Now that you know defensible space around your home can minimize the potential for wildfire damage, it’s time to tackle one important part of defensible space: brush removal.
While there’s more to maintaining defensible space than just brush removal, it’s a big job on its own and should be part of regular home maintenance for California homeowners.
Before we get into ways California homeowners can meet their brush clearance requirements, let’s take a look at why brush removal is so important.
Brush removal, home maintenance, and homeowners insurance
If you live in California, you’re probably aware that many counties have brush removal regulations for homeowners. But what you may not realize is that brush clearance is important for your homeowners insurance, too.
That’s because your insurance policy is a two-way contract between you, the homeowner, and your insurance provider. It works (roughly) like this:
- The insurance provider agrees to send you money if certain things related to your home go wrong (e.g., a fire destroys your living room, a visitor slips on your stairs and hurts themselves, etc.).
- You agree to keep your house in good working order to maximize the odds that nothing goes wrong.
That second point is especially important. In the Census Bureau’s most recent survey of American homeowners (the American Housing Survey), 13.5 percent of homeowners reported having zero dollars in maintenance costs in a given year.
That doesn’t mean these homes are in perfect shape and don’t need to be maintained; all homes need to be maintained. They need new paint and they need handles tightened and driveways repaired. They need upkeep so they stay in the kind of condition insurance companies expect houses to be in.
This $0 figure means that nearly 14 percent of homeowners aren’t doing any maintenance at all.
If you’re not doing maintenance on your home – like making sure you’re meeting brush clearance requirements – you could be at risk of violating the terms of your homeowners insurance policy. And if you are in violation, you may not be able to collect money from your insurance provider if something goes wrong.
That’s why it’s so important to understand both brush clearance requirements in your county and maintenance requirements in your homeowners policy. If you’re in doubt about either, give your insurance company a call.
Brush clearance requirements in California
Brush clearance requirements depend on where in California you live. The rules in Los Angeles County are different from those in San Diego County, which are different from those in Yolo and Butte.
To get a sense of what kind of brush removal you’re legally required to do, first take a look at this map of California’s State Responsibility Areas (and you can type in your address here and see if your home is in a fire severity zone). It offers a color-coded view of fire risk by area. Then type “brush clearance requirements” + your county into a search engine to get exact details.
Depending on where you live, you may be required to pass a yearly inspection of your property, as is required in Los Angeles. Or you could be slapped with a public nuisance abatement for not complying with brush removal regulations, as is the law in San Diego.
The important takeaway: know what you’re legally required to do and what the consequences are if you don’t meet those brush removal requirements.
3 options for brush removal: DIY, contractor, or both
Once you understand the brush removal requirements that apply to your land, it’s time to decide how you’ll meet them. You typically have three choices:
- Handle all brush removal yourself. That means identifying what needs to go, doing the actual removal work, and maintaining your property year after year.
- Hire a contractor to handle everything. That could include planning where to thin and prune, identifying whether to add new plants to your land (and if so, which ones), and handling maintenance over time. Bonus: this option lands you a home insurance discount if you have an annual brush removal contract.
- Work with an expert to plan your brush removal strategy. The pros can help you plan your larger maintenance and planting goals and create defensible space, but you’d handle the actual maintenance yourself.
Here’s a look at the benefits and drawbacks of each model.
|Brush Removal Methods & Considerations||DIY Brush Removal||Contracted Brush Removal||Hybrid Brush Removal|
|Cost||Free!||$1,200 to $3,600 per acre, though this may vary based on where you live and what needs to be cleared.||Varies based on specific services you pay for (consulting, initial clearing, etc.).|
|Time Investment||High: An initial investment of several hours of planning and working, plus ongoing maintenance.||Low: Just enough to find a contractor and handle ongoing payment.||Medium: You won’t have to handle the initial planning, but you will need to spend time on ongoing maintenance.|
|Potential Risks||Not meeting “defensible space” regulations, which could lead to fines and penalties, as well as expose your home to unnecessary fire risk.||Damage to your property, not liking the outcome of the contractors’ work (though to be fair, these are also risks if you go the DIY route).||Getting a false sense of security from expert recommendations and not adequately following through on the actual work of brush removal.|
|Key Benefits||You’re on the front lines of your property and will be the first to know of any changes or potential dangers.You save money by handling this work yourself.||You have peace of mind knowing your property meets local fire safety regulations.You save time by outsourcing this work to experts.You qualify for a home insurance discount when you have an annual brush removal contract.||You have peace of mind knowing your landscaping plan will help you meet local fire safety regulations.You save money by handling much of the manual labor of landscaping.You save time by working with an expert to strategize your brush removal.|
|Best For||Homeowners who are comfortable with landscaping tasks and knowledgeable about their defensible space requirements (or willing to learn them).||Homeowners who don’t have the time or inclination to undertake significant landscaping tasks on their own.||Homeowners looking for expert support in handling brush removal but are capable of general landscaping tasks; homeowners looking to save money on professional services.|
The best option for you depends on:
- Your familiarity with local defensible space requirements and your comfort translating that to a brush removal plan.
- Your familiarity with landscaping generally, which will determine how comfortable you are planning brush removal and maintaining appropriate plants and structures.
- Your comfort handling brush removal and other landscaping tasks.
- The amount of spare time you have to dedicate to brush removal and other landscaping work.
- The amount of disposable income you have to pay for professional services.
- Whether you want an additional home insurance discount for having an annual brush removal contract.
Preventing house fires with brush removal
Whether or not you live in an SRA, maintaining your yard to minimize your fire risk should be one of your top priorities as a homeowner. After all, even in areas where wildfires aren’t likely to hit, lightning strikes and electrical surges can spark fires. When they do, dead brush and other organic material can lead to serious damage to your home.
Plus, maintaining your yard is part of overall home maintenance, which is a key responsibility you have to your insurance provider.