Construction costs for fire-resistant home in California

Mitigating destruction in the home ignition zone

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Home steps on fire
Relatively fire-resistant homes can ignite during low-intensity wildfires if a path of combustible material, such as fences, stairs, decks, or support beams lead the fire to the home. Image from Texas Forest Service report about fires in 2011.

This is a portion of an article first published at Headwaters Economics in July, 2022. It is used with permission here.

Increasing home loss and growing risks require reevaluating the wildfire crisis as a home-ignition problem and not a wildland fire problem. A home’s building materials, design, and nearby landscaping influence its survival. Together with the location, arrangement, and placement of nearby homes, constructing a wildfire-resistant home is critical in light of rising wildfire risks. This report compares the cost of constructing a home to three different levels of wildfire resistance in California.

California is a leader in the country with a statewide building code and other property-level vegetation requirements addressing wildfire impacts to the built environment. Applicable to all new developments located in State Responsibility Areas (SRAs) and the highest fire severity zones in Local Responsibility Areas (LRAs), California’s Building Code Chapter 7A is intended to reduce the vulnerability of homes to wildfire.

Yet given the magnitude of California’s wildfire risks and increasing home development in wildfire-prone areas, constructing a home beyond Chapter 7A requirements may be needed to ensure greater wildfire resistance. Understanding the comparative costs of wildfire-resistant home construction in California can inform future wildfire policy and decision-making.

This report compares the costs for constructing three different versions of a wildfire-resistant home in California:

  • Baseline home compliant with the minimum requirements of Building Code Chapter 7A;
  • Enhanced home augmenting Chapter 7A requirements with a vertical under-deck enclosure around the perimeter of the deck and a noncombustible zone around the home (0 to 5 feet), including under the deck and extending five feet out from the deck perimeter; and,
  • Optimum home constructed to the most stringent, fire-resistant options (e.g., use of a noncombustible material), or in some cases, a “Code plus” option (an option not currently included in Chapter 7A). Optimum performance levels were selected based on recent research findings and best judgment.

Building materials and assemblies for five primary home components were considered, including:

  • Roof – roof covering, vents, roof edge, and gutters (including gutter covers and drip edge)
  • Under-eave area – eaves, soffit, and vents
  • Exterior wall – siding, windows, doors, trim, and vents
  • Attached deck – horizontal surface area, rails, and under-the-deck footprint
  • Near-home landscaping – the immediate five-foot perimeter around the home and attached deck (including mulch and fencing)

Cost estimates for individual building materials were provided through RSMeans, a national database of construction costs for residential, commercial, and industrial construction. Cost estimates included building material, labor, equipment, and contractor overhead costs such as transportation and storage fees.

In northern and southern California, building an Enhanced wildfire-resistant home increased construction costs by approximately $2,800 over the Baseline home. Constructing a home to Optimum wildfire resistance increased overall costs by $18,200 in northern California and by $27,100 in southern California.

Cost differences, fire resistant home

Although the Optimum home was more expensive to build, it is likely that the increased costs will return greater long-term benefits in energy efficiency and durability. The roof, exterior walls, and near-home landscaping added the largest proportional increases to building costs. Each of the five components is described in more detail below.

Read the entire article at Headwaters Economics.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

16 thoughts on “Construction costs for fire-resistant home in California”

  1. This article is a riot. These costs are so far off. You are lucky if you can build a home in Sonoma County for $750 a square foot.

  2. No kidding. If this is all it takes to build a house I have enough insurance to rebuild my whole neighborhood.

  3. It is my contention that most homes that burn down in wildfires do so because there was no one there to put out the fire when it was still small, like the deck fire in the photo. No one was there because the occupants were ordered to evacuate. The occupants obeyed the evacuation order because they never took it upon themselves to prepare to fight a wildfire themselves with their own pumps, hoses, and stored water. I’m watching the smoke from the Rum Creek Fire a few miles away, but I’m not preparing to evacuate, nor am I in a panic. I have three gas pumps, two electric pumps, enough hose to reach every corner of my 5 acres, including my two nearest neighbor’s houses, and 25,000 gallons of cistern storage remaining at this late-summer date out of 53,000 gallons total. The Big Lie, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help you” is never bigger than in a wildfire when the government simply does not have enough resources to protect every structure. Encouraging self-reliance and preparedness is as important as fireproofing structures and cleaning up flammable materials in the landscape. With all three, there’s no reason to ever lose a house in a wildfire.

