Fire resistant design and construction

Building for fire resistance is about safeguarding your home and buying time. Time to gather loved ones and pets, time to get out of the space and to safety, and time for firefighters to respond and protect our homes and businesses. The following are key for structures to remain standing, and at a minimum, hold together for hours rather than minutes during a fire.
  • The envelope

    The envelope is the entire exterior of your home - including doors, windows, walls, and the roof. Openings in the envelope diminish the home’s fire-resistant integrity by allowing smoke and flames to enter the home. Tightly sealing the envelope’s primary openings and intersections improves a home’s fire-resistance. Homes built with the right materials and smart detailing have a far better chance of remaining standing after a flashover event. Some of the ways to ensure a tightly sealed envelope include: read more

    1. Roofs - install a “Class A”, fire-rated material roof, such as standing seam metal, tile, slate, or cementitious composite roofing.
    2. Walls - cover walls in cement board underlayment and/or stucco, stone veneer, aluminum siding or other non-combustible finish.
    3. Doors and windows - use aluminum, steel, or clad products with tempered glazing.
    4. Vents and Openings - avoid roof and wall vents or minimize those penetrations if they are otherwise required by code. Install pet doors that are rated for fire.
    5. Eaves - enclose eaves with stucco or use DensGlass®, but if exposed wood rafters are still desired, use heavy timber instead of 2x lumber.
    6. Seal the envelope - quite literally. Where materials come together, seal all joints with a non-combustible material.

Defensible space

Designing the area surrounding your home to be free of combustible material, so that fire is less likely to reach the home, is what is referred to as defensible space. Creating a strong defensible space using materials that can withstand falling embers and high radiant temperatures like tile, pavers, concrete, gravel, and pebbles, will slow or stop the spread of wildfire towards your home and help protect it from catching fire. Defensible space is also helpful in allowing firefighters a protected space from which to safely defend your home from fire.

Fire-resistant landscaping and water features can serve as additional protection around your home. The water from your pool and spa can also be used to help extinguish the fire.

Location, location, location

How a building is sited is key to fire-resistance, and topographical placement is paramount. Fire moves up hillsides four times faster than when burning on level ground. Hot gasses rise in front of the fire along the slope face of a hill, pre-heating upslope vegetation which creates a faster burn and flames that are twice as high.

Siting your home back from the edge of a hillside will not compromise your view but will give you the space needed to build a firebreak.

No strings attached

Exposed wooden pergolas, decks, stairs and railings are highly combustible and practically invite a fire to your doorstep. Vines growing on a home are also inviting to fire. When building in high fire zones we are careful to not include exterior combustible attachments, while not compromising on aesthetics. For example, not all woods are highly combustible. Brazilian Ipe and Black Locust can be “Class A” fire-rated, yet still have a warm look.

Decks can be covered on both the top and underside with non-combustible materials, such as stone and fiberglass panels. Steel and concrete also allow us to build beautiful attachments that are significantly more fire-resistant.

Material to the issue

Our design team has proven that many materials that are non-combustible can be warm, inviting and still feel like home. We have made beautiful use of stucco, tempered glass, aluminum, steel, fire rated wood and native landscapes to create environments that are both fire-resistant and aesthetically stunning.

Going above and beyond

We understand that every situation and location is different, and every client has a unique cost to risk ratio. Other options some clients may be willing to consider are the use of concrete or concrete block, fire rated glazing, and shutters that defend against smoke and flames. The installation of foam systems and water tanks can either help protect or extinguish a fire once started.

At SweisKloss we specialize in fire-resistant building practices. Our goal is to help our clients determine their specific fire-resistant requirements. For more information, contact us.

Our work on fire resistance has been featured in:

How to Disaster-Proof a Home in L.A.'s Fire and Flood Zones
Hollywood Reporter
Jan 2019

Architect Abeer Sweis Shares Fire-Resistant Building Strategies
Dwell
Nov 2018

Safety, Style and Sustainability: What New Construction Looks Like In A Fire Zone
LA Times
Sep 2018

Fireproof Homes Could Be The Answer To Massive Wildfires Across The West
USA Today
Aug 2018

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