Wood is the most common material for decking because it looks great, it can be treated to withstand the weather, and it’s relatively affordable. But, there is a downside because wood is a flammable material. If a wooden deck catches fire, it can quickly spread to your home and cause a lot of damage. However, there are simple ways to keep your home safe, and we’re going to go through them in this article. Read on to find out everything you need to know about fireproofing your deck.
Are Wooden Decks a Fire Hazard?
Everybody knows that wood is very combustible, so it would be logical to assume that wooden decks are a fire hazard. However, it is not quite as simple as that and, although all wooden decking does have the potential to burn, some types are much safer than others.
Natural wood decking that has not been treated is the most flammable option. It can be treated with fire-retardant paints and sealers to protect it, but in its raw form, it will catch fire fairly easily and the flames will spread quickly. If wood has been pressure treated, on the other hand, the flame spread rating is much higher and the fire is less likely to spread into your home. That doesn’t mean that it is completely safe though.
The type of wood that you use makes a difference too because some species burn much faster than others. Ipe, for example, is often referred to as ironwood because it’s incredibly dense and resistant to rot and moisture. This also means that it doesn’t catch fire as easily and flames spread much slower.
Composite materials and PVC decking are made with fire-retardant additives because the plastic present is very prone to catching fire. As a result, these are some of the most fire-resistant decking materials available. But even composite materials or wood like Ipe can still cause a serious fire if they get hot enough.
So, the short answer is, yes wooden decks are a fire hazard, but there are a number of factors that determine the risk. A fire on your deck can be very serious as it provides a lot of fuel and if the fire spreads into your home, it will do a lot of damage and put your life at risk.
How to Fireproof Your Deck?
Regardless of the type of wooden decking you have in your yard, you should always take steps to fireproof it and protect your home. These are the best things you can do to stay safe and avoid emergencies.
1. Install an Exterior Fire Sprinkler System
Exterior fire sprinkler systems work in the same way as the interior systems you are probably familiar with. If they detect a fire starting, they set off and wet the surrounding area so the fire cannot spread. They will soak the deck so the wood cannot burn as easily, hopefully preventing a large fire.
However, there are limitations to exterior fire sprinkler systems. If a large fire has already taken hold, they may not do enough to stop it, especially if it has already reached your home. So, while they are a great addition to your safety procedure, you should not rely on sprinklers alone to protect your deck, you should try other options.
2. Go with Composite Decking
The plastic in composite decking holds a lot of heat, which means that it’s more likely to ignite and a fire spreads very quickly. To combat this, manufacturers use fire-retardant materials in the composite decking, meaning that it is actually now the safest option. Most composite decking has a Class C fire rating, which is relatively good. Bear in mind that this doesn’t mean they won’t catch fire, but it does mean that they are less likely to burn than a natural wood deck. So, if you are concerned about fires, composite decking is the way to go.
3. Use Fire Retardant Wood
If you don’t want to use composite decking but you are worried about fires, you need to use a fire-retardant wood. This is wood that has been treated with fire-retardant chemicals to make it safer in the event of a fire. In order to be considered fire-retardant wood the additives must be absorbed into the body of the wood itself, rather than layered on top. In most cases, the wood is pressure treated so the chemicals are forced into the wood.
When buying fire-retardant wood, make sure that you check the process that was used and don’t get mixed up with fire-resistant wood. Wood can be called fire-resistant if it has surface treatments, but this doesn’t give you the same protection as fire-retardant wood that has been pressure treated.
As well as choosing the right materials, you also need to combat the causes of fires. Fire pits and BBQs on your deck are one of the most common reasons for a fire, so they must be used responsibly. Falling embers and coals can easily catch on a wooden deck, which is why fire pit mats are so useful.
They are made from durable materials like rubber, ceramic fiber, and polyester, which can stand up to the heat from the embers and protect the wood underneath. Always use a fire pit mat under any fire pits or BBQs and you drastically reduce the chances of a fire.
5. Never Leave a Fire or Barbeque Unintended
This may seem like common sense but it is worth reiterating. Even if you are using a mat, there is always a chance that the fire pit or BBQ can be knocked over or falling embers will roll beyond the mat. If you are there to deal with it right away, the deck won’t catch fire. But if you leave it unattended, you give the wood time to ignite and by that point, it may be too late. So, always have at least one person supervising any open fires on or near your decking.
6. Avoid Storing Flammable Items Under the Deck
Storing flammable items in the space under your deck makes it a lot more dangerous. Anything like paint, turpentine, old rags, oil, lawn treatments, etc. should be stored in a garage away from the decking. These will only act as fuel if a small fire breaks out and it will quickly get out of control. So, just consider each item before storing it under your deck and think about whether it is flammable or not.
Intumescent paint is one of the best ways to stop a fire from spreading and damaging your home. Intumescent paint is designed to react with heat and swell up, so it becomes incredibly thick and lots of small bubbles form. This then creates a strong barrier between the fire and the materials underneath, preventing them from burning. Intumescent paint is often used to protect the load bearing structures of buildings, but it can also be a very effective way to stop fire spreading on your deck.
When choosing intumescent paint, be aware that there are multiple types. You will need Type X paint, which is suitable for all conditions. Other types are not designed for exterior use, so heavy rainfall and UV exposure will damage them and they may not function properly in the event of a fire.
Although some types of decking, like composite, are less likely to catch fire, it is always a danger you should be aware of. Taking simple precautions like using fire mats and never leaving your BBQ unattended will stop a fire breaking out in the first place. However, if the worst does happen, a protective layer of intumescent paint combined with an outdoor sprinkler system can help to limit the damage and keep you safe.
Jamie is the founder of The Backyard Pros. When he was 15 years old he started working at a garden centre helping people buy plants, gardening products, and lawn care products. He has real estate experience and he is a home owner. Jamie loves backyard projects, refinishing furniture, and enjoys sharing his knowledge online.