State of the Planet

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Warming Climate Could Make Wildfire-Prone Homes Uninsurable

By Jessica Wentz at the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law

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The remnants of California’s Coffey Park neighborhood after a wildfire in October 2017. Photo: California National Guard

On October 9, 2017, the Tubbs Fire ripped through Sonoma County, California, destroying nearly 5,000 homes and killing 22 people. It was the most destructive wildfire in California’s history and the largest urban conflagration in the United States since the 1906 San Francisco earthquake fires. And it was only one of approximately 250 wildfires that sparked that same night in Northern California, causing a total of 44 fatalities and more than $9.4 billion in economic damages.

Now, nine months later, the process of reconstruction has begun. Some of the first homes have gone up on burned lots. Many of these lots are located in the “wildland-urban interface”—rural, forested areas on the outskirts of cities that are much more prone to wildfires. Commenters have questioned the prudence of rebuilding in these areas in light of existing fire hazard and predictions of how the warming climate will fuel more frequent and severe wildfires in the western United States. But there are social and economic factors which are driving reconstruction despite the risk—specifically, the emotional attachment of many property owners to the place they call “home” and the fact that property values in the areas remain extremely high (with some lots listed at over $1,000,000).

The availability of insurance is a critical factor for rebuilding. But many areas prone to wildfire are becoming too risky to insure. As noted in a 2017 report from the California Department of Insurance, premiums and wildfire surcharges have increased significantly in the wildland-urban interface, and several major insurers have stopped writing new policies and renewing plans in areas with high wildfire risk. As insurers begin to account for climate change in their wildfire risk models, they will likely become even less willing to issue and renew policies in these areas.

Click here to read the rest of the post on the Sabin Center’s blog. 

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5 years ago

Actually it is more of modifying the construction. Start with metal roofs and small metal screens over any vent opening. Then no wood anywhere on the outside. (This will stop wind born embers from catching the house on fire. Add heat reflecting glass on windows so that fire will not break them (also reduces ac heat load). It was shown in San Diego that building to fire resistant standards greatly reduces the chance of the house catching fire. It may be that you have to build/remodel to that standard in the future to get insurance. (Note also that metal roofs can reflect heat from the sun also). It just means spending more on the base structure, and perhaps less on granite and quartz countertops. (Similar problem in Fl leads to wind resistant rules).
Of course if you went to concrete houses such as some in Fl (more I suspect due to termites) with metal roofs you can almost make sure the house does not catch fire also.

Note Edison wanted to build reinforced concrete houses but that venture failed.