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Are Architects Liable For Wildfire Damage?

The California wildfires have presented heightened challenges for architects designing new homes. The scope of these catastrophic fires has provided further information about how buildings and structures burn under these conditions. Given the lives and property lost these past years, architects are beginning to get new details of what designs could prove dangerous in a fire.

The Unique Challenge Of Wildfires

Rather than a typical fire that may result from inside a home, wildfires have substantial fuel and mass behind the flames. Temperatures during these fires can get so hot that cars have melted in their driveways. There is a considerable demand to rebuild homes destroyed in the fires. New standards are currently being developed to reduce the risk to homes in fire zones. This demand especially applies to fire zones with known instances of past fires. As legislation catches up to the reality of living in some regions of California, architects may need to take the lead for adopting new best practices, not only to reduce fire risks but to anticipate changes in the duty of care for the building. Here are some of the new building standards:

  • Metal roofing materials
  • Metal or concrete framing
  • Insulation made from fire-resistant foam
  • Sprinkler systems
  • Stucco exterior walls with multiples layers
  • Tempered glass windows
  • Concrete slabs
  • Landscaping plantings that are lesser fuel sources
  • Appropriate fire separation areas

Adapting the duty of care

It’s difficult to ask people who have lost their homes in fires to rebuild elsewhere. Given that people are very likely to rebuild in the same place where their houses were destroyed, architects have a responsibility to do what they can to protect homeowners and their property. The liability for architects designing structures in fire zones is an ever-shifting environment. Architects need to prepare themselves for new duties of care when it comes to design and build methods.