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As one of the worst fire seasons on record sweeps across California, many are facing the threat of losing their home – or are sequestering inside to avoid smoke. As drier, hotter conditions escalate, these outbreaks pose a greater threat to communities in harm’s way. Displacement is inevitable for many, and quality of life is still severely impacted for everyone else.
Fortunately, there are many steps we can take in the near term to mitigate the risks of fire damage to our homes — and stay healthy in the event we need to hunker down. From the outside in, these are some of the key fire and smoke safety factors we keep in mind as we plan custom homes in California.
It’s no secret that a safe and healthy home starts with the right building materials.
Exterior wood features are understandably popular for aesthetic reasons. But from a resilience standpoint, wood should be used sparingly. Entire homes can be framed in steel, and many owners choose to leave some beams exposed for the rugged, contemporary look. When you do incorporate wood in your architecture, it can be embedded with reinforcements like fire-resistant gypsum. It could also be used where flames are less likely to reach, or it can simply be so thick that it slows a fire’s burn instead of acting as kindling (giving fire fighters more time to respond).
At Clarum, we’re strong proponents of the enduring yet visually appealing exteriors like board-form concrete walls, stucco, or Hardie Board fiber cement siding. Similarly, for roofing, you can achieve both fire-resistance and pleasing design with metals like zinc, copper, steel, or aluminum. Or you can go the tile route and choose from slate, concrete or clay – giving you the added benefit of being more eco-friendly and longer lasting.
From the top down, each of these exterior and roofing options look so polished that you never have to feel like you’re trading curb appeal for protection.
Fire extinguisher placement is another common strategy to keep everyone safe inside your home. It’s a smart practice, and thinking it through before you build can ensure they’re in dedicated locations as part of your emergency response plan. The same goes for second-story fire escape ladders — a custom, built-in one can make getting out in a moment’s notice much more straightforward (or straight down).
While we always encourage keeping ample fire extinguishers around, they have obvious drawbacks — they require a person to operate, they are low-volume, and very targeted. That’s why every Clarum home also has an automatic sprinkler system. You can rely on the steady, wide-angled flow of water to keep a burn in check even when you’re not around. For added peace of mind, we also recommend third-party monitoring. The quick response is priceless, especially when you’re not around to keep watch.
Even if your house isn’t directly in harm’s way, wildfires bog down more distant areas in the form of thick blankets of toxic smoke – forcing you and your family inside. Even then, you may not be safe from the harmful effects of breathing smoke. Micron-sized particles can enter our homes, our lungs, our blood streams, hearts, and brains, causing symptoms like headaches, coughing, or even racing heartbeats and anxiety.
Keeping these toxins out from the start goes hand in hand with the energy efficiency of an airtight envelope. In other words, if you’re keeping your doors and window shut, you shouldn’t be constantly battling the smell and side effects of smoke. From there, since occasionally opening the door is unavoidable, a high-standard ventilation and filtration system will ensure the air you breathe is still as clean as possible. Being stuck inside is hard enough; don’t make it any harder with poor quality air.
As many of us are currently stuck indoors, it’s been more important than ever for the interior of our homes to fit our lifestyle. Incorporating entertainment rooms like a home theater or game area can make a big difference in how you spend time with family. Or, upgrading your office space could help you be more productive as so much of our work patterns continue to change.
Staying active can make a big difference in your physical and mental health. Dedicated indoor spaces for exercise can range from a quiet nook for yoga to a full-on home gym for weightlifting. Calming aesthetics improve the experience in the former, while some structural tweaks might come into play for the latter.
Wherever you fall on the spectrum, self-care will help you get through the days or weeks of lingering smoke.
As wildfire seasons build momentum each year, it’s natural to be uncertain about our wellbeing. During these times, our houses almost become our entire world. Beyond protecting you from harm, your custom home should help you stay healthy, find joy and thrive inside.
Want to learn how Clarum can design your fire-resistant and smoke-safe custom home? Give us a call at 650.322.7069.