Here’s the cost of building a new ‘wildfire-resistant’ home

Homeowners in California are often encouraged to take steps to make their property as wildfire resistant as possible. Over the last several years, practical research has helped to define specific choices in building materials and overall design that can help raise a home’s wildfire rating. Earlier this year the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety (IBHS), a nonprofit focusing on disaster mitigation research, revealed its own science-based standard called the “Wildfire Prepared Home.” The program lays out a series of requirements covering everything from the roof to landscaping. The very first home to receive a Wildfire Prepared Home designation is located in Paradise, California. That home was rebuilt from the ground up following the devastating Camp Fire in 2018.You can see the full list of requirements here.IBHS CEO Roy Wright said since that home was unveiled in June, many other communities in Northern California and throughout the West have expressed interest in folding the Wildfire Prepared Home program into their safety codes. Wright says that made the cost of doing so the next logical question. “We took that challenge on and said ‘Ok, we’re gonna now find out exactly what these pieces look like and apply it in a California context,’ Wright said. To do that, disaster experts with IBHS teamed up with economists at Headwaters Economics to determine the cost to build a new home to several different tiers of wildfire ratings. You can view the study in its entirety here. The study used Chapter 7-A of California’s building safety code as a baseline. The next tier, considered to be an “enhanced” home, follows the Wildfire Prepared Home guidelines. Finally, the “optimal” home, takes every possible consideration for using non-combustible materials throughout the entire structure.“The difference between the Chapter 7A baseline and the enhanced level is 2-8% of the cost of the home. And at that optimal level it’s about 4-13% increase,” Wright said.For Northern California, that works out to about $2,800 to $18,000 of additional costs on new home construction depending on how many materials and methods are switched out. The analysis found that opting for different attic and roof vents or metal deck railings would run a few hundred dollars. Things like designing landscaping to keep combustible objects like shrubs and trees away from the house would likely add no cost at all. Meanwhile, choosing a metal roof with non-combustible framing could add close to $6,000 dollars. Jonathan Childs is the president of Castle House Distributors in Sacramento. The company supplies building materials for home construction contractors. Childs says that his customers, especially those in the Foothills, are eager to make that kind of investment. “That is a small amount to deal with versus losing their entire house,” Childs said. One option that has been popular among Childs’ clients is called an insulated concrete form (ICF). Here, bricks of non-combustible foam are filled with concrete and lined with rebar to be used as the frame for a home. This eliminates the need for wood framing. “It’s like building a house with Legos,” Childs said.Childs said that method tends to add between 2% and 4% to construction costs but the use of ICFs could potentially lower insurance costs and reduce the build time. Roy Wright with IBHS says that he believes these types of wildfire-ready building options should become a standard for new construction everywhere. “I think as we move forward in the coming years, in putting these wildfire improvements in place need to be considered as normal as finishing the bathroom,” Wright said. Both he and Childs agree that doing so will benefit homeowners for generations. “Just paying that little extra money now, you’re building the house right, it takes away a tremendous amount of stress,” Childs said.

Homeowners in California are often encouraged to take steps to make their property as wildfire resistant as possible.

Over the last several years, practical research has helped to define specific choices in building materials and overall design that can help raise a home’s wildfire rating.

Earlier this year the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety (IBHS), a nonprofit focusing on disaster mitigation research, revealed its own science-based standard called the “Wildfire Prepared Home.” The program lays out a series of requirements covering everything from the roof to landscaping.

The very first home to receive a Wildfire Prepared Home designation is located in Paradise, California. That home was rebuilt from the ground up following the devastating Camp Fire in 2018.

You can see the full list of requirements here.

IBHS CEO Roy Wright said since that home was unveiled in June, many other communities in Northern California and throughout the West have expressed interest in folding the Wildfire Prepared Home program into their safety codes. Wright says that made the cost of doing so the next logical question.

“We took that challenge on and said ‘Ok, we’re gonna now find out exactly what these pieces look like and apply it in a California context,’ Wright said.

To do that, disaster experts with IBHS teamed up with economists at Headwaters Economics to determine the cost to build a new home to several different tiers of wildfire ratings.

You can view the study in its entirety here.

The study used Chapter 7-A of California’s building safety code as a baseline. The next tier, considered to be an “enhanced” home, follows the Wildfire Prepared Home guidelines. Finally, the “optimal” home, takes every possible consideration for using non-combustible materials throughout the entire structure.

“The difference between the Chapter 7A baseline and the enhanced level is 2-8% of the cost of the home. And at that optimal level it’s about 4-13% increase,” Wright said.

For Northern California, that works out to about $2,800 to $18,000 of additional costs on new home construction depending on how many materials and methods are switched out.

The analysis found that opting for different attic and roof vents or metal deck railings would run a few hundred dollars.

Things like designing landscaping to keep combustible objects like shrubs and trees away from the house would likely add no cost at all.

Meanwhile, choosing a metal roof with non-combustible framing could add close to $6,000 dollars.

Jonathan Childs is the president of Castle House Distributors in Sacramento. The company supplies building materials for home construction contractors. Childs says that his customers, especially those in the Foothills, are eager to make that kind of investment.

“That [cost] is a small amount to deal with versus losing their entire house,” Childs said.

One option that has been popular among Childs’ clients is called an insulated concrete form (ICF). Here, bricks of non-combustible foam are filled with concrete and lined with rebar to be used as the frame for a home. This eliminates the need for wood framing.

“It’s like building a house with Legos,” Childs said.

Childs said that method tends to add between 2% and 4% to construction costs but the use of ICFs could potentially lower insurance costs and reduce the build time.

Roy Wright with IBHS says that he believes these types of wildfire-ready building options should become a standard for new construction everywhere.

“I think as we move forward in the coming years, in putting these wildfire improvements in place need to be considered as normal as finishing the bathroom,” Wright said.

Both he and Childs agree that doing so will benefit homeowners for generations.

“Just paying that little extra money now, you’re building the house right, it takes away a tremendous amount of stress,” Childs said.

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