What Is Defensible Space?

So far, our blog articles about fire-resistant construction and fire-resistant building materials have focused on what you can do to protect your home’s structure. However, protecting the area around your home is just as important. 

In the context of fire-resistant buildings, this area is called defensible space. Below, we’ll discuss more what defensible space is, what it entails, and some tips on how to keep yours well-protected.

What Is Defensible Space?

Defensible space is the buffer created between your home and the vegetated grounds that surround it. This vegetation can include both natural and landscaped elements, such as grass, trees, shrubs, and more. 

The purpose of defensible space is to design and maintain it in a way that mitigates fire hazards, either by slowing fires down or stopping them completely. If planned and executed properly, defensible space should: 

  • Eliminate paths for a wildfire to burn directly toward your home
  • Lower the chance of embers igniting other vegetation and materials near your home
  • Reduce radiant heat exposure to your home
  • Provide a safe space for you to evacuate your home
  • Provide a safe space for first responders to defend your home

4 Defensible Space Zones

An effective defensible space has a series of zones, each of which requires different actions to be taken. You should create these zones around each building on your property — don’t forget detached garages or storage buildings!

Let’s take a look at what these defensible space zones are, and what each of them requires. 

Zone 0 

Zone 0 is located 0-5 feet from your home (or other building on your property). It also includes the area underneath and around any attached decks. Since it’s so close to your home, it requires the highest level of care to reduce fire hazards and should be completely free of combustible materials. 

Here are some tips for what fire protection measures you can take in Zone 0: 

  • Use hardscaping materials like gravel or concrete, rather than combustible softscaping materials like bark or mulch.
  • Extract any dead or dying vegetation (grass, plants, trees, leaves, etc.) lying around. Make sure to check under your deck, on your roof, and in your gutters. 
  • Limit plants to low-growing, non-woody, properly watered plants. 
  • Clear away all tree branches within 10 feet of your chimney. 
  • Replace combustible fencing or gating materials with noncombustible options.

Zone 1

Zone 1 is located 5-30 feet from your home (or other building on your property), or to your property line — whichever is closer. 

This zone reaches a bit further away from your home but calls for important protective measures like: 

  • Extract any dead or dying vegetation (grass, plants, trees, leaves, etc.) lying around. 
  • Mow your grass so it’s no taller than four inches.
  • Trim tree branches often, so that they’re spaced no less than 10 feet away from other trees’ branches. 
  • Relocate any wood piles to Zone 2. 

Zone 2

Zone 2 is located 30-100 feet from your home (or other building on your property), or to your property line – whichever is closer. It’s the part of your property that’s furthest from your home but still requires a few preventative efforts to reduce fire fuel. Here’s what you can do:

  • Extract any dead or dying vegetation (grass, plants, trees, leaves, etc.) lying around. 
  • Mow your grass so it’s no taller than four inches.
  • Create horizontal and vertical space between plants and trees (more on this below). 
  • Ensure any exposed wood piles have at least a 10-foot clearance in all directions. 

Zone 3

Zone 3 is located much further away from your home (or other building on your property). It’s usually outside of your property line and therefore not your responsibility to maintain. However, it plays a large role in mitigating and responding to wildfires, so any way you pitch in and help is beneficial. 

The key initiatives here are to remove dead or dying vegetation that could fuel wildfires and to provide a safe, clear path for emergency responders to quickly reach your property. 

Other Defensible Space Considerations

Aside from the measures mentioned for each defensible space zone above, there are a few other considerations you can make to better protect your home from fire damage. They have to do with which types of plants you choose and how you choose to place them on your property. 

Choosing Fire-Resistant Plants

There are no “fireproof” plants — but there are some that contain higher moisture levels, grow closer to the ground, and/or have a low resin content. If your landscaping is currently outfitted with highly combustible plants, here are some more fire-resistant alternatives:

  • Trees – Opt for hardwood trees like maple or cherry, rather than softwood trees like pine or fir. 
  • Shrubs – Hedging roses, shrub apples, and bush honeysuckles are all good options. 
  • Flowers & other plants – Succulents, aloe, rhododendrons, and rockrose orchids all have fire-resistant qualities — and they’re beautiful to look at!

