Friday, September 21, 2012

Houses and Fires

Of all the various things that architects of timber frame or any other houses worry about when designing especially in the mountains and wooded areas, FIRE is the highest priority. Since fire, in and around a house, has life threatening implications, not to mention devastating property consequences, it is given careful consideration and attention in both the building codes for structures, and local Fire Marshall requirements dealing with defensible space, accessible roads, and water cisterns for the use of fire fighters.
This year in Colorado, where I live, we had wildfires all over the state. Our fires burned up about seven hundred or so houses on the front range this summer, most of which used to sit very close to the foothill/plains interface.....similar to where I live. Watching houses burn is a humbling experience. Whole neighborhoods went up instantly due to proximity, the hot weather, low humidity, high winds and draught conditions.

What to do about wildfire? Plan for it!  A house can be built up to and above all fire standards and take all site precautions and still explode from the intense pre-heat of a major fire....any house....even those that are built "fire-proof". You must do all you can to protect the house, and still have a good evacuation plan. 

And you should plan on building a concrete underground storage vault, typically called a safe room.  I recommend to all my clients that they build a safe room. If you have a basement or a walkout basement, a corner can be found to enclose a space with two additional concrete walls, and a concrete lid. Entered through a secure steel, fire-rated door, it should be large enough to hold: important papers, jewelry, valuables, firearms, and collections that should be kept in a secure anyway. It may also be large enough to put heirlooms and art in the event of an evacuation. Most things in a house can be protected by insurance, but some things should survive a fire.

If you don't plan for the certainty of a fire, you will not be prepared for the off-chance of one.