Do these 4 things to your roof if you live in an area prone to wildfire

·4 min read
Don’t let a debris-strewn roof take your house during wildfire season
Don’t let a debris-strewn roof take your house during wildfire season

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When it comes to wildfires, the old saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is worth heeding. If you live in an area that’s susceptible to wildfires, the key to keeping your home and valuables safe is to be prepared.

While this can simply mean having a go-bag packed and ready in the case of immediate evacuation, it’s also crucial to keep the exterior of your home, and the Home Ignition Zone that surrounds it, clear of any combustible items that could exacerbate the spread of flames.

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To find out if you live in an area that’s susceptible to wildfires, this map of national fire zones and fire activity, created by the government’s National Interagency Fire Center is a great resource to find out your proximity to a fire zone.

When it comes to wildfires, the most vulnerable place on any home is the roof. When you think about it, it’s the part of the home that gets the brunt of weather exposure, whether it’s rain, wind, snow, or sun, and it’s also the primary landing zone for wildfire embers.

Embers are one of the three ways that wildfires spread, the other two being radiant heat and direct contact with wildfire flame. However, embers can travel up to a mile ahead of a larger fire, carried on the wind, and can land anywhere on or around your home. Because the roof is so vulnerable during a wildfire, it is essential to maintain it and keep it free of debris that could act as fuel for a fire.

1. Maintain your roof, so embers can’t catch fire

One of the first things you should do as fire season approaches is repair or replace any loose or missing shingles or tiles on your roof, as these spots can become entry points for embers that land on your home. If an ember is able to land on an exposed area of the roof, it’s essential that it should not burn through the roof covering and enter the house, as that’s when fire situations become unmanageable.

Repairing or replacing a roof can be one of the most costly things you can do to your house, but if you find yourself needing to replace it, consider re-roofing with the noncombustible materials like metal, clay, tile, or composite; wood or traditional asphalt shingles are at high risk for combustion.

If you’re not sure what materials to consider, look for those with a “Class A” fire protection rating, as this rating provides the greatest protection against fire. To earn a Class A rating, a roofing material must pass a battery of tests to determine whether it will cause flame to spread, or if fire can penetrate it all the way to the roof.

If it fails either of those tests, it won’t receive a Class A rating. Class B and Class C ratings also exist, though each offers diminishing fire protection.

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2. Clean out, cover, and then flood your gutters

Cleaning out gutters can be a tedious chore, if not that difficult, but having clean gutters means that there is less debris such as leaves, twigs, and pine needles that can become fuel for embers.

In a serious evacuation situation, having clear gutters is helpful, as it’s recommended to plug your downspout with a small bag of sand or dirt and use your hose to flood your gutters with water as a preventive measure before leaving your home.

Make sure you turn your hose off prior to evacuation though, so you don’t pull water pressure from public water lines used by firefighters, and only perform this task if there is not an immediate wildfire threat in your area.

Installing noncombustible gutter covers or gutter guards made from materials like stainless steel is also a good idea; these can keep debris from accumulating and will not spread flame themselves.

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3. Keep bird’s nests and debris from the roof edge

Though technically part of the roof, the roof edge deserves special attention, as it’s a more vulnerable area than the rest of the roof—for a couple of reasons.

First, the roof edge is usually where gutters are located, so as we mentioned above, taking proper care of the debris that accumulates is essential.

But second, if you have shingles or roof tiles that create a gap between the roof covering and the roof sheathing, such as a clay barrel tile, it’s important to keep any exposed areas clear of debris such as leaves. You should also discourage birds, squirrels, and other small animals from nesting there by installing bird spikes. (Bird spikes can also be an issue if they collect leaf debris, so it’s important to keep those clean, too.)

4. Cover vents and eaves with metal mesh

Vents in places like attics can also become entry points for embers to land on or even get sucked into your home. With this in mind, cover any vent openings on your home with 1/16-inch to 1/8-inch metal mesh screening to lower the risk that embers can enter.

Eaves should be boxed in using a soffited-eave design, which helps keep combustible debris (as well as pests) outside.

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This article originally appeared on Reviewed: 4 ways to prepare your roof if you live in wildfire-prone areas

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