Reducing Fire Risk Doesn’t Cost More

By | December 3, 2018

Properties built in wildfire-prone areas could be built to better withstand fire risk without increasing the cost of construction. That’s according to a new study released last month that found negligible cost differences between a typical home and a home constructed using wildfire-resistant materials and design features.

“Decades of research and post-fire assessments have provided clear evidence that building materials and design, coupled with landscaping on the property, are the most important factors influencing home survivability during a wildfire,” according to the study, Building a Wildfire-Resistant Home: Codes and Costs, co-authored by Headwaters Economics, an independent, nonprofit research group and the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety. “With one-third of all U.S. homes in the wildland urban interface and more than 35,000 structures lost to wildfire in the last decade, more communities should consider adopting building codes that require new home construction to meet wildfire-resistant standards,” the study said.

While codes and standards have been developed for building in wildfire-prone lands, the perceived cost of implementing such regulations is a commonly cited barrier to adoption by some communities. However, the study says that perceived barrier is simply untrue.

To identify whether the cost of constructing to a wildfire-resistant building code differs from typical construction, the study priced new construction and retrofitting expenses for a three-bedroom, 2,500-square foot, single-story, single-family home representative of wildland-urban interface building styles in southwest Montana.

“We examined costs in four vulnerable components of the home: the roof (including gutters, vents, and eaves), exterior walls (including windows and doors), decks, and near-home landscaping,” the study’s authors wrote. “Overall, the wildfire-resistant construction cost 2 percent less than the typical construction, with the greatest cost savings resulting from using wildfire-resistant fiber cement siding on exterior walls, in lieu of typical cedar plank siding. While cedar plank siding is typical in the wildland-urban interface of western Montana, fiber cement siding is already a common choice in many regions because of its relative affordability, durability and low maintenance needs.”

Wildfire-resistant changes to the roof resulted in the largest cost increase, with a 27 percent increase in gutters, vents, and soffits, however, in total, the overall cost to build a fire-resistant building were 2 percent less.

This study was completed in partnership with IBHS and was prepared at the request of Park County.

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Insurance Journal West December 3, 2018
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