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Home Security Wildfire: Frontline, Firemaps, other startups

In October 2017, Anil Arora sat helplessly in San Francisco as Tubbs Fire approached his home in Calistoga, California.

Arora watched through Ring’s camera as fire passed through his courtyard before engulfing the rest of his property. That night, Arora and his family smelled smoke from the fire that burned down their home, more than 70 miles away.

“It was just a shocking scene,” Arora said. “The next day we just sat down, discussed it and said, ‘You know what? We’re going to rebuild. “

In October 2017, Anil Arora watched Tubbs’ fire burn down his Calistoga, California home through a Ring camera.

Courtesy of Anil Arora

When the family was planning the makeover, Arora knew he needed the roof sprinklers for the house so it never burned down again. After searching Google for options, Arora stumbled upon Frontline Wildfire Defense, a startup that had just built a sprinkler system that was exactly what he was looking for. Two years later, he had a new home with a dozen roof sprinklers, each capable of releasing water and foam 30 feet in all directions.

Arora is among a growing number of homeowners who are turning to climate technology startups to protect their properties from natural disasters that are increasing in frequency and severity as a result of global warming.

California bushfires are “something we will still see regardless of climate change and regardless of population, but when you add climate change to the equation, it increases the likelihood of a fire occurring,” said Harry Stutter, CEO of Frontline, who raised $ 3 million. in financing.

In August, a group of UN climate experts released a dire report calling for immediate action. The agency warned that limiting global warming to 1.5 or even 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels “will not be achievable” in the next two decades without rapid and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. The report says heat extremes often reach critical thresholds for agriculture and health at 2 degrees Celsius.

“Our house burned down, so it’s very real for us. This is not a conceptual issue, ”said Arora.

As homeowners think about how to protect their homes, entrepreneurs and investors are starting to invest their time and money in this largely untapped market.

“What we have right now is the opportunity to get these best and brilliant minds to go out and work on something really worthwhile,” said Greg Smithies, partner and head of climate technology at Fifth Wall, a venture capital firm. To date, Fifth Wall has raised over $ 300 million in its climate technology fund.

More venture capital was invested in climate technology during November 2021 than in any previous year, according to data provided by PitchBook. Almost $ 26.7 billion was invested in climate technology in 2021, up from $ 15.3 billion in 2020 and $ 11.8 billion in 2019, according to PitchBook.

In particular for homes and buildings, climate change poses a risk to real estate worth up to $ 35 trillion by 2070, Smithies noted, citing report for 2016 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

“The opportunity to create a startup to make tons of money just given the size of the market is far greater than any of the opportunities we’ve seen instead,” Smithies said.

The Frontline Wildfire Defense system uses sprinklers, each capable of shooting water and foam up to 30 feet in any direction, to help homeowners fight wildfires.

Courtesy of Frontline Wildfire Defense

Peace of mind from fires

Frontline is about dampening property, dampening combustible vegetation surrounding the home and building materials, making it less likely to catch fire when a fire approaches, Stutter told CNBC. The system can be activated by flipping a switch in the house or via the Frontline mobile app. If a fire triggered a Wi-Fi or cellular shutdown, the system can also connect to Frontline via satellite, ensuring the customer can activate the sprinklers no matter what, Statter said.

The company also plans to release a new version of its app in December, which will provide everyone with comprehensive information about fire safety in near real time. This includes a map showing wildfires, evacuation warnings, orders and safe re-colonization statuses, the company said.

“You don’t have to be the owner of the system to use a new application,” Stutter said. “This is to reduce the risk to anyone living in wildfire zones.”

Harry Stutter is the CEO of Frontline Wildfire Defense, a startup that created rooftop sprinkler systems to help homeowners protect their properties from wildfires.

Courtesy of Frontline Wildfire Defense

The security system cost Arora about $ 10,000, Statter said, although Frontline systems typically average between $ 15,000 and $ 25,000. Arora said he decided to remodel the house because of his family’s emotional attachment to the place where his children grew up. He said it costs money to pay $ 10,000 for fire protection sprinklers.

“This is an emotional investment and a financial investment. Our children grew up there, attached to him, ”said Arora. “You want to be sure that you are doing the best you can.”

Arora turned on the dampening system for his property a few months ago when a fire broke out nearby, but he hasn’t yet relied on the system to repel the fire. But perhaps most importantly, the system is something tangible that Arora can do rather than passively observe.

“Most of all it gives me peace of mind,” said Arora.

Sylvia Wu and her husband decided to protect their Corralito, California home from wildfires this year with Firemaps, a startup that helps homeowners determine which parts of their property are most at risk.

Courtesy of Sylvia Wu

Risk reduction

Tech worker Sylvia Wu and her husband were on a trip in September 2020 when they started to worry. Wildfires began to spread in Santa Cruz County, California, and they were approaching their home in Corralitos.

Fortunately, nothing happened, but in June 2021, the couple decided to take steps to protect their home. Wu reached out to her former Uber co-star Jahan Khanna, a serial entrepreneur whose latest startup, Firemaps, is helping homeowners protect their homes from wildfires.

Firemaps uses technologies such as drones, computer vision, satellite imagery and artificial intelligence to analyze a home and determine which parts are most at risk from wildfires and what steps can be taken to make them more resilient.

Firemaps creates a 3D model of the house and presents the homeowner with a list of recommendations. After the homeowner decides which ones to accept, Firemaps places bids for its network of contractors, all of which it has previously screened. Firemaps does not charge homeowners for its services, but instead charges referral fees from contractors.

Firemaps is a startup that uses technologies such as drones, computer vision, satellite imagery and artificial intelligence to create 3D images of homes to analyze and determine which parts of the property are most at risk from wildfires and what steps can be taken. to increase their stability.

Courtesy of Firemaps

Hannah said he and his co-founders felt that not enough was being done to protect homes from the growing risks of climate change.

“The entire founding team lives in California. We are dealing with forest fires ourselves, ”said Khanna. “It doesn’t seem like there are so many people working on the practical impact of climate change here and now. It was like a discovery and a need that we could satisfy. “

Firemaps identified a number of steps that Wu and her husband could take to protect their home.

This included raising the crown of the trees surrounding the structure, cutting down the bamboo grove, removing the large tree that was next to the house, reducing the size of the ornamental shrubs and grass around the house, and stacking decayed granite that would not ignite. …

“I always wanted to just go there with a tape measure and measure things, but, you know, you’re busy, you get lazy, and I’ve never done that,” Wu said.

Jahan Khanna is a serial entrepreneur whose latest startup, Firemaps, is helping homeowners protect their homes from wildfires.

Courtesy of Firemaps

Wu and her husband decided to follow through on the recommendations, and after two full days of work, the contractors were able to complete the work. With a friend’s discount, Wu said she paid $ 4,000 for the job.

“Nothing will stop your house from burning down if the fire really grows big,” Wu said. “There’s always a chance, but I just wanted to make sure I took all the precautions I could. Anything beyond that is not really in my power. “

Once the work is complete, Firemaps will do another 3D rendering of the house. The company verifies that the job was done properly and reports it to the homeowner’s insurance company, as well as the local fire department and any other organizations that need to know, Hann said.

Because climate change is an intractable global problem, Hann said, people will have to take action to protect themselves.

“The first tendency of people is to leave. But people need to be aware of the fact that this is a large-scale crisis and it is not going anywhere, ”Hannah said. “If we don’t do this hard work, the situation will continue to deteriorate. We must solve this problem, otherwise it will get worse. “


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