Spacing Plants & Trees

Plant type is one thing; plant spacing is another. Spacing your plants appropriately is a critical step in preventing the spread of wildfires. 

How far you space your plants apart is often dependent on your plants’ sizes and the slope of your land. If your property features a steep slope and larger plants, it’ll require more spacing between them. If your property features a level slope and smaller plants, it’ll require less spacing between them. Either way, adding space between plants is intended to limit that “chain reaction” effect of fires spreading from one plant to the other. 

Build Your Fire-Resistant Home and Defensible Space with Us

Fire-resistant construction is about more than just the structure itself; it’s also about the space surrounding it. If you’re interested in learning more about defensible space and how you can protect your property from devastating fire damage, contact Tectonic Design + Build. We’re dedicated to building Boulder, Colorado’s most fire-safe, resilient, healthy homes, and we’d be happy to help with yours! 

Looking for more information on defensible space? Check out these helpful resources: 



11 Eco-Friendly Home Improvement Ideas

Looking to build a healthier home for you, your family, and your environment? You don’t need to start from scratch. Instead, there are plenty of ways you can make small updates to start reaping the benefits of eco-friendly home design. Here’s a list of 11 eco-friendly home improvement ideas to consider for your next renovation project. 

11 Eco-Friendly Home Improvement Ideas

Before we get started, it’s good to know that not all of the ideas listed below are feasible for every home or project. Solar panels might not be in your budget or your home’s layout might not be right for more high-performance windows. Regardless, these are ideas to get you thinking.

Also — we’ve said it once, and we’ll say it again! — it’s not possible for any renovation project to be entirely eco-friendly. There are negatives to all types of remodeling; it’s just the nature of building. The goal is to minimize them as much as possible and set your home up to leave a smaller footprint for years to come. 

So, without further ado, here are 11 eco-friendly home improvement ideas to get you started creating a healthier, more comfortable home! 

1. Complete an Energy Audit

Before starting any renovations, it can be useful to figure out what parts of your home are working well and which ones aren’t working well in terms of energy efficiency. Conducting an energy audit can help you understand the full picture of your home’s energy use, as well as its comfort and safety levels. Then you can focus on which eco-friendly home improvements will be most rewarding, and move them to the top of your to-do list. 

Getting help from a professional is the way to go. It will result in accurate, actionable results. A good remodeling contractor will have the trade partners to complete the job for you.

2. Install Energy-Efficient Windows — and More of Them!

High-performance windows make all the difference when it comes to insulating your home from the outside and allowing the maximum passive heat through the winter. If you’re looking to replace the windows you currently have, consider purchasing windows with the lowest U-factor you can find. Additionally, stay away from single-hung or double-hung windows. Instead, use casement windows, as these have a much better seal than sliding units.

3. Ensure Walls Are Insulated Properly

Insulation is one of the most important factors contributing to your home’s overall energy efficiency and comfort. If your home isn’t currently insulated well or properly, you’re likely using more energy and spending more money than you need to in order to keep your family comfortable. 

Some good, eco-friendly insulation materials include wool, aerogel, and polystyrene (check out our previous blog on ICFs if you haven’t already!). Place these materials inside your walls, attic, and ceilings. 

4. Seal Air Leaks in the Building Envelope 

With modern building science, we now know that we want our homes to be as air-tight as possible. Imagine a bedroom window open in the middle of winter — no matter how high the heat is turned up, the room won’t feel warm. Now imagine the surface area of that open window as 1,000 tiny holes in your home that you can’t close. Having an airtight building envelope allows you to better control indoor air quality and energy efficiency. 

If your home has air leaks, you can seal them up by using materials like caulk, expanding foams, EcoSeal, even construction tape. Some of these products are a bit more effective and eco-friendly than others, but they’re all capable of boosting your home’s energy efficiency quite a bit. 

