Cement Building Panels May Help With Wildfire Rebuilding Projects

November 16, 2018
Ocean Front Walk, Santa Monica, United States
Photo: Unsplash/Jiroe

The 3D cementitious sandwich panel is a relatively unknown building material in the U.S., though it shouldn't be. The material is now being used in Santa Rosa, Calif. to rebuild a firewall destroyed by last year's wildfires.

RSG 3-D is the company working with Santa Rosa on the firewall rebuild, and is bringing the new panels to the U.S. for mass production. CEO Ken Calligar explains the material's efficacy against fire damage, "A wood structure will combust almost immediately. And studies show that once a wood structure has 4 or 5 percent of the building on fire, it becomes a total loss because there's no stopping the fire," adding, "There's no place for a fire in a 3D panel building to start because you've got a concrete exterior and nothing is combustible within the materials."

But why hasn't this been used sooner and more frequently? Geoffrey Evancic, chief operating officer of construction firm Hutter Pioneer working with the RSG 3-D panels, tells CNBC that it's because we have wood. "The United States is blessed with multiple forests and wood was an inexpensive building material, up until the last five years. With the new energy code, especially up in the northern states, and in California, they want net-zero houses. You cannot get to a net-zero house construction with wood."

Two major fires are still burning in California. Authorities now report that the Camp Fire in Northern California has destroyed more than 8,000 homes and burned 140,000 acres. Meanwhile, the Woolsey Fire in Los Angeles and Ventura counties has destroyed over 500 homes and scorched more than 98,000 acres. 3D cementitious sandwich panel could have saved some of these homes. The panel technology is not new. NASA has been using a version of it to build spacecraft for years because of its strength. And former President Jimmy Carter used the material in his charity work decades ago on damaged buildings in Florida and Georgia.

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