The constant threat each year of a possible brushfire disaster happening is why the California fire code is frequently updated. Fire safety and prevention has led to a number of changes in the way that we draw house plans over the years. Back in the 1960's and 1970's, we designed many homes (especially ranch style house plans) which featured shake shingle roofs. Today, you would be hard pressed to find any new homes constructed in Southern California with a shake shingle roof. Board and batt wood exterior siding was also popular back then but has long since disappeared into oblivion.
Many (if not most) of our homes are built on hillside lots which have nice views (sometimes even commanding views of the area). However, homes built into the sides of hills or sitting on top are very vulnerable to a brushfire. The hills in Southern California are covered with chapparal and sagebrush (two highly flammable plants). Combine that fact with the frequent and strong Santa Ana winds which arrive from time to time throughout the fall and winter, and you have a recipe for a potential disaster if a fire does get started.
This hilltop home was destroyed in the
October 2007 San Diego County fires.
The San Diego County uniform fire code requires that all new homes
in these areas be outfitted with fire sprinkler systems. The fire code
also no longer allows eave vents between roof rafters at the eave line - unless they are special fire-rated vents such as those produced by Branguard.
Eave vents were commonly used in the past to help ventilate the attic. However, attic
ventilation must now be accomplished entirely through the use of roof
vents or high gable end wall vents unless special fire-proof eave vents are used.
Another recent code change does not allow 2x wood rafters to be exposed at exterior eave lines. If you like the look of exposed rafter tails at the eave (such as seen with Mediterranean or Ranch style houses), you must use at least a 4x rafter tail minimum. Of course, 4x or even 6x tails look better than 2x tails anyway, but they do add considerably to the roof cost.
Brushfires have been around a long time, but the recent catastrophic wildfires in the San Diego area (in October of 2003 and again in 2007) have caused the planning and fire departments in that county to examine how new homes can be made more resistant to a brushfire. All of this ultimately leads to a safer and better constructed home.
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