San Diego modern architecture firm Hart Wright Architects is designing a home in the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) and aggressively taking the challenge of hardening the building against fire. The evidence from the many houses destroyed in wildfires shows wildfires ignite homes in particular ways. Here are some brief examples of how fire ignites houses and how Hart Wright Architects’ design addresses these conditions.
Fires start when embers are windblown, some can travel miles. The embers land on a part of the home and it ignites- sometimes it begins with a gutter full of leaves or a valley in the roof that has collected debris. Perhaps the embers land at the base of the house and any exposed wood in the walls ignite. Heat from burning trees or neighboring houses shatters windows, and embers blow into the house and set fire to the furniture or curtains. Also what happens is embers get sucked into soffit or gable-end roof vents, igniting the attic and burning the home from there.
Hart Wright Architects’ design addresses these common ignition points. First, the home is clad in metal siding with no exposed wood anywhere. The walls are built with ICF construction, a sandwich of concrete between two outer layers of styrofoam. With the metal siding over the ICF, there is no material available to ignite. The design of the home utilizes non-combustible materials.
The mono slope roof has no valleys that would collect debris and catch stray embers and it is designed to have no vents. A vented roof is an outdated practice that is done for economy. An unvented roof not only protects a house from wildfire but the house also performs well in terms of energy efficiency.
Another design element that hardens the Hart Wright Architects’ fire hardened designed home is the windows. They are protected with exterior steel shutters. These elements not only protect the house from fire but also control heat gain from the glass.