Roofing Styles and Wildfires

In numerous areas of the Pacific Northwest, 2017 is the worst wildfire season on record. In British Columbia, 2.86 million acres have succumbed to wildfires. This is the largest area ever recorded in the province. To the south, California is still burning. In October, the wine country fires that burnt northern California amassed nearly $9.4 billion in insurance claims. This amount topped the Oakland Hills fire as the costliest in California’s history. Even as insurance companies begin to pay claims in northern California, multiple fires in the Las Angeles area continue to burn. The largest of the southern fires, the Thomas Fire, has already claimed 270,000 acres and more than 1,000 structures.

As the west begins to recover from this fire season, experts are calling for preventive measures to ensure this type of destruction is minimized in the future.

“I’ve seen too many homes burned to the ground that could’ve been prevented,” said Jim McMullen, former California State Fire Marshall. “A metal roof is one of – if not the – best preventative steps a homeowner can take to prevent the spread of residential fires and save their own homes.

When considering any potential damage to your home, the roof is the most important feature. In fact, home insurances place a high priority on roofs because they consider roofs gateways to other types of damages.

“The roof is the first layer that wind, hail, wildfire and other hazards really begin to act on,” says Tim Reinhold, chief engineer at the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety, an independent, nonprofit research organization based in Tampa, FL. “In more than 90% of hail or high-wind claims, there is a payout relative to the roof cover.”

In high-risk areas, homeowners can expect to pay drastically different amounts to insure different types of roofing styles.

“If you live near a wildfire zone, you pay a lot if your roof is (made of) cedar shakes compared to asphalt shingles that are flame-retardant, or a metal roof that doesn’t burn,” says Robert Hunter, director of insurance for the Consumer Federation of America. “Some companies won’t even insure certain roof types, such as wood shakes, in high fire-risk areas.”

However, insurance companies aren’t the only organizations wary of wood shake roofs. In the wake of many destructive fires throughout the region, most municipalities in Colorado have gone as far as to outlaw the installation of new wood shake roofs. John Vincent, the Fire Marshall for the Tri-Lakes Monument Fire Department voiced his opinion when addressing a group in Monument, Colorado, “Cedar shake roofs are just not good. I mean, I would say it is just crazy to have a cedar shake roof.”

Cement tile, clay tile and slate roofing are also common in many regions considered to be at high risk of wild fires. These options offer much more protection against fire brands and ember showers. But they are not without their faults. These types of roofing are much, much heavier than metal roofs and often require additional structural support to withstand the roof’s weight. According to engineeringtoolbox.com, a slate roof can weigh as much as 20 times more than a metal roof. This additional weight becomes dangerous when a fire has compromised the structural support of a home, and the risk of a cave-in can discourage firefighters from climbing on the roof to ventilate smoke in the house.

Although there are numerous roofing options available to homeowners today, metal roofing continues to be one of the most durable and cost-effective roofs. A group called the Metal Roofing Alliance continues their efforts to educate consumers on the benefits of metal roofing.

“Metal roofing is not only a wise choice in the west because of its resiliency to fire,” said Tom Black, Executive Director of the Metal Roofing Alliance. “Metal roofing is more energy efficient than conventional asphalt and aesthetically it comes in many designs ranging from shake to shingle to Spanish tile.”

In the near future, many homeowners will need to choose a new roof. Over 700 homes have been destroyed in southern California, and more than 7,500 homes were destroyed or damaged in northern California. These homeowners will be faced with many roofing options, but it is important that fire prevention is involved in that decision.

“What’s happening in Southern California may not have been preventable, but if there were more metal roofs on residences it might have been more easily contained. As residents look ahead to rebuilding their homes, residential metal roofing should be considered as a strong preventative measure,” Said Jim McMullen, former California State Fire Marshall.

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