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Wildfires Require New Approaches

As we move into warmer weather, rebuilding is beginning on the fire-ravaged North Shore of the Shuswap. Here at Copper Island Fine Homes, we’ll soon start construction of two new wildfire rebuilds, and we’re working with potential clients on many more.

Over the winter months, we’ve been ramping up our knowledge of construction strategies intended to minimize and mitigate the risk of wildfires. For years, we’ve been promoting common sense fire-smart building practices – for example, using fire-resistant exterior cladding products like HardiPlank, and metal roofing in heavily treed areas. But given our new reality, we’ve been ramping up our expertise in this area. In fact, CIFH owner and CEO, Marcus Picton, recently completed the Canadian Home Builder’s Association Fire Resilient Housing training seminar in April.

This training confirmed that builders, along with anyone considering a new home in the Shuswap, needs to consider new construction approaches in a number of key areas. Here are the most important of these.

1. The majority of wildfire spread to homes is from burning embers. So roofs and gutters are important aspects to construct and maintain properly. Metal roofs are considered best in class when it comes to fire prevention, and laminated fiberglass shingles are also highly fire-resistant. Obviously, any type of wood shingle or shake should never be considered, and even regular asphalt shingles don’t provide much protection.

2. Wall assemblies can be protected not only by the use of fire resistant exterior finishes like HardiPlank and stone, but also by installing fire resistant exterior insulation – for example, ROCKWOOL Comfortbatt and ROCKWOOL Comfortboard.

3. Overhanging, soffitted areas and gutters are highly vulnerable to wildfires, as they can trap heat and embers. Clearly, vinyl and wood soffits should never be considered. But even aluminum soffits are far from perfect, as temperatures in a wildfire can often reach 800 to 900 C, which is above the melting point of aluminum. This can make soffits vulnerable to collapse and let fire engulf the attic space. Good design is critical, and we encourage clients and designers to minimize overhangs as much as possible. And there are also better choices for soffit materials, such as Domtek’s Pro-Rib Metal Soffit, which is made from 28-gauge steel. The size of perforations for venting to walls, attics and soffits is critical. Too large a hole size greatly increases the risk of fire spread.

4. Fire smarting your property is also critical, regardless if you have an existing house or are landscaping for a new house. There are many excellent guides for fire smarting your property, but one key thing to remember (particularly in the Shuswap) is that if your home is built on a hillside, the rate of fire spread doubles with every 10 degrees of slope. If your lot is steep and has trees below it, it becomes even more important to protect your home – through tree removal, and through proper building practices.

The good news is that although there are additional costs in building wildfire resistant homes, there are clear synergies between fire-resistance and energy efficiency. So by selecting the right materials, both fire resistance and energy efficiency can be greatly enhanced. And remember that, as we proceed to higher levels of the BC Step Code in coming years, some of these techniques will become more commonplace anyway.

If you want to understand more about how to build a wildfire resistant home, please contact us and we will be happy to help you make the right decisions.