As we have seen in the past few years, wildfires have increasingly become a year-round problem. As a consequence, insurance companies have been hit hard, and the rules, norms and costs are all experiencing some dramatic changes.

Q: What has changed about fire insurance?

A: Fire danger maps are created by city, county and state agencies. These risk maps will in part determine the building rules and costs associated with obtaining fire insurance. Insurance companies are now creating their own maps. As you can imagine, costs have and will probably continue to increase. In certain high-risk mapped areas, insurance will only be available through what is called the FAIR plan, and it will be very expensive.

Q: Which areas are most at risk?

A: On the maps, areas that are defined as “high” or “very high” fire severity zones will see the greatest changes and charges.

Q: How do I find out about my fire zone?

A: For a map of the zones, visit

Q: What is “home hardening”?

A: It is a term used to describe “hardening” a home against fire. It may involve changes to roofing material, vent screens, landscaping, trees, gutters, etc., that are less prone to allowing a home to catch fire.

As we move through the worst of the fire season, you will start to hear a lot more about fire hardening and defensible space. New rules have recently been introduced that look to mitigate damage from wildfires across the state.

Q: Do the new rules apply to everyone?

A: No. These new rules only apply when you list your home for sale. There may be other local fire mitigation rules in your community, but the new rules only address what you do when you sell your house.

Q: Are all home sales covered by the new rules?

A: No – only homes built before 2010 located in what’s deemed as either a “high” or “very high” fire severity zone.

Q: If I sell my home in one of these zones, what will I be required to do?

A: It depends on where you are located, but in general, substantial clearing may be required before you sell, or may be required of the buyer within one year after you sell.

Q: What about the preservation of heritage trees?

A: This is an interesting question in that local jurisdictions in general try to protect heritage trees, especially natives, but the new fire regulations may require that they be removed. It will be an interesting push and pull. The answer to who wins will play out over the next months and possibly years.

Owen Halliday is a longtime Los Altos resident and realtor who manages the Sereno office in downtown Los Altos. Email comments and questions to him at For more information, call 492-0062.