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This building material could have saved California houses from wildfires, but it's not widely used in the US

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This tech can protect houses during fires, earthquakes and hurricanes, but...

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.

A building material known as a 3D cementitious sandwich panel could have saved some of these homes.

Magdalena Petrova | CNBC

"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," said Ken Calligar, CEO of RSG 3-D, the company that's bringing the panel to the U.S. for mass production.

"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."

That's why officials in Santa Rosa, California, chose RSG 3-D to rebuild a firewall destroyed by wildfires last year.

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.

But it never really took off in the United States.

"The reason the product has not been used well in the United Stated to date is because we have wood," said Geoffrey Evancic, chief operating officer of Hutter Pioneer, a construction company that is working with the RSG 3-D panels.

"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."

A house in Santa Barbara built using RSG 3-D's panels.
RSG-3D

The risk of wildfire in California is very real. On its website, Cal Fire lists more than 200 cities which it deems to be in "very high fire hazard" severity zones.

"When comparing the RSG 3-D panel system to conventional housing in terms of just wild fire, wood frame construction is notably fuel for fires," said Calligar. "An RSG 3-D panel building will have at least a two-hour fire rating, which means you can apply open flame to the walls for at least two hours with no combustion whatsoever."