanes, earthquakes, or wildfires.
Our research shows that most standard homeowner’s insurance policies do cover damage or loss to your home and personal belongings due to a wildfire. Fire is one of the 11 covered “perils” on most policies. (In insurance-speak, “perils” include lightning strikes, wind damage, and vandalism.)
Coverage, however, may vary based on where you live and your insurance carrier.
5 Ways To Prepare Your Home And Family For Wildfires
#1. Live Where Fire Is Less Probable.
Maybe you are moving to a new state and don’t know what the risk is for wildfires.
Or maybe you don’t know what your current state of residence ranking is.
Whatever your motivation, find out your state’s ranking is and the impact that ranking may have on your premiums.
According to the National Interagency Fire Center:
63,546 human-caused wildfires burned nearly 5 million acres in 2021 alone.
That means 90 percent of wildfires in the United States are caused by people, according to the U.S. Department of Interior.
Fire risk is different for each state and based on geographical location.
For instance, western states including California and Colorado rank highest in the “Total Potential Exposure To Wildfire Damage By Risk Category” according to the III.
#2. Take Inventory, Get Organized, And Be Prepared
These may seem laborious tasks but completing them can really help you in determining what you have and where certain items are located in your home.
This includes treasured family photos, artwork, a collection of books, or important papers.
In other words, anything you have on hand that you may wish to take with you in case of a wildfire evacuation.
This will give you an up-to-date list of your possessions and determine if you have adequate personal property coverage under your current policy.
Remember, it is recommended to have 50% to 75% of your total dwelling protection premium to cover the replacement or repair of your personal belongings.
If you are underinsured, update your policy immediately and well before fire season or when a wildfire is burning in your local area.
You most likely cannot make any changes to your policy if you are on standby status to evacuate.
Buy A Safe
Having all your important documents, including wills, deeds, titles, degrees, etc., in a safer place can give you a great sense of peace of mind.
If you do not want to buy a safe, you can lease a savings deposit box from a local bank.
Centralize Important Papers
If you do this, it will speed up evacuation time.
By having your important documents in one place then you won’t waste time trying to locate them before evacuating.
Keep A Packed Travel Bag At All Times
Pack Light. Pack Smart.
At a minimum, pack a bag with some comfortable clothing to cover a period of two to three days.
Definitely include a bathroom kit with a spare toothbrush and toothpaste and any other desired toiletries.
If you can, have an emergency stash of required medications.
Put together emergency kits: one for the inside of your home and one for your car.
The kit should include a first-aid kit, flashlights, batteries, blankets, and candles.
Prepare Your Family
Sit down with your family members and come up with designated escape routes from your home as well as your neighborhood or local area.
Establish a safe meeting place in case your family gets separated.
Tell your neighbors, friends, and other family members about your plans.
Lastly, know all the important emergency phone numbers for your area and any websites where you can check the fire’s status.
“I’d rather fight 100 structure fires than a wildfire. With a structure fire you know where your flames are, but in the woods, it can move anywhere; it can come right up behind you.” – Tom Watson
#3. The Biggest Culprit: A Burning Ember
Wind-blown embers are the major cause of homes being destroyed during wildfires, with estimates at around 90% of frequency.
Also, embers can travel a good distance, up to a mile in some cases.
Some ember protections you can put in place, include:
- Replacing a shake roof with a metal or tile roof
- Keeping gutters, ducts, decks, and porches free of flammable debris such as pine needles or dried leaves
- Remove branches that hang over your roof or within 10’ of your house, roof, or chimney
- Install metal mesh screens over vents, ducts, and gutters to deter ember intrusion
#4. Create A Defensible Space
Think of this space as a moat which circles the perimeter of your home.
Create a Fire-Free 5’ Zone
Designate a 5’ defensible space (from your home) and any other structures on your property.
This can help in slowing the fire down or may even help redirect it around your home.
Within this zone, remove all flammable materials including non-fire-retardant mulch, stored wood, and any other product or vegetation that could help feed a fire.
Maintain Your Property
In addition to creating a defensible space, regularly remove any collected debris, overgrown vegetation, or flammable materials from your property; things that will only aid a wildfire.
Regular yard maintenance can include:
- Mowing your lawn on a regular basis
- Watering your grass to keep it healthy (unless there is a water ban)
- Cutting down and removing dead trees and branches
- Clear overgrown vegetation growth
First 5’ then 30’
In addition to creating the 5’ defensible space, we also recommend you create one more safe zone of 30’ (around your home) where you will not store any flammable objects or materials.
These can include your lawn mower, propane tanks, gas cans, and stored wood or timber.
If you live in a heavily-wooded area, you may want to store flammable items at least 50’ from your home, and if you live on a hillside (where flames could travel upwards), store flammables 100’ away from your home.
Additionally, move any lawn furniture or toys at least 30’ away from your house in preparation for or during a wildfire.
If you are able, keep your roof wet during a wildfire.
Note: Some insurers may require you to mitigate the risk of wildfires yourself by clearing debris from your property on a regular basis depending on where you live.
If these mitigations are not done regularly, some companies will not insure your home especially if you live in a high-risk wildfire area.
#5. Use Non-Flammable Materials
You can ward off heat in your home by installing heat resident curtains.
And if you like carpeting, you can choose a more fire-resident material such as wool over nylon.
We already talked about installing (or replacing) a roof made from non-combustible roofing materials, such as tile or metal roof.
Here are a few other suggestions on materials to use when building or renovating your home, to be fire resistant.
- For exterior walls, use stucco, stone, or brick. Vinyl siding should be avoided because it will melt at a high temperature
- Use fire retardant wood products in your home or deck’s construction
- Install a spark screen on all chimneys
- Use double-paned or tempered glass for all exterior windows and sliding doors
- Install non-combustible shutters on the exterior of windows
You can never be over prepared or cautious when it comes to wildfires.
Enjoy where you live.
We just recommend you take as many of these steps to make your home and family that much safer.