How to Build a Fireproof Home for Wildfire Areas

Protection With ICFs, Flame-Resistant Roofs, and Cement Fiber Siding

While it’s true that no home can be truly fireproof, measures can be taken that will come close to reaching that ideal. Even structural steel beams will turn to spaghetti when exposed to sufficient heat. As an analogy, a water-resistant diver’s watch can’t survive the Mariana Trench but no damage is sustained during a normal dive.

Building a Fireproof Exterior

Fireproof Exterior

Put simply, a fireproof exterior is simply one that isn’t combustible. Typical residential wood framing (“stick framing” in the industry) won’t stand up to a blaze. Even what’s referred to as a brick home is almost always a brick veneer home with wood studs behind the masonry.

Concrete is the most logical and inexpensive construction material to go with. There are two popular ways to go about this. The first is insulated concrete forms (ICFs). This is also a green, sustainable building practice that contributes to a LEED certification.

ICFs will withstand fires for up to 4 hours

The second exterior building material is the cinder block. These blocks are simply built up from the ground up by masons, in a manner similar to laying brick.

Both of these building practices also lend themselves to areas that are susceptible to hurricanes and tornadoes.

Flame-Resistant Roofing Materials

flame-resistant roof

Roofing material is classified with fire ratings of Class A, Class B, and Class C, with A being the best. So what materials are good candidates in a fire? It depends. Some composition 3-tab shingles get a Class A rating with an estimated 30-year lifespan.

Clay and concrete barrel shingles (think Mediterranean-style) also have a Class A rating and are great for curb appeal and home resale value, but are more expensive. But, their lifespan far exceeds composition shingles.

Metal roofs also do well in fires, and like clay shingles, have a long lifespan. They can also reap a savings on homeowners insurance for protection both from fires and hail damage.

Flame-Resistant Siding

flame-resistant siding

Although cinder block homes are sometimes simply primes and painted, ICF homes need siding. A good bet is a cement fiber product like those produced by Certain Teed and JamesHardie. Cement fiber products are also termite proof and rot proof.

This siding is also considered by the industry to be a green and sustainable building material and counts towards LEED certification. A major benefit is that it comes pre-primed, which eliminates the overhead and time taken to prepare for painting.

Building a fire and wind resistant home just makes good sense. Nobody wants to re-build from the ground up after a natural disaster.

Starting Your Home Renovation

Learn How to Develop Ideas, Work with Contractors and Save Money.

New homeowners may want to paint the walls, upgrade the floors, or add more rooms to match their style. But they may not know how to get started. As a new homeowner, 25-year-old Anthony Ward explained during an in-person interview how he developed ideas, worked with contractors and saved money to create a home that fits his needs.

Developing Ideas

After purchasing his California home, Ward realized he needed to make several changes:

  • Put up a wall in a bedroom to create two smaller rooms
  • Gut and expand the kitchen
  • Replace the flooring with tile, carpet, and hardwood floors
  • Add new dry wall and insulation
  • Upgrade plumbing to copper
  • Upgrade electric

Additionally, he said he found some decorating ideas from various sources.

“I got ideas from looking at model homes, watching “House Hunters” on HGTV, and reading magazines such as Better Homes and Gardens,” Ward said.

home renovation contractor

Searching for a Contractor

He said he hired three contractors to complete the job¬–a general contractor who renovated the interiors such as the kitchen, dry wall, and electric; a plumber; and a separate contractor who laid the flooring.

Finding a contractor was not a difficult task. “I looked through the PennySaver and received references from family members,” Ward said. He chose contractors based on the following criteria:

  • Experience
  • License
  • Reasonable time work can be completed
  • Clean up and haul-away option
  • Price

Once the contractors were chosen, he said he sat down with them and drafted a written contract which contained the following information:

  • Price
  • Time frame work should be completed
  • Description of the work
  • Deposit information
  • Payment information and dates

Paying Contractors

Ward noted that some homeowners may pay contractors half of the payment at the start and pay the other half when the work is completed, but he warned if contractors leave suddenly without finishing the work, they would have half of the homeowner’s money.

“I pay everybody in three payments–a starting payment, a middle payment, and then a completion payment,” Ward said.

