Maintaining multiple investment properties requires planning and preparation. You likely have systems in place for getting yards mowed and toilets fixed. But, as sa property manager, how prepared are you for natural disasters?
If you own one or more investment properties, it is unlikely that you will be present in the event that a wildfire occurs. Here’s what you need to know about the WUI Zone and how to protect your investment property from wildfires.
What is the WUI Zone?
According to the North Carolina Forest Service, the Wildland/Urban Interface (WUI) is “the area where homes and communities meet or intermingle with undeveloped wildland vegetation.” Increased development since 1990 means more and more homes and communities have been built in WUI areas, increasing their risk for exposure to wildfire. In fact, a study in PNAS reports that “approximately one in three houses and one in ten hectares [in the United States] are now in the WUI.”
How Can I Tell If My Property is in the WUI Zone?
Wildfires may have devastated the West in recent years, but the 2016 fires around Gatlinburg, Tennessee prove that this issue hits close to home. And with more and more people moving to Western North Carolina to live amongst our ancient mountains, the risk for wildfires continues to grow.
A 2010 WUI census (the most recent data available) illustrates the danger. Out of the 50 states, North Carolina is:
- #1 for area in the WUI (13,402,007 out of 33,708,881 acres, 39.8%).
- #4 for number of homes in the WUI (2,247,317 out of 4,327,528 homes, 51.9%).
- #4 for the number of people in the WUI (4,835,825 of 9,535,483 people, 50.7%).
- #6 for number of seasonal homes in the WUI (144,879 of 191,508 seasonal homes, 75.7%).
This map from the SILVIS Lab at the University of Wisconsin-Madison details WUI change over time. You can zoom in and see how your neighborhood compares to surrounding areas. To search your address, try the second map on this page.
How Can I Protect My Investment Property from Fire?
Unfortunately, you can’t prevent many wildfires from happening. However, there are a number of measures you can take to make your properties more fire resistant. Here are three important ways to protect your investment property from wildfires in the WUI Zone:
Reduce Ignition Sources
If your property is littered with dead vegetation and flammable debris, it all but ensures that drifting embers will catch light. Make your property more fire resistant by clearing all combustible material from within at least 30 feet of the home. This includes clearing roofs and gutters, cleaning around propane tanks, and bringing inside cushions and mats when outdoor furniture is not in use. Make sure your landscaping consists of healthy, irrigated, and fire-resistant vegetation. And within 30 feet of the home, make sure treetops maintain at least 18 feet of distance. For added protection, surround the home with five feet of noncombustible mulch material, such as river rock or pea gravel.
There are many ways to retrofit your properties to be more fire resistant. As an added bonus, many of these suggestions will add value and make managing your properties easier in the long-run, as well. Begin by fortifying your roof, the most risk-prone area of the house. Install a Class A-rated roof with noncombustible coverings, and replace eaves with short overhangs and flat ledges. Keep embers from entering your home by covering exterior attic vents and enclosing the foundation. Install fire-resistant windows or shutters, and seal any exterior gaps with fire-resistant caulk, mortar, or fire-protective expanding foam. Exterior sprinkler systems are also a good investment for both single-family and multi-family homes.
Find valuable fact sheets and assess your property’s wildfire risk rating at resistwildfirenc.org/homeowners.htm.
Your property insurance will cover your investment. But tenants are also at a risk of loss from wildfires. Educate them on the fire safety features inside your home, such as the smoke detectors and fire extinguisher. And counsel them on the value of renters insurance and documenting their belongings should they need to file a claim. Keep an eye on fire risks throughout the year, and send tenants emergency notifications in times of elevated risk so that they can take preemptive action. Together, you can make your property as safe as possible from wildfires.
Property Management Help Starts with NAI Beverly-Hanks
There are many advantages to owning multiple investment properties. However, it’s important to protect those investments from natural disasters, like wildfires, which are becoming more frequent. If you have any questions about making your properties more fire resistant, we’re here to help!