However, the best way to ensure an air-tight building envelope is to start with one. If you’re looking to build new, you’ll reap a ton of energy-efficiency benefits by thinking about your building envelope from the get-go. At Tectonic, we’re experts in passive home design, and we’d be happy to build you a new home that’s as air-tight, comfortable, and efficient as possible. 

5. Consider Deconstruction Instead of Demolition 

Demolition involves tearing down an entire structure, as well as everything within it. On the other hand, deconstruction involves taking a structure apart piece by piece, with the goal of preserving and reusing the items within it. 

Bottom line? Demolition, no matter the scope of your project, can lead to a lot of waste. If you have items that can be kept, refurbished, or donated, don’t destroy them! Perhaps you’ll be able to find another use for them and minimize the load you take to the landfill. Or, even if the items just aren’t your style anymore, you can always donate them to somebody who may want or need them. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, right?

At Tectonic Design + Build, we’ve partnered with Resource Central, a local nonprofit in Boulder, CO, to help our team and clients with deconstruction. They provide tool rentals, deconstruction assessments, and free pickup services to help with the process — and they have a salvage yard where you can donate unwanted items! In 2020 alone, Resource Central diverted 3,300,000 pounds of waste from landfills through their material reuse program.

6. Use Low-VOC or VOC-Free Paints

Paint can completely change the aesthetic of a room. However, many types of paint can also introduce a variety of chemicals, or volatile organic compounds (VOCs), into your home. VOCs can contribute to poor air quality and cause a range of adverse health effects for you and your family. 

Fortunately, there are low-VOC or VOC-free paint options available. Although these paints may come at a higher price than others, they’re sure to pay off in good health — for your home, and for you. 

7. Prioritize Sustainable Materials

The most obvious way to renovate in a more eco-friendly way is to prioritize sustainable materials. If you want to invest in new home solutions, rather than refurbished or upcycled ones, find ones that are expected to have a longer lifespan and that will reduce your energy and/or resource consumption during it.

Need a few ideas to start your search? Here are some: 

  • Recycled or responsibly sourced woods and glasses
  • Recycled or responsibly sourced wood, cork, bamboo, or wool carpet flooring
  • Rubber shingle or slate/clay tile roofing
  • Geothermal heating and cooling systems
  • Energy-efficient or ENERGY STAR® appliances

8. Implement Regenerative Landscaping

Eco-friendly home improvement projects don’t always need to happen inside your home — there are also plenty of ways you can contribute to a healthier home and environment outside, too!

One of the most rewarding eco-friendly home improvement ideas is to implement regenerative landscaping. Think of things like native plants, rain gardens, and alternative lawns. Various methods of regenerative landscaping can help you reduce water usage, eliminate chemical usage, control erosion, and improve surrounding soil conditions — all while adding a unique charm to your home’s curb appeal!

9. Go Solar

When you hear “eco-friendly home improvement ideas,” it’s likely that solar panels are one of the first things that come to your mind. In some ways, that’s good. Solar panels are great contributors to renewable energy, and they’ll start reducing your utility bills within just days of installing them. They’ve been very rewarding additions for many of our clients at Tectonic, including our Grape Street House project. 

However, it’s important to know that solar panels aren’t the right eco-friendly home improvement solution for everyone. They have a pretty high upfront cost, and some homes just aren’t built for them. There are many more feasible eco-friendly renovation solutions if these don’t work for you. 

10. Buy Reclaimed

Somebody else’s trash may be your treasure! If you’re looking for new (or, at least, new-to-you) furniture, finishes, or decorations, make a visit to your local resale shop and see if there’s anything that catches your eye. Even items that are a bit outdated or dysfunctional can be upcycled and transformed into something beautiful. It’s a great opportunity to minimize buying new, and it’s an even better opportunity to flex your creative muscles!