  4. Just curious, Tom; first, are your windows capable of withstanding the heat without breaking? Second, are you prepared to protect all your fire hoses from flames while you drag them around? Third, I hope you don’t have pvc risers to your hose bibs, as I did prior to replacing them with steel pipes.

    Next, do you have a way to keep hot embers out of your face, eyes, and lungs?

    I’m asking largely because I’m concerned for myself, but also for others who plan to shelter in place. Sheltering in place is the mandated precedurevin some areas, since so many people die while trying to flee a fire, due to down trees and power lines blocking the roads, brush burning too close to travel lanes, and good old traffic jams.

    I wish firefighting agencies would offer classes on sheltering in place. After all, even if you don’t plan to do that, you may have to, if there’s no safe egress.

  5. I’m left with the impression that these costs listed are only the materials and not the labor to assemble the structure.

  6. The costs are only the additional costs for selected fire resistant components:
    “Building materials and assemblies for five primary home components were considered…”

  7. Tom. Protecting 5 acres with structures from burning is a lot of work. I hope that you are physically fit, are knowledgable about firefighting and are able to tell the difference of a successful operation and one that is not worth the fight. Have you thought about what you are going to do if there are 2 structures on fire at the same time or if a vehicle catches fire when you are trying to suppress a fire in your woodshed? How bout when your neighbor needs help when you are fighting your own fire or your neighbor has a heart attack or asthma attack? Do you have extra hose in case a section breaks/burns through? Do you have extra gasoline and is it in a safe place? Do you have an escape route or a safety area? I’m not trying to be sarcastic, just throwing some stuff out there to think about. Good luck. I hope you don’t have to worry about any of this.

  8. Instead of useless organizations wasting valuable time and money on totally bogus studies, reports, and whatnot; how about taking that same money and making it available as grant money directly to homeowners for improvements. It is plain as day by the prices quoted in this article that whoever spent the time and money on research either didn’t ask the right questions or managed to get very outdated information. You can’t even build a cheap highly flammable house for the prices given these days let alone a fire resistant one.

  9. Tom’s right. Preparation and active defense saves homes. Lots of examples, but the media is hesitant to discuss these success stories, and agencies and elected officials don’t want to admit it.

  10. Here we go with “the media”.
    Again, firefighting is hard work. Yes, defensible space is important but getting in over your head while trying to defend your property will nedlessly risk first responder lives. I hope you’re prepared for the consequences.

  11. Research like this can provide the path to the most cost effective solutions. It is a public good, reducing societal costs. Giving you public funds to protect your private residence is not something a nation $30 trillion in debt should do.

  12. Apparently…FIREWISE is only an education piece that has no real teeth except for communities and people who belive in it…


    There’s the zoning issues…some communities take it seriously

    As already reflecting across the country…higher home insurance rates

    Like aviation companies own us all and the true education will become when everyone can’t afford their home due to owners and developers too interested in getting their piece of Westward Expansion…

    Thanks all…from a former wildland fire type and Firewise Specialist

  13. Maybe try your local emergency manager about sheltering in place…they do most of those types of courses….

  14. For those who think they can defend their homes and property, I would suggest watching a you tube video called “Bring your own Bregade”.
    Watch it in its entirety. It’s well worth it.

  15. Its clear that you didn’t read the article, or its topic is over your head. These costs are above the base costs to build a home, to bring said home to a WUI standard. The basic fire code, to a base for the WUI, to an enhanced WUI standard, to the optimum standard. Yes, local costs will be higher, as these are a mean, and yes the figures are dated to 2018, but is still a good start. Now, is it easy for someone already dropping 500K on a home to come up with another 60k for fire resistance? That is a different question.

What do you think?