It started out as a challenge — to build a house on site, completely out of concrete, a home so indestructible it might survive a millennium and anything nature delivers, from earthquake to fire.
Contractor Joe Manning won’t live to test his 1,000-year hypothesis. But Nick Nicastro, the man who bought Manning’s surprisingly attractive fortress in the hills above Occidental six years ago, said he has, so far — knock on concrete — had to do no repairs.
“I haven’t done anything,” he grinned, standing in the contemporary, light-filled kitchen functional enough for the professional cook that he is.
Nicastro runs a company called SAGmonkey that provides mobile repairs and support, including catering, for professional cyclists and athletes.
He and his wife were pedaling their own bikes along Coleman Valley Road one day when they happened upon the intriguing house in the woods, then occupied by Manning as he finished it up and awaited a buyer. The more they talked, the more fascinated they became by Manning’s unique spec house.
You might expect a concrete house to look like a warehouse or, as Manning puts it, “an industrial business park shell.” Instead, he designed and built it to look like a normal, wood frame and stucco home with shingle roof. It looks and feels warm and inviting.
In the embers of a devastating season of wildfires — 1,280 single family homes were destroyed in Lake County’s Valley fire alone — Manning’s “Concrete Concepts” offer an appealing option for those seeking to rebuild or who are contemplating building a new home in a wooded area or near wildlands.
While concrete is not fireproof, it is fire resistant. It is non-combustible and has a slow rate of heat transference.
So while fire may enter through the windows or roof, and whatever is inside can burn, the basic structure won’t burn.
“Every fire moves fast, at 10 to 50 miles an hour, and they’ll blow on through and eat up everything in their path. But if they can’t catch, they’re going to just go right on by. You could lose a roof, however,” Manning said.
If there is a fire within the structure, all you would have to do, he added, is come in with a pressure hose and wash down the walls and floors.
The Coleman Valley Road demonstration home purchased by Nicastro was not built with insulated forms or blocks, the more common forms of contemporary concrete construction. Manning, in partnership with his son Ian, poured the walls in wood forms on site.
First he poured the concrete foundation and cured it. The foundation served as a platform for the pouring of each individual wall. Radiant heat was installed in the floors and electricity, plumbing and insulation went into the walls at the time they were formed.
A giant 275-ton crane was maneuvered up Coleman Valley Road — a site that caused a temporary traffic backup and caught the attention of a local radio news crew that wondered what was going on in Occidental.
The crane lifted the massive walls, that were then set and braced. All the walls had to be braced before the crane would release them.
“We did 17 walls on the first lift,” Manning said, “then another 15 more.”