11. Plan for More Eco-Friendly Home Improvement Projects

Want to implement many, or all, of the eco-friendly home improvement ideas we listed? Great! Feeling overwhelmed at how you’ll manage to accomplish them all? We get it. 

The good news is that you don’t need to implement all of these ideas, and you don’t need to implement them all at once! Some of the best eco-friendly home renovation projects happen in stages — making them a bit easier to digest, both for you and your budget. 

If you need someone to help with your planning, contact a design-build remodeling team. Planning rewarding, yet digestible renovation projects is their bread and butter, and they’ll help you navigate the process, so you can be excited about it instead of overwhelmed. 

Renovating your home to improve your life and minimize your impact on the world around you is a rewarding feeling. If you’re ready to make the most out of your next remodel, talk to our team at Tectonic Design + Build.


Eight Elements of a Healthy Home

What makes a healthy home?

Health and wellness are a top concern for all of us these days. And with the amount of time that we spend indoors, it should be no surprise that our houses have a significant impact on our health and well-being. We all want the place we retreat to at the end of each day to be a place of rest and healing, both physically and mentally. So how do we do that? What makes a healthy home?

These eight key elements are important guidelines in designing a healthy home, whether it’s a new build or renovation. They each play an essential role in making a home that supports wellness, physically, mentally, and emotionally. Each of these elements is an extensive topic on its own, so this will be a broad overview of what they entail.

A guest post from our friend Jen Nickel at INVISION Design Solutions in Ontario, CA.

1. Air Quality

Air quality is fundamental in creating a healthy home. In a typical modern home, indoor air quality can be up to five times more polluted than outdoor air quality.

With little air movement and home construction becoming more air-tight and efficient, the air in our homes quickly becomes stale and contaminated by a number of indoor sources. These sources can include Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) and other toxins, like formaldehyde, off-gassing from furniture and finish materials, naturally occurring radon leaching through the foundation, mold spores induced caused by hidden leaks or other pollutants produced through our cooking and cleaning products. Without proper ventilation or filtration, we’re constantly breathing in these compounded toxins, which can lead to or aggravate a number of health concerns, including asthma, long-term respiratory illnesses, and even cancer.

Good air quality is vital for a truly healthy home.

There are two primary methods for creating healthy indoor air – eliminating toxic sources and proper ventilation.

Eliminating toxic sources means choosing building materials and finishes that are natural and non-toxic, and minimizing the toxins we bring into our homes with things like furnishings and household cleaners.

Just as important is incorporating a proper ventilation system that exchanges the stale indoor air with fresh outdoor air.

2. Water Quality

Water quality is another vital factor for healthy bodies and healthy homes.

We need clean, healthy water for both drinking and bathing. Whether your home runs on municipal water or well water, the water flowing from your taps can be contaminated with chemicals, heavy metals, and bacteria, which can lead to gastrointestinal problems, reproductive issues, and neurological disorders.

The way to address your home’s water quality is with a water-filtration system. There’s a wide range of systems available from individual filters installed right at the faucet to whole-home filtration systems.

It’s important to have your water tested to know what contaminants you’re dealing with, and then determine what type of filtration system will work best for you.

3. Light

Human beings have an internal clock that runs on a 24-hour cycle, which is referred to as your circadian rhythm. This internal clock affects physical, mental, and behavioral changes in your body and needs to be in alignment with natural light from the sun for our body to function at its highest capacity.

With modern conveniences, like electric light available at any time of the day or night, our bodies are more susceptible to becoming out of sync with our circadian rhythm. This creates disruptions in sleep patterns, hormone production, and digestive functions, and in the long-term, can lead to sleep disorders, cardiovascular disease, and other serious health concerns. Have you ever experienced jet-lag? That’s a perfect example of your circadian rhythm being out of whack.  The artificial lighting in your home can have a similar impact on our body’s circadian rhythm.

There has been a lot of research and advancements in this area and many innovative products available in the lighting industry. Since our bodies cannot discern between natural light or artificial light, we can use the quality, color, and brightness of the light fixtures in our home to work with our circadian rhythm, and not against it.

