Update: Our hearts are with our neighbors on Maui, who have been devastated by deadly wildfires that hit the island on August 8th. Maui is home to many multigenerational households – and thousands of these families have been displaced by the disaster. Click here to donate to Habitat for Humanity’s disaster relief efforts to rebuild homes and communities on Maui.
Now more than ever, it’s crucial to ensure your home’s safety. We hope the information below can serve as a resource to help prepare your home for wildfires.
Wildfire season has already begun in California, but it’s not too late to make sure your home is protected and ready! At Habitat for Humanity, we know that your home is much more than just a place to live. It’s your most valuable investment, providing security and stability for your family. This summer, take the time to protect that investment and harden your home against wildfires.
Wildfires may seem far off after a wet winter and cool early summer, but as temperatures rise, all of that vegetation that grew during the rainy winter is drying out and becoming ideal fuel for fires. Preparing your home for wildfires can sound like a scary and expensive task, especially if you have an older home. But ReStore and Habitat are here to help! Habitat East Bay/Silicon Valley’s Home Repair team has shared their best tips on hardening your home against wildfires, and you can find the supplies you need for less at your local ReStore!
Maintain Roof & Gutters
Did you know that the biggest threats to your home during a wildfire are tiny flying embers? These embers can float up to a mile away from a wildfire and ignite wherever they land. 60 to 90% of home loss during wildfires is due to embers. But, the good news is that there’s a lot you can do to protect your home!
Your roof is the most vulnerable part of your home simply due to its size and the risk of falling embers from above. “If you live in an area prone to fires, keeping your roof free of debris such as fallen tree leaves and needles is important,” says Alex Colt, Habitat’s Home Repair Lead Inspector. “Those materials can act as kindling in the event a stray ember lands on your roof. In some situations, roof edges may be protected with metal flashing as well.”
Another key area to keep clean is your gutters. “Be sure to clean out gutters regularly to keep them from accumulating tree debris that can ignite,” Colt recommends. You can install a gutter cover to prevent leaf and needle buildup, but be sure to use a non-combustible material like metal instead of plastic or vinyl!
Create Defensible Space
Wildfire experts recommend creating up to 100 feet of “defensible space” around your home. Defensible space may sound like a moat around a castle, and in a way, it is! Defensible space is a fire resistant buffer zone surrounding your home that can slow or stop the spread of fire. The goal is to reduce the amount of combustible materials in this space, and keep anything flammable spaced far apart and away from your home.
Creating defensible space may sound like a huge task, but you can start close to your home and work outwards. The most important space is the five feet that directly surround your home. You already know to keep your roof and gutters clear of plant debris, and that also applies to any porches or decks. And don’t forget to check under your deck, too!
A key part of creating defensible space is just regular yard maintenance. Remove all weeds, brush, leaves, and dead plants from your property. Trim trees so that branches don’t overhang your roof and are at least six feet above the ground. Create space between trees, shrubs, and other plants so that fire can’t easily spread between them.
If you have grass, make sure to keep it trimmed to under four inches. But, it’s even better if you can replace grass or plants within five feet of your home with non-flammable hardscape like gravel, stone, or brick. Wood or rubber mulch is also flammable, so replace any mulch close to your home with gravel or rocks. Check out your local ReStore for affordable and attractive hardscape options!
Seal Your Home
Even if you protect your home from the outside, sneaky embers can enter your home through vents or cracks, and burn your home from the inside out. Inspect your home thoroughly for gaps, cracks, or dry rot and fill any gaps with fire retardant caulk or mortar.
If your house is older, it may have vents designed just to keep out small animals, not to prevent fire. “Many homes have older vents that could allow embers to easily float in through the attic or foundation and ignite inside the home,” says Colt. “Replacing older 1/4-inch mesh vents with 1/8-inch mesh is recommended.” Be sure to use metal flame-resistant vents, as plastic or fiberglass vents can melt and burn.
Did you know that large or single pane windows can break just from the heat caused by a nearby wildfire? You can replace vulnerable windows with multi-paned windows with at least one pane of tempered glass that are more durable in intense heat.
Lastly, don’t forget about your garage! Many homes are weatherproofed for efficient heating and cooling, but the garage is often neglected. Make sure your garage door has weatherstripping and any vents or windows are as secure as the ones in your home.
Before you get started on making any improvements, be sure to stop by your local ReStore to find windows, vents, or hardware supplies for a fraction of retail prices!
Wildfire season is scary and can feel out of your control. But there’s so much you can do to reduce your risk and protect your home. Check out CAL FIRE’s website for a personalized wildfire preparedness plan with detailed checklists for your needs. If you or someone you know is in need of a larger repair, like a new roof or siding, contact Habitat’s Home Repair team to see if you qualify for affordable home repairs!