Fire-resistant is always better

Adapted from an article by Kim Shanahan

The first surprise I encountered as a very green carpenter coming to Santa Fe 35 years ago was that all the cubical brown buildings were not made of adobe…

Many who wash up onto our foothills from other lands encounter the same shocking reality. It’s faux adobe! It’s a “Fanta Se” adobe Disneyland! It’s architecturally redundant and boring!

It is also what might keep us from becoming the next Boulder County, Colo., as the drying West continues to burn

It’s doubtful any building type could withstand that recent [Boulder County] conflagration, but some types are more resilient, like what we build in Santa Fe.

Cement-based stucco is as fire-resistant as anything. Resistance is critical, which is why asbestos siding originally was considered the perfect material for the labs and houses of Los Alamos. Our flat roofs are not as resistant as pitched metal roofs, but it is no accident Northern New Mexicans adopted corrugated steel as soon as railroads made it cheap and available…

Other modern building science principles and local building codes help make Santa Fe homes fire-resistant…In the aftermath of the Cerro Grande Fire more than 20 years ago, new Los Alamos County building codes taught us how to build in forests. Boulder County shows it’s appropriate everywhere. Indoor sprinklers do nothing against flames outside our doors, but fake adobe walls may hold up very well indeed.

Over the decade or so I worked for a sub-contractor selling to contractors mostly in Santa Fe and Los Alamos counties, Kim Shanahan was always a favorite visit. Bright, well-educated, committed to modern design requirements. This article is typically forward-looking. Hopefully, useful to folks building anywhere there may be increased fire danger.