by Dan Hosfeld
Note: This is the second article in a series on DIY off grid fire protection and prevention. See Off Grid Home Fire Protection Indoors: What to Know to learn how to handle fire prevention inside your off grid home.
When it comes to DIY off grid fire protection outside your home, your best bet is fire prevention. That's right -the best way to prevent a fire outside your off grid home is to minimize the fire risks around your home's exterior.
10 Tips for Exterior DIY Off Grid Fire Protection and Prevention
Use the following ten tips to minimize fire hazards outside.
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#1. Know Fire's Three Essential Ingredients
Fire requires three essential ingredients or conditions to be dangerous. That being a heat source, an oxidizing agent (generally Oxygen) and the requirement for fuel. Take any one of these away and there is no fire. Therefore, when talking about prevention, we must deal with these three things.
There is not much we can do about oxygen except if a small fire is burning. The heat sources can be minimized around your property yet forest fires are their own heat source.
#2. Safe Storage of Exterior Fuel Sources
Forest fires are the main concern when living in an off grid home. This means the easiest item to target for prevention is the fuel source. Obviously, your home in of itself is a fuel source but the surrounding area is a good start for prevention. There are many types of fuel that are around your homestead that can start a fire.
#3. Identify Trees, Shrubs & Ground Covers as Fire Risks
Many items are also nearby that can maintain an already blazing fire. Many prime suspects are trees, shrubs, bushes and various ground covers. Contrary to what many might think, it is not only dead brush that is an issue. Live trees and leaves can ignite almost as easily. They also do well in keeping a fire going and spreading. It is generally in the homeowner’s best interest to minimize such fuel sources.
What can I do to minimize risk?
#4. Tree Trimming and Proper Disposal of Tree Cuttings and Debris
Trim trees and brush back from structures: Remove all dead or overhanging branches. During the windy conditions that exist during a wildfire, flames, sparks, and firebrands could travel from your trees to the roof of your home.
Limb trees up to 10 feet from the ground: This term just means “cutting” lower branches on your trees. Limbing your trees up will help reduce the chances that a fire on the ground will spread into treetops – this is especially important if your property has lots of trees.
Dispose of cuttings and debris properly: Dispose of your yard waste properly, and make sure you don't leave it piled near the house in the back yard. That defeats the purpose of all the work you did. And much yard waste is a great source of compost. Take it from risk to value fertilizer.
#5. Clean the Gutters and the Roof
Make sure you remove all dead leaves and pine needles from your gutters, roof, and from around your home. This dry natural matter left from the winter weather is highly combustible and is like a fire starter for your home.
#6. Clean Up Brush, Clean Under Decks
Reducing the brush around your home might be the most important factor in preventing exterior fires. You want to have a zone with at least 30 feet of space immediately around your off grid home. It should be free from ignition hazards presented by vegetation and combustible construction. And don't forget to keep the surface and area beneath decks and porches free of debris and leaves. This not only helps protect your home but also gives you a safer place to fight any fire from.
#7. Rake the Leaves and Mow The Lawn
Leaf accumulation provides fuel for wildfires. Clear it up. Don't forget that it's another great source of compost.
Check the grass around your house. It can tend to grow tall and unruly during the wet winter months. These grasses dry out and provide a path for the fire that can lead directly to your house. Dry grass clippings can also add nitrogen to your compost pile.
#8. Stack Firewood Away from the House
Many people make the mistake of keeping firewood stacked close to the house for easy access. If a spark lands in your wood pile it could ignite your house. Make sure you stack wood at least 30 feet away from structures to help protect them from wildfire.
#9. Build an Off Grid Home to Reduce Fire Risk
Keep fire prevention in mind when you're planning a new build off the grid. Consider your building materials carefully.
Cement and Metal: Use cement board siding, trims and metal roofing where possible as those don't burn. This includes the soffits and fascia. Note that the soffits are a frequent point of ingress for fire.
Another is the windows. If there is a hot fire nearby, vinyl can soften and melt. And then the glass pane can fall in or out, for example.
#10. Install an Off Grid DIY Fire Prevention System
Off Grid Sprinkler Systems: You can install sprinklers on the cabin roof. There are also large sprinklers that could saturate the area surrounding your cabin and buildings. A couple of our neighbours have these installed.
The system is costly up front, yet peace of mind is invaluable. You might also save on your homeowners' insurance. Ideally your sprinkler system can be triggered automatically or even remotely.
Whether or not an off grid sprinkler system will work in your setup depends on your available water source. Even a low supply well can aid in filling a holding tank. We're fortunate in that we live on a lake. We have quick and easy access to all the water we need (see note below) Having a hose hookup inside as well as outside is invaluable.
Related: Our Off Grid Water System
Related: Our Off Grid Water System in Winter
Exterior Fire Suppression Systems:
There are also commercially available exterior fire suppression systems. These spray a foam mixture on exterior walls, roofs, whatever when fire threatens. This, of course, is a somewhat costly investment but again gives peace of mind.
As with most aspects of off grid living, when it comes to fire protection, prepping and planning ahead are your best options. Assess the exterior of your home for fire hazards, remove them, and make a plan for your family to follow should a fire occur.
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