To Buy or Not to Buy Materials

home renovation materials

He said the contracts state whether the materials are included. In his case, the general contractor, plumber, and electrician included the materials in their prices, whereas the contractor laying the tile did not.

For Ward, buying the materials saved him money.

“It was cheaper to buy the materials myself and to pay for the labor,” he said. That way, he said he could keep any unused materials.

However, when contractors include materials in the contract, the homeowner may lose money. Ward explained that if $300, for instance, is budgeted to complete the work and the contractor only spends $260, the homeowner is out $40. But he added that many contractors go over the spending limit, which would be the contractor’s responsibility.

Last-Minute Tips

  • “Don’t hire family members”: He said it would be hard to fire family members if the work is not done properly. He advised to hire someone you do not know.
  • “See the contractor’s work beforehand”: Ward suggested checking out his or her projects and asking for references to see if previous customers were satisfied with his or her work.
  • “Get a written contract”: Even if the contractor does not have a license, he strongly advised to get it in writing to avoid any legal issues.

Every homeowner’s renovating experience will be different. However, if they determine the necessary fixes, find the right contractor, and fully understand the terms of the renovation, homeowners will feel more confident and be a step closer to living in their dream home.

Building a Green Home with Sustainable Materials

Indoor Air Quality and Energy Efficiency is Environment-Friendly

There are three situations where a homeowner can move in the lower carbon footprint direction. The first is when a new home is in the design phase and the second is when a remodeling project is in the works.

The third situation is when a more economical “eco-creep” strategy is being implemented. Eco-creep is when the homeowner makes smaller incremental changes, such as changing incandescent bulbs out to CFLs (Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs).

The Benefits of Sustainable Building

It’s all good when environment-friendly construction policy is followed. Here are a few key benefits:

  • Costs are lowered when space configurations are changed during the life of the building.
  • Energy conservation from day one. Less energy consumed is not only earth-friendly, it’s kinder to the the pocketbook by lowering electricity and natural gas bills.
  • The health of the home’s occupants is improved. The use of low or no VOC (Volatile Organic Compound) paint and green flooring makes a big impact. The average carpeting will trap things that trigger allergies.
  • Flexibility in design is enhanced.
  • Home maintenance costs may be lowered in the long run. For example, installing reclaimed hardwood floors rather than installing carpet eliminates frequent floor covering shampooing.

Green Building Products

Criteria for Residential Green Building Products

There are four basic categories of consideration when choosing sustainable construction materials. These are indoor air quality, energy efficiency, resource efficiency, and water conservation. Is it possible to satisfy every point 100%? Probably not. The important thing is to make the best compromise possible when the need arises.

Indoor Air Quality

  • Air handling equipment should be efficient at filtering indoor air pollutants in an energy-efficient manner.
  • Material should be moisture resistant. Moisture is mold and mildew’s best friend.
  • Non-toxic components are a big issue. There is a reason for government regulation. And why provide work for future litigators?
  • Choose low or no-VOC paint, flooring, and other applicable materials.

Energy Efficiency

  • Appliances and building practices that are energy efficient is a core concept.
  • Energy Star refrigerators, central air conditioners, and other appliances will minimize the home’s carbon footprint right from the start.
  • The proper type and recommended amount of insulation should be installed for the home’s geographical location. Give soy spray foam insulation a try. It’s a bit more expensive than conventional, but it makes an incredibly tight envelope, and is as sustainable as it gets.

Resource Efficiency

  • Use salvaged and re-purposed building material when possible. Previously used hardwood flooring, doors, and staircase material have style. It may save money because the price of newly-harvested hardwood is so high, and re-purposing will keep the landfill a bit less crowded.
  • Use locally available material. Transportation is expensive, wastes fuel, and creates greenhouse gases.
  • Use durable goods. The longer-lasting it is, the longer the time period before replacement.
  • Use renewable and plentiful material. Soy spray foam insulation is a good example. It’s easy and inexpensive to farm.

Water Conservation

There are two key points to consider here. The first is implementing systems that conserve water to begin with. Low-flow shower heads are a good example. Low-flow toilets are a good idea and mandated in the USA. The current standard in the USA is 1.6 gallons per flush (GPF).

The second point is to conserve water by using existing water wisely. Reclaim rain water by routing the flow from the rain gutter downspout to the landscaping.