4. Comfort

Comfort in our home is not a luxury, but a necessity when designing a healthy home.

A comfortable environment takes into consideration temperature, humidity, acoustics, and smell. Controlling these conditions lead to a comfortable and healthy home environment, as well as protect the health of the building itself. For example, when humidity levels are too low, hardwood floors can shrink and crack, or when they are too high, mold growth can develop. When temperatures plummet, water lines can freeze, and when they’re too high, it can lead to poor sleep.

Poor acoustics and strong smells impact mental health and our ability to focus. It’s important to consider all of these elements in the design phase when making decisions on the construction methods, materials, and the layout of your home.

5. Nourishment

We all know that eating healthy is a key element to living a healthy lifestyle, but what does this have to do with the design of our home? The places that you store food, prepare meals and eat together all impact your eating habits and your relationship with food.

Consuming a healthy whole-foods diet starts with having space and systems to store fresh foods and an environment that is conducive to preparing and cooking healthy meals. A wellness-focused kitchen incorporates features like indoor gardens or an urban cultivator, compost and recycling systems, effective storage solutions, non-toxic materials, and plenty of light.

It needs to be an inviting space that encourages social gatherings and allows room for families to work together to prepare meals. Designing a wellness kitchen in your home is an integral part of creating and encouraging healthy eating habits.

6. Promoting Movement

The other key to living a healthy lifestyle is exercise. Unfortunately, a vast majority of us have inactive jobs and inactive modes of transportation. Sitting still for long periods, or worse, the majority of our day can be detrimental to our health. It’s important to include exercise and more regular simple movements in our daily lives.

When designing a home gym or fitness space, it’s important it isn’t hidden in some far, dark corner of the basement that you’d rather avoid. Place it where it will be seen regularly, and make it a space you enjoy going to with plenty of natural light.

Additionally, other design strategies can be used to encourage more movement during your daily routine, like using a standing desk in your home office or intentionally placing the laundry room in a spot that requires more walking.

7. Mind

Many of us lead busy stressful lives, which impacts both our physical and mental health. Stress is one of the most prevalent ailments in modern life, and when it becomes chronic, it can lead to many health concerns, such as cardiovascular diseases and digestive disorders and mental health challenges like anxiety and depression. At the end of the day, our home needs a place that we can retreat to, a place where we can feel calm and at peace. One way to create a calming environment is through the integration of nature in building design, an approach called biophilic design. Humans have an instinctual connection to nature. Being immersed in the natural environment has been proven to improve human health, physically, mentally and emotionally. We can create this effect in our home, by integrate elements of nature into the design of our space. This can be done literally, with things like plants, natural light, water features, and using natural materials. Or it can be done by emulating the characteristics of nature, like using colours and patterns found in nature.

8. Safety and Accessibility

Lastly, a healthy home needs to be a safe home and be accessible to everyone. This means designing our spaces to minimize the risks of accidents and to be safely used by people of all ages from children to the elderly. Even if you do not have children or elderly people living in your home, chances are that you may have some visit. Also, more and more, people are choosing to age in place and remain in their homes as long as possible with support. Universal design or inclusive design is an approach that prioritizes designing spaces that can be used by everyone. There are many design strategies and features to consider that will improve both the safety and accessibility of your home for everyone, like zero threshold showers and grab bars in bathrooms, wider doorways with lever handles and proper lighting at stairways.

At INVISION Design Solutions, we look at our projects through the lens of each of these elements to create spaces that support health and wellness.  Not every project will include all of these elements, and not every element will be maximized on each project.  But every step in the right direction contributes to a healthier and more sustainable home.  Even small steps make a difference.  When planning your next new build or renovation project, consider how you can consider each of these elements in your design to create a healthy space for you and your family.  

A guest post from our friend Jen Nickel at INVISION Design Solutions in Ontario, CA.

What is a General Contractor?

Here’s everything you need to know about the role of your General Contractor in your home remodeling or new construction project in the Boulder CO area.