It’s a devastating new reality in the western half of the nation. Properties, homes and communities are lost to wildfires every year and the danger of future fires grows worse each day. Building code amendments are working to eliminate fire hazards in new constructions and make buildings as fireproof as possible, but today, we want to explore how something as simple as a freestanding elevated deck addition or remodel can start with a focus on non-combustibility.
In cities like San Francisco and Chicago, both impacted by the natural disasters that ignited their cities over a century ago, a combination of porcelain pavers and non-combustible deck supports is a popular fire-preventative measure for decks. This pairing helps to prevent burning debris, falling from one high-rise building to another, from rapidly spreading flames.
Even for single-family homes in rural areas, freestanding decks built with porcelain pavers supported by non-combustible pedestals can minimize the impact of an encroaching blaze. Before you begin installing your porcelain pavers and deck supports however, there are a few steps you must take to ensure that your deck is both as functional and as fireproof as possible. Here are our recommendations.
Steel or Aluminum Frame
If you’re remodeling, the first step is to remove all existing wooden and combustible decking materials. Unfortunately, treating wood with fire-retardant chemicals does not magically erase all potential fire risk from timber frames. Since your goal is to choose the safest materials you can, the new substructure of the deck must be built using steel or aluminum frames with a joist system on 12” centers to accommodate the support requirements of the Structo-Crete panels you will add later on.
Note that at least 3 inches of clearance from the joists to the bottom of the door threshold must be factored into the design to account for the materials we will describe further down: Structo-Crete concrete panels, pedestals and porcelain pavers. This measurement may increase if you choose to slope your panels.
Structo-Crete Concrete Panels
For the substrate of the deck, install 1” thick 4’x8’ Structo-Crete concrete panels across the joists. These will support the pedestals and stop anything from falling through the deck if a paver were to break on the surface.
Unless you have chosen to slope the substructure for drainage, you can install the Structo-Crete panels at zero degrees and drill ½” holes every 24-48” to allow for water to drain through.
Before you install the pedestal paver system, keep in mind that containment must be designed into your railing system to prevent the pavers from migrating outward. In addition to the contact point where the pavers touch the building itself, containment is often accomplished along the outside perimeter with a steel strip running from railing post to railing post. You may also consider a parapet wall or an edging profile in some cases, depending on your preference.
Non-Combustible Paver Supports
Place 1” high Archatrak non-combustible steel pedestals on the Structo-Crete surface based on the porcelain paver dimensions and pedestal installation guidelines. You can adjust the height of the pedestals to level the surface of the deck by simply screwing the pedestal columns up or down.
Apart from their excellent fire resistance, these paver supports can be used to secure pavers in high-wind applications without any visible fixings. For more information, please call 866.206.8316 to discuss your project with one of our technical representatives.
Porcelain begins as a wet clay which is then kiln-fired at extremely high temperatures creating an extremely hard product that is almost totally impervious to water. Not only are porcelain pavers completely fireproof but they emit no smoke or VOCs when heated or exposed to flames.
If you want your deck surface to look like wood, porcelain pavers are the most authentic-looking, safe and nonflammable alternative you’ll find. However, as with our other styles of pavers, such as Stone Look, Terrazzo, Monochrome and Cement styles, we always recommend that you order small samples of our Wood Look pavers first to make sure the chosen color meets your aesthetic requirements.
To do so, simply go to our Paver Collections and Colors page, click on the colors you like and you will be able to add up to four colors to a shopping cart with no charge.
Closing Thoughts on Fireproofing Your Home
Your decision to fireproof your deck could be more important than you know. Well-designed non-combustible steel paver supports like Archatrak’s IGNO pedestals are already listed as a building code requirement in counties like Fairfax County, VA.
In California, exacting 2008 regulations under Chapter 7A of the California Building Code have substantially mitigated home loss due to fires. By reducing or eliminating as much fire-prone materials as possible, the California Building Standards Commission’s efforts effectively saved 51% of the homes in the path of the deadly 2018 Camp Fire in Paradise, CA from destruction.
Using fire-resistant materials, while likely more expensive in the short term, could be lifesaving down the road. With more flame-retardant materials being developed each year, we are optimistic that the risk of losing a home in a fire can be practically eliminated in homes built in the future.