Best Practices for Firescaping and Fire Resistant Landscaping

arial shot of sprawling backyard featuring firescaping features like a stone patio and pool

The threat of fire to your home is one of the most anxiety-inducing situations you can be in. In recent years, wildfires have decimated thousands of homes throughout the country and the threat continues to rise. Firescaping — a term for landscape design that is created with fire resistance in mind. A few relatively simple actions can help protect your home and bring you peace of mind.

Different cities and states have specific ordinances and laws to help prevent fires from spreading. Make sure you check your municipality’s rules! The following tips can help protect your home, but do not serve as replacement guidelines to your local laws.

Keep Combustible Materials Away from the Home

The most important thing you can do when firescaping is to ensure that no combustible materials are near the home. While it may be obvious to you to keep things like gas canisters at a distance, there are many other combustible materials that you may not notice. This includes landscaping materials!

Hardscape Within 3-5 Feet of the Home

Wood mulch is a tried-and-true favorite in yards. However, in the case of spreading fire, it can create a path for flames to follow directly to your home.

Instead, use non-combustible hardscaping materials including decomposed granite, gravel or rocks in the landscape around the home when firescaping. At a minimum, you want these non-combustible materials to act as a barrier within 3 feet of your home, but 5 feet is ideal. Especially if you live in an area that gets windy!

Bonus: hardscaping materials can keep unwanted weeds out of your flower bed while still allowing your plants to grow.

Keep Wood Piles Away from the Home

Another important firescaping tip is to keep wood piles away from any structures, including the garage or backyard shed. If your family likes to cuddle up by a fire in the fireplace or still uses wood-burning stoves, it’s better to keep a small amount indoors rather than lean the pile against the home. In fact, many city ordinances require wood be kept at a distance as it can quickly catch fire to the entire house. Regardless of your municipality’s laws, making the trek an extra few feet to the wood pile away from the home is worth it compared to the threat of fire.

Be Aware of Your Foliage

Who doesn’t love the shade of a tree in their yard or a beautiful flower bed? Greenery quickly turns your home into an oasis, but you can’t just “set it and forget it.” It’s important to be aware of where plants are located and see that they are managed properly.

Trim Trees and Bushes Away from all Parts of Your Home

While you may keep your trees trimmed so they don’t hang over your house, you should also keep in mind any that are over your patio, porch or near a chimney. The goal is to keep trees and bushes far enough away from any portion of the home that could catch fire if there are embers in the tree branches.

Trim Branches at Least 6 feet Off the Ground

Similarly, the lower branches of trees should be trimmed at least 6 feet off the ground. This will make it harder for the tree to catch fire as the branches are more incendiary.

If there are bushes and other plants under your trees, cut back branches so they are three times further from the bush than the bush is high. For example, if the bush is 3 feet tall, cut the bottom branches 9 feet from the top of the bush.

Pay Attention to the Characteristics of Plants

While there are plants that are reportedly more fire resistant than others, any plant can catch fire if the conditions are right.

Watch out for plants that are or will become woody over time when you’re creating a fire resistant landscape. Additionally, avoid plants that have a lot of waxes, oils and resins in them. These are more flammable and will likely release more heat when burning. Foliage that stays green and full of water is ideal as it makes it harder to catch fire.

Keep Foliage Maintained

For plants within five feet of your home, give extra care to keep foliage clean of dead branches, leaves, bark or even needles. Dispose of dead and dying weeds, plants, trees and shrubs, making sure to get foliage between stalks. Not only does cleaning up dead or dying foliage add a level of protection to your property, but it makes your yard look better.

Create Zones or “Defensible Space”

Defensible space is a buffer created between your home and combustible materials that will help slow or stop the spread of fire. This can be done by creating different “zones” within your yard.

Create Foliage Islands

As previously mentioned, all foliage is combustible if the conditions are right. By planting foliage in groups separated by less combustible materials like cement pavers, gravel or healthy grass, fire is less likely to spread from flower bed to flower bed. If it does catch fire, it will be slowed by the less combustible material.

Add a Zone for Grills or Fire Pits

Backyards are often a secondary living space for families to relax, and fire pits are becoming more common focal points in the yard with grilling serving as a social activity.

If you are going to use a fire pit or grill, create a spot at least 10 feet away from your home with non-combustible materials, like gravel or sand, for placement. This way, if an errant ember escapes, it will go out rather than start a fire.

Additionally, make sure to look up your local laws and ordinances! Many municipalities have rules around how far a fire pit or grill needs to be from any structure.

While these firescaping tips aren’t fail-proof and shouldn’t be used in place of local rules and suggestions, they’re a good starting point to protect your home and property. A fire resistant landscape design will not only look attractive year-round, but will give you peace of mind.

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