The number of domestic fires in the United States has steadily increased in the last decades. With all the advancements in detection and suppression, you would think that protecting your home from fires should be a fail-proof measure. However, the reality is quite different, and people all across the country still have a lot to learn.
Protecting your home from fires requires planning and a proactive attitude, toppled with some smart countermeasures. The National Fire Protection Agency or NFPA reports thousands of house fires every year, many leading to fire-related deaths and grave injuries. Protecting your home from fires is often overlooked, but it still remains a critical need if you want to keep your family safe.
Are you protecting your home from fires?
In the United States, the most common fire protection methods include purchasing and installing smoke alarms and the use of fire extinguishers (mostly for kitchen fires). While these are a good step forward, the common household fire extinguisher is not the miracle salvation people are hoping. In fact, these are useful to extinguish a small fire, and only if you catch it in time.
Not to mention that the above-mentioned methods of protecting your home from fires are useful if a fire occurs inside the home. But what if the fire comes from outside your home?
Since 2017, it seems that the United States is being overwhelmed by wildfires, and every season is more “remarkable” than the last one. As NOAA states, more than 30-million acres have burned since then, and more than 100,000 separate wildfires were reported. In 2017 alone, California had more than 9,000 wildfires that destroyed 10,000 structures and burned to crisp more than 1,2 million acres of land.
Some believe that only the West Coast is at risk and may be devastated by wildfires each year, but if you live in a wooded area or near one, you’re at risk just as well. Protecting your home from fires should be on your agenda, even if you live in one of those residential areas since they are not immune.
Protecting your family and belongings takes a whole new dimension when a wildfire burning at 1,500 degrees F engulfs your living area. In certain cases, fire can literally fall from the sky like in an apocalypse movie, while in other cases, it can approach like a tidal wave rising way above your rooftop. Most times, this is a battle you just can’t win.
Steps mandatory for protecting your home from fires
There are certain steps that can be taken to intervene if and when your home is threatened by a wildfire. The most common one being the installation of a residential sprinkler system (which can be costly if it wasn’t installed in the construction phase). To save a little money, there are all sorts of DIY projects that show you how to build and implement one. However, these are not aesthetic, and they won’t cover the standards of most families.
However, I believe that the cost versus benefit should be your main concern and not that your neighbors are gossiping over your new installation.
Leaving that aside, let’s look at some primary methods for protecting your home from fires recommended by experts.
Create a defensible space for your home
This is the least expensive and perhaps the best way to protect your home from fires. To simply put it, a defensible space is an area around your home between the structures themselves and the vegetation and other combustible materials.
As you probably know, vegetation is the main fuel for a wildfire, and by creating some distance between your home and the fuel, you have a natural break-barrier that will slow the progression of said fire.
Your goal should be to create enough space around your home as practically possible. In some states, the authorities recommend various defensible space area at 30- and 100- foot radiuses around residential homes. As far as we know, the 30-foot radius is considered the minimum standard in areas where vegetation is abundant.
Start by identifying the slope of your property. In general, fires burn uphill, mostly due to the preheating of the ground fuel and up-slope draft. Think of it like this, the greater the slope, the better a defensible space you will want in that direction. Let’s say the grade is 30 percent, and then you will want at least 100 feet of defensible space.
Once you do this, being and inspect the shrubbery and trees around your home. Nobody says you shouldn’t decorate your yard, but you must choose your plants smart when doing so. Believe it or not, there are fire-proof plants that shed a minimal amount of leaves and other waste and others that have high moisture content and take longer to burn.
The trees you pick should be low in resin and sap, and they must have a rough bark. If you have problems picking the right plants and trees, you’ll be better off requesting assistance from local landscaping professionals.
Regular maintenance is also mandatory, and you need to clean the area around your home or yard waste as often as possible. You might not look forward to cleaning the rain gutters, but the dry leave and all other debris accumulating there is nothing more than fuel that can ignite given the right conditions.
Since firemen call trees “ladder fuels” that allows the fire to climb vertically, you have to trim branches to where the lowest branches are located at least 6 feet off the ground. All tree limbs from trees surrounding your home should be pruned away, especially those near the rooftop and chimney. Firemen say that the closer the tree branches are to your home, the easier it is for a fire “to jump” to it.
