• Looking Toward a Fire-Resistant Future - Wright Architecture

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    January 15, 2020
    Heather Wright Foye · Architect & Principal
    Wright Architecture · San Rafael, CA

    Growing up in the Sierra Nevada Foothills, wildfire has always been a fear in my family’s heart.  Our home was uncomfortably close to the 49er fire which heightened our awareness of fire’s destructive and life-threatening potential.  Back then in September of 1988, however, the annual fire season was not as long or severe as it has become today, 32 years later.
    I cannot imagine the trauma so many families have gone through, losing their homes and livelihoods in the Tubbs, Camp and countless other California wildfires.  What I have seen is their incredible, unbreakable spirit after those fires as they skillfully navigate the re-building process with a vision of their family’s future in mind.
    As an architect, serving families who have gone through this, my first task is to listen so that I can help create their specific vision of home.  My second task is to do everything I can to defend them from this happening again.  The good news is that the California Residential Code (C.R.C) demands much better fire-resistant design than was in place in many of the homes that burned and there is much more that we can do above and beyond this.  The bad news is that there is no fire-proof construction.  So, where do we start?  We start with life safety. 
    There are many things your construction team can do
    The following, are all standard construction requirements of the C.R.C for homes in the Wildland Urban Interface zone (WUI Zone); areas most at risk.
    • Clear fuels back 10 feet from your driveway
    • Install battery back-up for garage door openers
    • Design driveway gates so that the fire department can access your property even when the power is out
    • Create a fire truck turn-around if your home is far enough from the main road
    • Clearly indicate your home address
    • Create defensible space and plant pyrophytic landscaping (plants that have adapted to tolerate fire)
    • Install a fire hydrant if there isn’t already one located close enough to your home
    • Install “leaf-proof” gutters and keep them clean of flammable debris
    • Discontinue use of flammable landscaping materials (i.e. wood chips)
    • Install interior fire sprinklers
    • Install a fire resistant, class A roof assembly (an assembly which is tested and listed to resist fire)
    • Install fire resistant materials on the exterior of your home (siding such as fiber cement board, stucco, or concrete).
    • Install fire resistant vents to your attic and crawlspace
    • Install dual-pane, tempered windows 
    In addition to the code updates we just reviewed, there are other things that can be done.  These measures, which are above and beyond the code, lower the possibility that fire will catch, or at the very least, slow it enough to allow escape from your home
    • Install “rain bird” sprinklers on your roof to create a moisture barrier around your house.
    • Construct your home with a vent-less roof assembly, essentially removing attic and attic vents in favor of a tightly sealed assembly
    • Construct your home with a slab on grade foundation, eliminating the crawl space and crawl space venting.  (By eliminating vents, even fire-resistant ones, you remove possible entry points for fire)
    • Build your walls with type x gypsum board on the exterior of the walls, under your siding.  This will be yet another layer of resistance
    • Construct the bones of your walls out of fire-resistant materials (i.e. rammed earth, insulated concrete forms or concrete)
    • Build trellises, fences, decks or other accessories out of steel or fire-resistant materials.
    • Install an emergency generator so you can still operate your home if the power is cut off
    • Organize your community for defense and a quick response by turning your neighborhood into a “firewise neighborhood”, a term used by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and many jurisdictions. This includes preparation including creating a defensible community, alert systems, and coordination for evacuation 
    Our greatest first step to defense against tragedy is obtaining information and being as ready as possible.  Create a plan with your loved-ones and make sure you have an emergency bag packed.  
    Below are a few, great resources, which can help prepare all of us.
    Together, as architects and builders, we will continue to research cutting-edge solutions so that our built environment moves toward better fire resistance. 
    Heather Wright Foye, Architect & Principal
    (707) 559-8506
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