Designing new homes for wildfire resilience

Homebuyers are increasingly aware of risks to their homes posed by wildfires. To help ease these concerns, builders can call upon a number of design strategies to make their homes more resilient in the event of a wildfire.

Before considering design strategies, it’s important to understand the types of potential wildfire exposure:

  • Firebrands or embers result when wind carries burning materials for miles. Embers can ignite in a building by entering through vents or a broken window.
  • Radiant heat can ignite a combustible product, like wood siding, break glass in windows, or pre-heat materials, making them easier to ignite.
  • Direct flame contact occurs as flames from wildfires pass by, or through, a property, and can ignite building materials, directly causing a fire.

There are different terms to describe wildfire resilience: Wildfire resistant, fire resistant, ignition resistant and noncombustible.

  • Wildfire resistant refers to design strategies and materials that make structures more resilient to wildfires, specifically.
  • Fire resistant typically applies to materials that resist flames from any type of fire.
  • Ignition resistant and noncombustible are official terms for materials that have been performance tested against fires.

The Oregon residential specialty code includes an optional Section 327.4 that addresses wildfire hazard mitigation strategies. Local municipalities can choose whether to enforce Section 327.4 in their designated wildfire hazard zones. Although the section isn’t widely enforced, builders can still look to the code for construction practices that can reduce the risk of ignition, including the following focus areas:

  • Roof materials, sheathing and valley flashing
  • Gutter material and debris accumulation prevention strategy
  • Attic ventilation opening coverings and locations
  • Exterior wall assembly materials
  • Protections for exterior projections (e.g., eaves, floors, decks)
  • Window, windowed door and skylight materials

In addition to offering wildfire resilience, several of these measures also increase the energy efficiency of homes. This is a win in two ways: Builders can leverage Energy Trust of Oregon EPS™ New Construction incentives for energy efficient measure that also improve the fire resilience of their homes.

Energy Trust provides enhanced support for builders that are rebuilding homes destroyed by wildfires. Please contact us via email or call the Trade Ally Hotline at 1.877.238.0698 for more information.