Materials matter most in fire-resistant homes
Include escape plan with at least two routes and practise it with the whole family
There are about 24,000 house fires each year in Canada that result in an average of 377 deaths, and 3,048 injuries. While you hope that it never happens to you, sometimes accidents occur, whether it’s due to a kitchen fire, wild fire or other sources. I’m not saying this to scare people, but to stress the importance of building safe, fire-resistant homes, having the right alarms in place, and creating an escape plan in case of disaster.
As we wrap up Fire Prevention Week, I wanted to take the opportunity to talk about some of the ways we can build homes that are better resistant to fire.
STRENGTHENING BUILDING ENVELOPE
The smartest money you can spend on your home is in your building envelope. When you build right from the outside in, you’re guarding your home against the elements, and protecting the investment inside.
It’s about choosing the right materials that will resist flame or won’t ignite when struck with a spark. How you build the outside will play a big role on your home’s fire resistance.
From your foundation all the way up to your roof, the exterior of your home is your first line of defence against the spread of flame through wildfires or other natural causes.
Concrete has a high natural resistance to flame, and is slow to transfer heat, making concrete foundations, as well as foundations built using Insulated Concrete Forms (ICF) a smart choice when it comes to building a fire resistant home.
I love a metal roof. It’s energy efficient, long-lasting (it can last upwards of 50 years) and doesn’t ignite. While metal is my personal choice, clay and fibreglass based shingles can provide some level of fire resistance as well. No matter your material choice, use a fire-resistant underlayment if possible to stop the flames from spreading to the interior of your home.
Your windows, at minimum should be dual paned. In case of a fire, the first pane of a window will generally shatter, but the second pane remains intact, and heats up more slowly, helping to prevent breaks and cracks that could cause harm.
When it comes to your entry-
ways, pay close attention to the fire rating. This is the length of time a material will be able to resist fire. Depending on the door’s material, you could be looking at a fire rating of 20 minutes, to upwards of 90 minutes.
If space on your lot allows, keep garages and sheds detached from the main home. We tend to store many of our most flammable materials in these spaces. Keeping the units separate can stop flames from spreading to you main home, keeping you more protected. If you have an attached garage, the fire rating on the wall that connects the home is especially important!
SLOWING THE SPREAD
When a fire starts inside the home, the most important thing is that you and your family escape quickly. You’ll want to choose indoor materials that slow the spread of flame from room to room, so that you have enough time to evacuate and have a safe path to do so.
Drywall is pretty fire-resistant on its own, though there are products on the market that increase that resistance. If the flame burns through the wall, your choice of insulation could be at risk of combustion. On some of our job sites, we’ve been using an insulation that’s made from stone wool, and can withstand up to 1,000 degrees without burning.
Think about what snakes through the twists and turns of your home: it’s your vents and ductwork. Flames can enter a home through the vents, so cover up any openings with a metal mesh. Make sure to keep the area clean of debris, too. Embers could catch on lint, dust or debris.
Finally, make sure you have a fire escape plan in place, and practise it with your kids. You need, at minimum, two possible escape routes, and a designated meeting area a safe distance from the home.
Even small fires need to be treated seriously. Fire extinguishers are a tool meant to help you get out in case of fire. No matter how big the flame is, make your escape and call the fire department.