If the area you lived in was subject to earthquakes, insect infestation and wildfires, and you could live in a type of housing that could withstand all those perils, why wouldn’t you? Concrete homes have an amazing resistance to all of the above and are commonly used in Florida and other hurricane ridden locations, but their popularity hasn’t spread to the west coast.
Due to their unique construction, a number of homes have survived the wildfires in California. Pat Callahan owns a concrete house outside Escondido that only suffered smoke damage during the October Witch Creek fire. Although the vinyl windows were melted, the house remained standing.
Another success story was that of Lorraine Aledort and her 5,500 square-foot concrete house near Ramona. The upgrades in her home included:
Concrete roof tiles, glued-down to resist high winds.
Interior fire sprinklers (now a local building requirement).
Over-sized wood beams to withstand exposure to heat longer than their smaller counterparts.
An emergency power generator.
A 10,000-gallon water tank to be used in a fire emergency.
Commercial grade aluminum windows with extra thick tempered glass.
Exterior walls were one foot in thickness including reinforcing steel placed in the concrete forms for protection against earthquake damage.
After spending 3 1/2 years building their home, Lorraine and her husband had only lived there a few weeks when the wildfires struck. The landscape was blackened, but the house withstood only minor smoke damage. The cost of building compared to a comparable wood home was about twenty percent higher; Lorraine considers this money well spent
Structural engineer, George Easton describes concrete construction similar to assembling Lego blocks. “The “blocks” are polystyrene forms, called insulated concrete forms, into which the concrete is poured. The forms then are left in place to serve as insulation and the backing for stucco on the exterior or drywall on the interior.”
The walls can provide up to an R-50 energy rating and require approximately 44 percent less energy to heat and 32 percent less energy to cool compared to a traditional wood home.
If concrete houses are so effective against natural disasters, why aren’t they widely used? Part of the problem is the lack of knowledge in the building industry regarding concrete construction. Even though concrete construction has national code approval, there are many inspectors with little knowledge of how to inspect the structures.
Many builders feel that the future of widespread concrete housing requires a dominant player in the building industry to come forward and say “we can do this”, and others will follow suit.