Innovative Solutions: Protecting Homes from Wildfire Risk
Bay Area Homeowners and Builders Create Innovations to Combat the Risks of Wildfires
Homeowners in the Bay Area are struggling to find insurance coverage due to the high risk of wildfires. However, several innovative solutions are emerging to tackle this problem head-on. Two such innovations are explored by the NBC Bay Area Responds team in a recent report.
The first innovation involves built-in fire response systems. Homeowners like Mark Mitchell, who lives in the dry area of Bonny Doon, have installed sprinkler systems attached to their roofs and under their eaves. This system is designed to detect wildfires and embers, promptly sending an alert via an app to the homeowner. Unless they decline, the system remotely triggers sprinklers to saturate the combustibles in and around the property with water, and foam is applied if the fire moves closer. The system runs on a four-day battery backup with a satellite antenna, ensuring it continues to function even if power and internet connectivity are lost. Though the retrofitting costs $10 per square foot, homeowners like Mitchell say that it’s a small price to pay to protect their homes and prevent fires.
The second innovation is called Fire-Resilient Homes. Companies like DVELE have begun building fire-resistant houses using metal framing instead of timber. The metal structure is inorganic and doesn’t burn, providing significant protection from fires. These prefabricated homes are also sealed to be energy-efficient, and their airtight envelope prevents embers from entering the home. The price tag for these homes is standard, with the Santa Rosa home recently sold by DVELE for $2.2 million, which is similar to Zillow’s estimated price for nearby houses built with traditional materials.
Although innovations such as these aim to reduce the risk of wildfire, homeowners are still struggling to find insurance coverage. Even homes with fire-resistant measures in place like Mitchell’s are being refused coverage. Insurance companies are reportedly calculating fire risk by geographic areas rather than assessing each home’s individual risk. However, innovators like Frontline Wildfire Defense and DVELE remain hopeful that more homeowners will see the value of their solutions and eventually persuade insurance companies to change their policies.
For now, homeowners can take free steps to protect themselves from wildfires by focusing on the first five feet away from their homes. They should remove anything that could burn if an ember lands there, such as wood mulch, and replace it with rock. Small steps like these may help reduce the risk until insurance companies catch up with the growing need for wildfire protection.