Fire-resistant homes could reduce wildfire impacts

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RICHBURG, S.C. (CNBC) – Wildfires destroyed more US homes and buildings last year than any other time in recorded history. And the eight most destructive years for wildfires ever have been in just the last 13 years.

The Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety is on the front lines of fire research. There is no reason to think that they’re going to get better,” IIBHS CEO Roy Wright said. “So, as you look at this kind of impact that these variations in the climate have had, we are far more susceptible to the size and intensity of fires.”

Wright is a former FEMA official and native Californian. His parents lost their home in the Camp Fire last year—the worst in the state’s history. Roughly 14,000 homes there burnt to the ground.

Wildfire damage to property just in California last year totaled nearly $19 billion, according to CoreLogic.

Wright said, “There are steps that we can take so that the impact of that fire is narrowed, it doesn’t spread as far and it impacts far fewer structures.”

So the institute built a home. One side incorporating fire-proof design and materials, the other—not.

Research engineer Daniel Gorham said, “There’s a six-inch gap here from the top of the rock mulch to the start of the siding. And this six-inch gap, just like our five-foot zone, gives us a noncombustible area.”

A wildfire’s wall of flames may look most dramatic, but it’s actually the flying embers that can be more destructive. Satellites have captured embers flying up to seven miles from a wildfire. These start secondary fires.

The siding roof and landscaping on these homes protect it from these embers. Gorham explained, “There’s no such thing as a fireproof home. But there is a wildfire-resistant home.”

And while the cost to real estate from fires is rising, the cost to build a fire-resistant home is actually the same or even less than a typical home. The savings can be found in the cement siding, far cheaper than wood alternatives.

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