What is home fire hardening, and do I need to do it?
“We’ve learned from recent fires. Hardening your home and keeping the 5 feet closest to your house clear of flammable materials (including patio furniture and décor) greatly improves its chance of surviving a fire.” CALIFORNIA FIRE SAFE COUNCIL
Fire hardening is making changes to an existing home to make it more resistant to wildfire. According to the Fire Safe Council, your home can catch fire in 3 main ways: from ember storms, where small pieces of burning material are blown in front of a fire (embers can apparently travel more than a mile!) and create spot fires when they land; from radiant heat, where the heat from nearby burning plants or structures is so intense that it can ignite a house without direct contact (this is especially problematic in densely populated areas, where homes are close together); and from direct flame, which can enter a home when plants under windows burn, breaking the glass and allowing the fire inside the home.
If your home was built in 2010 or later, your home should be pretty “hard”, because building codes were changed then to include hardening requirements. Most of the homes around here are much older than that, but even if you have an older house, you’re not required make changes for the sake of fire hardening. It is worth considering, though, given the massive fires we’ve seen around the state in recent years.
Since the start of 2021, there is a new disclosure requirement related to fire hardening for sellers of properties that are located in a high or very high fire hazard severity zone (and that were built before 2010). Sellers of those properties are required to disclose to buyers if a home has certain features that make it more susceptible to wildfire and flying embers. The features are: (1) eave, soffit, and roof ventilation where the vents have openings in excess of 1/8” or are not flame and ember resistant; (2) roof coverings made of untreated wood shingles or shakes; (3) combustible landscaping or other materials within 5 feet of the home or under the footprint of any attached deck; (4) single pane or non-tempered glass windows; (5) loose or missing bird stopping (which closes off the open ends of tiles on a tile roof) or roof flashing; and (6) rain gutters without metal or noncombustible gutter covers.
You’re only required to disclose vulnerabilities that you know of, and only if the property is in a high or very high fire hazard severity zone, and of course only if you’re selling. However, it’s a good starter list for all of us to consider for improving the fire safety of our homes, even if they’re not going to be for sale.
A state map showing fire hazard zones can be found at https://egis.fire.ca.gov/FHSZ/. You can zoom in on Berkeley and find a specific property, or look at the boundaries of what they consider the red VHFHSZ (Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zone) area.
For more information on fire hardening, check out ReadyForWildfire.org.