SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — James Roberts got his start transforming recycled steel shipping containers into inexpensive environmentally-friendly living spaces. Now he’s taking his company TANYR to a new level, building fire-resistant homes in communities ravaged by wildfires.
“We got interested in Santa Rosa and Sonoma because they’re kind of coming to the peak of that crisis mode. Building is starting to happen,” he said.
From California’s Wine Country to Paradise, tens of thousands of homes build out of wood burned in seconds. Roberts thinks California builders should turn to steel, but not just any steel.
His product is produced in a machine. It molds and cuts the material in minutes. It works like a steel-home building kit. It’s efficient, but could it really be safer and capable of withstanding the ferocity of a wildfire?
“It can. Everything is susceptible to the conditions there but not only does it give that home a chance of survival, but it also gives firefighters that respond a better chance if protecting that property,” said Cal Fire Deputy Director Mike Mohler.
Mohler says revising building codes may be one answer to avoiding complete destruction in fire-prone areas.
“The mayor of Paradise hit it on the head saying we are going to rebuild… but it’s about how we rebuild in this type of area,” he said.
Tougher housing rules would need to be backed by strict enforcement, and the building industry says California needs to consider what’s at stake.
“We’re in the midst of a housing crisis and that is an important part of these conversations,” said President of the North State Building Association Michael Strech.
Strech says developers also need to keep the buyer in mind.
“Is this a product that will provide that benefit at a price that doesn’t put the price point of the house to the point where it’s not feasible?” he asked.
Roberts argues his mechanically-produced steel homes are just as or more affordable than conventional wood. For him though, it’s not the price but the protection, that’ll do the talking to home buyers.
“If you have a mild fire in your house, your wood is going to burn,” he said.
The steel homes currently in the works in Northern California still need to go through a permitting process, but victims of wildfires do get priority and expedited permits.