For as long as there have been damaged doors and windows that need to be secured, boarding up vacant and abandoned buildings has been achieved using relatively inexpensive plywood, nails and carriage bolts.
An alternative to plywood is clear boarding. It is used to fortify abandoned structures to keep out squatters, thwart criminal activity, and prevent arson. Transparent coverings allow law enforcement and first responders to look inside these vacant buildings, exposing illicit activity.
The products are composed of polycarbonate. They are designed to look like conventional windows, are practically indestructible, and are weather resistant. Demonstrations show that hammers are no match for these clear-boarding systems. Plywood can be pried off, allowing transients, vandals and criminals to enter the building for illegal activities. Nothing announces a vacant property like boarded up windows and doors. Real estate developers and communities agree that buildings boarded up with plywood are an eyesore and cause property values to plummet.
In November 2016, a federal mortgage loan company, Fannie Mae, changed its policies, urging service providers to use clear boarding instead of plywood for pre-foreclosure and post-foreclosure properties. In January 2017, the state of Ohio banned the use of plywood to board up vacant and abandoned properties and prohibited its use in homes that meet “expedited foreclosure” guidelines. In May 2015, the city of Phoenix, Arizona, required that sheets of polycarbonate must be used to cover the windows in abandoned homes.
The same unyielding barriers that keep bad people out can create a problem for firefighters trying to enter the structure, and once in, to safely and quickly exit a smoke-filled environment. Fire department tests and demonstrations showed that firefighters’ usual complement of tools, including sledgehammers, axes and halligans, were no match for clear boarding. To quickly break through, an electric saw or chainsaw was required.
The market will eventually adjust, and with additional legal backing, clear boarding will no doubt grow in popularity. The fire service will adapt and prevail: tactics and equipment have evolved to meet challenges much greater than this one.
Arson in Vacant and Abandoned Buildings
Arson in vacant and abandoned buildings is a dangerous combination for both the general public and the brave firefighters who battle these incidents. Join us on this free webinar to learn about:
- The unique characteristics of vacant and abandoned structures and how they contribute to the ways these structures often burn.
- The special challenges in investigating these fires.
- The differences between an abandoned building and a vacant building.
- An alternative to plywood for boarding up vacant and abandoned structures.
- Activities a community can do to reduce the negative impact and blight associated with vacant and abandoned structures.
Sponsored by the Insurance Committee for Arson Control
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: Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times