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.


ICF Foundations: What Are They, and What Benefits Do They Bring?

At Tectonic Design + Build, we’re committed to building stronger and healthier homes within the greater Boulder, CO community. We’re also committed to informing you of the ways in which we work to accomplish that goal, which includes the specialized building materials and techniques we use.  There are many types of energy-efficient building materials, and there are many types of fire-resistant construction materials. But if you’re looking for one that checks both of those boxes, you will want to explore insulated concrete form (ICF) foundations for your home.  Let’s talk about ICF foundations — including what they are, and how they can help you build a more efficient, resilient home. 

What Are ICF Foundations? 

Insulated concrete forms, or ICFs, are cast-in-place concrete walls that are sandwiched between two layers of insulation material. They’re created by taking molded expanded polystyrene (EPS) shells that stack together to make foundational forms — think Legos! The forms are then filled with concrete, which makes a strong foundational wall as it solidifies.  ICFs are most often used as a durable, energy-efficient alternative to traditional wood foundations. However, they can also be used to completely replace all of the wood framing within a home — building up the structural wall components. 

3 Main Benefits of ICF Foundations

Although they’re starting to gain more popularity, many homeowners aren’t even aware that ICF foundations exist, which is unfortunate because they come with a long list of benefits in comparison to their traditional wood counterparts. Here are just a few of the main benefits we’ve seen ICF foundations bring homeowners in Boulder, CO and beyond. 

1. ICF Foundations Offer Improved Fire-Resistance

Arguably the most important benefit ICF foundations bring to Boulder, CO homes is that they’re the #1 most fire-resistant building material available.  ICFs have been tested to have a burn rating of 4 (continuous) hours, which is pretty incredible when you compare it to wood framing’s burn rating of just 15 minutes. And, when you take into account that most wildfires blaze past a house in much less than four hours and aren’t usually burning that long, that 4-hour burn rating is often the difference between a house demolished and a house still standing.  We’ve seen it happen first-hand here in Boulder, CO. Homes that were built with ICF foundations were still standing after the wildfires swept through our community last year. And for those families, the effects weren’t as devastating. They were able to keep parts of their homes, if not the entire structures, while their neighbors faced insurmountable loss.  Living in an area that’s at high risk for wildfires, it’s important to build back stronger. ICF foundations provide the ultimate level of protection against future devastation and loss, which is why we advocate for them so strongly here at Tectonic. 

2. ICF Foundations Can Provide High Energy-Efficiency

ICF foundations rank high in energy efficiency for two reasons: they keep an airtight building envelope and they’re amazing heat retainers.  An airtight building envelope contributes to good indoor air quality, significantly reducing the amount of dust, allergen, and smoke pollution. It also helps keep thermal heat inside.  Think about it this way: traditional, uninsulated foundations and walls have an insulation value of R-1, while ICFs have an insulation value of R-25. That’s a huge jump, and it makes all the difference in terms of a home’s comfort, health, and energy usage. Both your body and your wallet will thank you!

3. ICF Foundations Have Incredible Durability

Along with their amazing fire resistance, ICF foundations also provide great benefits in terms of durability. In fact, they’re 10x stronger than traditional foundational or framing materials. Not only can they last for hundreds of years, but they can also withstand various weather conditions or unexpected impacts. They’ve even been known to withstand the harsh effects of hurricanes and tornadoes!  And, yes, there are many other components to a home than just the foundation and structure, many of which can be damaged by devastating storms or natural disasters. However, if ICF foundations are in place, the home will still be structurally sound — meaning its occupants won’t have to start over and build from scratch (a bonus for sustainability and resource efficiency). Using ICF foundations is just one of the many ways you can create a healthier, more resilient home. At Tectonic Design + Build, we’re dedicated to building safe, strong, and long-lasting homes — and we’re here to help you build one of your own in Boulder, CO. To learn more about how we can work together, contact our team online.