Your attic needs to be protected by minding vent openings and eaves. These provide the needed gaps for embers to enter the void spaces in your home even when a small fire starts, before becoming a big, life-threatening one.
Avoid having any dead leave accumulating on your roof and in your gutters, since that’s just “asking for it” if a fire starts nearby.
Intense heat will break windows and quickly ignite your curtains, and even before the heat breaks the glass, enough heat can be transferred to ignite fabrics inside your home. So installing non-combustible shutters that can be closed during emergencies, will hinder fire spread inside your home. There are various manufacturers that guarantee a specific fire rating.
Having a defensible space around your home is not complicated work, and besides keeping your home safe, it will also provide firefighters the needed space to get to all sides of your house when a fire needs to be extinguished quickly.
Protecting your home from fire requires a little bit of know-how, and a lot of common sense and making a defensible space could be a potentially life-saving barrier between a wildfire and your family.
Firefighting application such as foams and gels
Since the early 1900s, various firefighting applications continued to evolve, and from the mid-1980s, foam became widely used in woodland firefighting. Due to its efficiency, it was soon brought inside for interior fire suppression operation.
Foam provides several advantages for fighting fires. It is now to cool the area, but it also produces a blanket that deprives the fire of oxygen, eventually extinguishing it. The foam was also proven to reduce the surface tension of water. To put it simply, it can make water “wetter,” allowing it to penetrate further into the fuel, improving saturation.
Once applied, such foams will be absorbed by construction materials and will remain active between eight to sixteen hours. They are approved by EPA, and they are biodegradable. And the best thing is that they do not stain, damage or kill vegetation, and there’s little to no cleanup after using it.
In recent years, there was an increase in foam purchasing as many vendors offer various products that can be applied to the exterior of structures, to blanket them from wildfires, and reducing the chance of ignition by assuring proper cooling. Such foam can be purchased from large 275-gallon totes to small 5-gallon buckets. They can be applied using a simple garden hose or more complicated systems that include a pump, an educator, and a hose with various nozzles.
For protecting your home from fires, I recommend looking into the hand-pump backpack style unit as it is very portable and offers rapid application. In my opinion, it is the most cost-effective solution to cover even larger areas.
Besides foams, there are also fire-retardant gels, and why they offer the same protective properties as foams, they are messy to deal with and expensive to clean. Not to mention that the shelf-life of gels is much shorter compared to foam. Foam has a shelf life of over 20 years, while gels have a maximum 5-years shelf life.
Another option that is worth mentioning is the use of fire-retardant additives and paint that can be purchased for both exterior and indoor uses. These are highly effective and are used in many government buildings and facilities. However, the downside of these products is their high cost. These are not a viable solution for many, and therefore, aren’t’ often favored.
Get yourself a pool pump
One smart way of saturating the exterior of your home as a fire-prevention method, or to put out accidental exterior fires and even wildfires, is the use of abundant water sources to soak the surfaces. If you happen to own a pool, its water can be the salvation you need during a wildfire.
Some people opt for an attachment that that comes directly off of your classical swimming pool pump that imitates the setup of a fire truck while others opt for a DIY system. There are various kits that can turn your pool pump into a fire-extinguishing device, and the price ranges from $400 to $800.
The main thing to keep in mind if you plan on employing such a method for protecting your home from fires is that many pumps are reliant on electricity to function. That being said, you could use your pump until the electricity stops; otherwise, it would be smart to opt for a gas-powered pump.
Some preppers I know have a floating gas-powered pump that they plan on using with their pool or pond, and even their Jacuzzi in case needed. They work just like any other water pump, but they offer a great advantage, they can float on any body of water flowing up to 265 gallons of water per minute.
If you want to go big, you can also install plastic or steel water tanks on your property (if the legislation allows it) with a capacity of up to 5,500 gallons. The water stored in such tanks can be used for multiple purposes, besides assuring a fire-control method
Protecting your home from fires, particularly if you live in a forested area or a high-risk area, should go beyond the standard measures you can find in most American households. Those that have been affected by wildfire will attest that these are swift and destructive natural disasters that are hard to contain.
Employ the measures listed in this article and utilize your available budget smart for protecting your home from fires, and most importantly, to keep your family safe.
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