I sometimes give walking tours around my historic Georgia neighborhood, and most people are shocked to learn how prevalent house fires were back in the 1800s and early 1900s.
Houses back then often used what's called "wood-balloon frames," super long framing that runs from top to bottom with no break or top plate to prevent a fire from rapidly spreading throughout the house. Builders have employed better ways since then.
House fires in the United States in recent years, particularly in California where more than one in 12 homes are in a high-risk zone for wildfires, are becoming commonplace once again. The new solution to help save homes is home-hardening.
What is home-hardening?
Most homes that burn in a wildfire do so from embers either entering the home through house vents and windows or from igniting a combustible surface, such as a shake roof (or debris left on a gutter or roof). Home hardening is the process of making a home more fire resistant. Areas of a home addressed by home hardening include:
The insurance situation
Insurers in California have been canceling policies right and left if homes are in high-risk areas. In 2019, insurance policy cancelations rose by 61%. At some point, either insurance companies or governments might require homeowners to take measures to reduce risk, and home-hardening is the best potential solution right now.
Firemaps provides home-hardening service
Firemaps, a San Francisco start-up, founded in March of this year uses technology to scale the home-hardening process by making it simpler. The company uses satellite and drone images to produce a 3D, detailed model of the property.
This allows Firemaps to make recommendations for a home-hardening plan down to every detail, such as deck construction, vent construction, and porch and deck vulnerability -- details that get the property into compliance with insurers and regulators.
That portion of the Firemaps process is free to homeowners. Firemaps then sends out bids to its marketplace of contractors (who pay a fee to Firemaps to be on its list) who can perform the work.
If homeowners choose to do the work, Firemaps can then (with permission of the homeowner) send to insurers what's been done. This way insurers might keep the customer, and some insurers might even give a discount, depending on the work done. Some homeowners in California might even qualify for grant money to get this work done, as California has a fund of $536 million set aside for fire defense grants.
Firemaps already has raised $5.5 million
Andreessen Horowitz (known as a16z) led a $5.5 million seed round for Firemaps. Other participants include Dara Khosrowshahi, CEO of Uber, and Lee Fixel of Addition.
Wildfires around the world
California isn't the only place experiencing record-breaking fires. Other western states have been too, as well as other countries. Jahan Khanna, CEO of Firemaps, pointed out that homes in France, Spain, Turkey, Greece, Russia, and Canada are being destroyed by wildfires as well. Khanna said, "There are millions of homes in high-risk areas that need complex work done at an unprecedented scale, as quickly as possible."
The Millionacres bottom line
The wildfire situation in California and many places around the world is dire. In order for enough homeowners to make significant changes to their property, faster and cheaper options are necessary.
Firemaps helps this happen by its use of satellite and drone technology that allows contractors to determine the work needed without doing site visits. Says Khanna regarding company goals: "To get this model repeatable and scalable and that means doing hundreds of homes per week."