A building material that’s become popular in other parts of the world could help protect U.S. homes from the growing risk of natural disasters. It’s a system of panels made out of foam, wire, and concrete that are resistant to fires, earthquakes, hurricanes, and tornadoes. They are also considered a green building material.
According to CNBC, these panels are widely used in other countries, so we know they hold up well. But if that’s the case, why haven’t they been used more extensively in the U.S. as we pick up the pieces from one natural disaster to another?
A civil engineering professor at UC Irvine told CNBC, former President Carter first embraced this technology decades ago. He reportedly used it through his charity to fix buildings in Florida and Georgia. NASA has also been using it for years, to build spacecraft. The RSG 3-D website also mentions the use of this product by the US Army, the University of California, and the U.S. Prison System for some large-scale projects. (1)
So, this is not a new product, but it’s been slow to gain acceptance in the housing industry because lumber is so plentiful in the U.S., and comparatively inexpensive. These futuristic panels are more complex, and without mass production, more expensive. But that’s changing.
Ramping up U.S. Production
An Australian company developed a machine that can assemble the panels more cheaply, bringing costs down. And, RSG has brought some of that equipment into the U.S. with plans to ramp up production of the panels. (2)
But, that isn’t all that’s needed to keep costs down, Industry experts say that U.S. engineers need to know more about how to use them. If they are not familiar with a material, there’s a steeper learning curve at the beginning of a project that increases costs. Those experts say we need to educate builders, and that building codes also need to be updated.
RSG 3-D CEO, Ken Calligar, feels the effort is worth it. He says, the panels “are fireproof. They are seismic resistant beyond any earthquake recorded in human history and they are also hurricane resistant. They’ve been tested throughout the world through 200 hurricanes, hundreds of seismic events, and several wildfires.” The RSG 3-D website calls this product, “A globally proven, sustainable, resilient, and affordable building system.”
Another contractor, quoted by CNBC, says, he’s also using this technology. He says, “It’s available, it’s effective, it’s efficient and it gives you a much superior product at the end of the day.” He says, “We are not going to have any other choices. This is where the industry is going.”
Rebuilding After California Wildfires
RSG 3-D is trying to get this product into the hands of more builders, especially in areas already struck by disaster. The Real Deal reports, officials in Santa Rosa chose the RSG 3-D panels for the construction of a firewall after last year’s devastating wildfires. With the latest fires in both Northern and Southern California, there may be a big need for this material. (3)
The Camp Fire in Butte County is now known as the deadliest and most destructive fire in California history. It has killed at least 81 people. Almost 2,000 people are still missing. At least 150,000 acres have burned, and more than 16,000 homes and other structures have been destroyed. And, the fire was still burning at the time this podcast was written.
Global warming is being blamed for the increased destructiveness of wildfires in California, and that risk is not going away anytime soon. Although the use of these panels won’t make a home 100% “fire proof,” the company says they can withstand an open flame for two hours before they catch fire. That would certainly give homes more protection than ones built of wood.
Calligar told CNBC, “Housing economists will tell you that 77% of homes built in the United States are at extreme risk for some type of natural disaster.” He says, “The East Coast is primarily hurricanes, the Midwest is tornadoes, which we will also survive, the Rockies and the West are wildfire plus seismic events. We are resistant to all of that.”
The “Cementitious Sandwich Panel”
These so-called “cementitious sandwich panels” are also impervious to termites and rodents, and they are energy efficient. The basic construction of a panel is a flame-retardant foam core that is sandwiched between two wire mesh layers. Those two layers are connected to each other with wires that run through the foam core. That wire-foam combination is then covered with concrete.
If the costs are no longer prohibitive and you’re in the market for a building material that will help protect your home from future natural disasters, you might want to check out these panels.
By the way, I did a story recently on shipping container homes being fire resistant. Now I’m not so sure! Our home was right smack dab in the middle of the Malibu fires. The fire destroyed the RV parked in our driveway, and also completely burned out the contents of a shipping container that was holding our building materials. While the shipping container is still standing, nothing inside is. But somehow, our home did not burn – at all – even when the house next door did. It could be the stucco or the metal roof we just installed. Or maybe we just got lucky.
(1) CNBC Report
(2) RSG 3-D Website