Despite increased moves towards prefabrication in home building, stick-framing, whether using wood or steel studs, will persist because it is FLEXIBLE in the sense that it does not place limitations on size, configuration, or the style of a house. Combined with the ubiquity of the lumber and framing crews in the United States, it is not likely prefab (as in completed units delivered from the factory) will ever significantly penetrate the home building market.
What has happened in California is an unimaginable tragedy, and it is not easy to fathom why. Governor Jerry Brown described the calamity recently as the “new-abnormal,” and invoked climate change as a culprit. Whatever the reasons, transformative change in the way houses are constructed in wildfire prone areas is long past due.
Although I don’t claim to be an expert in fire prevention, it is logical that we reconsider the MATERIALS used to build houses. We need to consider building non-flammable houses that don’t contribute fuel and stand a chance of surviving. This, of course, is called pre-disaster mitigation. The Institute of Building Sciences, working with FEMA and HUD, has found that $1 spent on mitigation saves $6 in future disaster costs, and would save many lives.
HabiTek’s Adapt-1 beta project is nearly all steel and concrete construction. While not done to avoid wildfires, which are rare on the Baja Peninsula, the Adapt-1 project points in a positive direction. By adding common steel roofing, and by installing metal shutters at the windows and door openings, a version of the Adapt-1 approach would eliminate any role in adding fuel to the fire, and would stand a good chance of surviving. And because our steel frameworks are pre-engineered to resist earthquakes, which are also part of California’s landscape, a HabiTek house makes even more sense. The time to mitigate is now.
In an age of massive technological change on so many fronts, some things never change. High on the list is how homes are built in the US, and for that matter, most of the world. And not even the massive destruction of buildings, primarily habitation, by natural forces – wind, water, fire and earthquakes – seems to cause much change. Haiti’s predicament is a prime example. Not even an earthquake, that caused around 200,000 deaths and destroyed around 160,000 houses, has resulted in any meaningful change in building practices. This would seem inexplicable, since the vast majority of those that perished did so precisely because of the way houses were constructed. Even Haiti’s extreme poverty is not sufficient to explain why nothing has changed.