This mandate helped reduce risk of wildfires destroying buildings in California by 40% — so why don’t more states implement it?

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Left to their own devices, people don’t necessarily make the most responsible choices, especially if they spend the money.

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that’s the takeaway from a new working paper Written by researchers from the University of California, San Diego and the University of British Columbia in Canada. The researchers examined the mandate’s effectiveness in the context of climate change, specifically looking at wildfire building codes in California.

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Researchers found that California’s upgraded building codes reduced the average risk of structural damage in a wildfire by about 40% for homes built in 2008 or later, as compared to a home built in 1990.

A look at the scale of damage related to wildfires across California is evidence of the need for updated building codes, he said. The authors argue that efforts to voluntarily enforce forest fire protection by residents have not been largely successful. California has recorded $40 billion in property damage from wildfires over the past five years.

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,‘Wildfire building codes clearly offer positive benefits in the most fire-prone areas of the state, especially where homes tend to be clustered closer together and thus create large risk spillovers.’,


– Working papers from the University of California, San Diego and the University of British Columbia

To analyze the benefits of mandating property changes, the researchers compiled data that accounted for nearly every household across the country affected by wildfires between 2000 and 2020, of which more than 50% survived the fire. went.

They pooled data from California to see what effect the implementation of improved building codes had. The Golden State implemented strict building codes — first in 1991 and again in 2008 — that required fire-resistant exterior siding, windows and doors and mesh-covered vents to prevent elements from entering homes.

The researchers compared the results in California to other states that have been affected by massive wildfires, including Arizona, Colorado, Oregon and Washington—for the time period analyzed, none of those other states reported any number of buildings. did not implement state-wide wildfire standards. ,

,People may be reluctant to voluntarily upgrade their buildings to meet codes because of a misconception of risk and insurance-market failures. The cost of retrofitting older homes can also be prohibitive.,

But it was not only the homes that were built to the new specifications that benefited from the policy. The risk of structural damage to a close neighbor’s home is reduced by 6%. The benefits were even greater for neighboring houses in more densely built up areas.

“Wildfire building codes provide clearly positive benefits in the most fire-prone areas of the state, particularly where homes tend to be clustered closer together and thus create large-risk spillovers,” the researchers wrote.

Among other issues, people may be reluctant to voluntarily upgrade their buildings to meet codes due to “misconceptions of risk, insurance-market failures”. The study authors also cautioned that the cost of making older homes resistant to wildfires could be prohibitive, reducing the benefits of a broader policy.

Nevertheless, he argued that his findings were relevant to policymakers, considering how to counter other natural disasters such as floods and hurricanes “where the voluntary taking of self-protective investments seems constrained by similar constraints. “

“As disaster losses from climate change continue to increase, this type of research on the role of public policy and market incentives in shaping adaptation is increasingly necessary,” they wrote in the paper, which was published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, Was distributed by a non-profit organization. research organization.

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