Wildfire season is here. How can you reduce the risk to your home?

Click to play video: 'How can you reduce wildfire risk to your home?'
How can you reduce wildfire risk to your home?
WATCH ABOVE: How can you reduce wildfire risk to your home? – May 13, 2024

Officials this week warned Canadians that “the risk of damaging wildfires remains significant” across the country as wildfire season gets underway in many parts of the country.

With 730 fires already burning about 1.47 million hectares of land so far this year, many may be looking to learn what — if anything — they can do to try to protect their homes against the worst effects of wildfires.

While no measures are a guarantee, experts say there are several steps that homeowners can take to try to reduce the risks to their homes from raging wildfires.

From simple steps to costly upgrades

“To a very large extent, the degree to which a home may or may not burn down when a wildfire comes through a region is determined by the actions you take well ahead of the wildfire showing up,” said Blair Feltmate, head of the Intact Centre for Climate Adaptation at the University of Waterloo.

Story continues below advertisement

The Intact Centre has a three-step guide that illustrate steps that people can take to protect their homes. The first step, which can costs less than $300, has to do with maintaining your property in a fire-ready manner.

“A lot of these actions can be undertaken by homeowners over a long weekend, usually for less than a few hundred dollars. And in many regards, they don’t require special expertise,” Feltmate said.

Click to play video: 'Review wildfire insurance coverage: experts'
Review wildfire insurance coverage: experts

The first step includes removing tree needles, leaves and other debris from gutters, roof surfaces, decks and balconies as well as regularly cleaning vents.

Feltmate recommends clearing any combustible ground cover like shrubs within 1.5 metres of your house and storing any firewood and lumber away from your residence, while the national program FireSmart Canada recommends keeping firewood in particular no less than 10 metres away.

Story continues below advertisement

The Intact Centre also recommends pruning trees to create a twometre clearance from the ground to the lowest tree branches, advice echoed by FireSmart Canada and Natural Resources Canada.

The second step involves making simple upgrades to your home, which can cost between $300 and $3,000, according to the Intact Centre.

Those steps, which Natural Resources Canada also recommends on their website about fire risk mitigation, includes replacing worn or missing weather stripping on all doors including garage doors, adding a non-combustible three milimetre screen to all external vents, except dryer vents, and installing a cement board or metal skirting around your house to give 15 cm ground clearance to your house.

The aim, Natural Resource Canada’s advice says, is to have between 80 and 100 per cent of your  exterior walls using non-combustible or fire-resistant exterior cladding materials like stucco, concrete and fibre cement board, metal siding and brick.

“If you have a wooden fence leading up to your house, replace it with a chain link fence or other type of fence. If you have wood, the fence will often ignite,” Feltmate said.

Placing non-combustible materials, such as mineral soil, rock, concrete or stone, within a 1.5 meter perimeter of your home can also help stop the spread of the fire.

The third step, making more complex upgrades to your home, may involve working with a contractor and could cost between $3,000 and $30,000. This could include installing Class A fire-resistant roof covering such as cement fibre and metal or asphalt shingles or installing siding made from stucco, metal, stone, or cement fibre board.

Story continues below advertisement

The Intact Centre also recommends installing multi-pane or tempered glass windows and exterior fire rated doors.

Click to play video: '730 wildfires reported across Canada so far this year'
730 wildfires reported across Canada so far this year

“If you have large coniferous or needle-bearing trees within about 10 metres of your house, remove them. Because these are trees that when a fire hits, they go up literally like a torch and create a tremendous burst of heat. And that heat can transfer to the house and burn,” Feltmate said.

While some of these steps cost money, Feltmate said they are worth doing to protect your home.

“It’s a very small amount of money to protect your biggest investment in life,” he said.

Be ready to leave in a hurry

The wildfire forecast for May said that both Saskatchewan and Alberta are at high or extreme fire severity in May. Eastern B.C., central/northern Prairies, southern Northwest Territories, eastern Ontario and western Quebec all have a forecast for above-normal fire activity in May.

Story continues below advertisement

In June, the area of heightened monitoring expands to Northwest Territories, Yukon and B.C.

While June will see a much broader area of high or extreme severity, western Canada will still be a hotspot.

Click to play video: 'Alberta wildfire danger set to spike: Officials'
Alberta wildfire danger set to spike: Officials

Most insurance plans cover fire damage

According to the Insurance Bureau of Canada, wildfires can be among the costliest weather events in terms of damage, with last year’s wildfires in B.C.’s Okanagan and Shuswap areas costing over $720 million.

Story continues below advertisement

Rob de Pruis, national director of consumer and industry relations for the Insurance Bureau of Canada, said Canadians should review their insurance documents before severe weather hits.

“Standard home and tenant insurance policies cover damage caused by wildfire. So, whether it’s a wildfire or some other type of (fire) damage your insurance policy does provide you with that protection,” he said.

He added, “They cover your home, your garage, all of your contents, outbuildings… It covers additional living expenses as well. So things like your hotel costs and meals if you’re evacuated.”

According to de Pruis, any steps that you take to protect your home are likely to help you bring down insurance premiums too.

“Once you start to have a claim or multiple claims, you can really start to see a lot of increases in your insurance premium. So anything you can do to stop the claim from happening is absolutely going to have long term benefits for you,” he said.

Sponsored content