Andy Stauffer has learned of the destruction that fire can wreak firsthand. As CEO of Stauffer & Sons Construction in Colorado Springs, Colo., he's rebuilt 21 homes destroyed by the Waldo Canyon Fire in 2012, and Black Forest Fire in 2013.
When a 2,000-degree fire barrels down the side of a mountain, there's very little a home builder can do to prevent damage. But in less ferocious circumstances, an ounce of prevention goes a long way.
To keep fire outside of the structure, Stauffer advocates for the use of composition shingles, concrete or metal on the roof. He recommends stucco, stone, or fiber cement siding for siding.
While these materials can increase cost, Stauffer argues that widespread use actually can reduce cost.
"Once those products become commodity driven, I think those things settle into a price point where it's not even really an upgrade [as a price point]," Stauffer says.
In fire-prone areas, like Colorado and California, builders have learned a lot about defending homes from exterior fires and making it easier for responders to arrive when a threat is imminent. Here are their tips:
Defensive Space In Ventura County, Calif., if a homeowner doesn't maintain a 100-foot space between burnable fuel load, like brush or trees, and buildings, they get a ticket and have 30 days to fix the issue. The program apparently works. In October 2014's wildfires, Ventura County lost only 24 homes, while nearby San Diego County lost 68 homes. "They have put in place the strongest building codes and defensible space requirements," says Robert Raymer, senior engineer and technical director for the California Building Industry Association. "Those work very well when they're enforced."
Blocking the Gates In the Angora Fire, in Lake Tahoe, Calif., 242 homes were lost. A big reason: Burning embers entered through attics and cracked single-pane windows. While tempered glass solved the window issue, requirements mandating vents that either have mesh or close when exposed to heat appear to have kept the embers on the outside. "The ability of fire to gain access to the home through vent or window has been all but shut down," Raymer says.
Ease of Access In Colorado, Stauffer says the threat of fire plays a big role in where a home is placed on a lot. "We look at the proximity of fire hydrants and ability of fire trucks to get in and fight a fire," he says. "Those are aimed at getting people out in case of fire and getting fire responders in."