Placer County contractor build its first concrete home in Santa Rosa-area fire zone
From the sidewalk on Willow Green Place, Bill Fredrickson and Michael Russo’s new house looks like a concrete replica of the wooden frame houses on the block destroyed by the Tubbs fire two years ago.
Like the other homes, it’s got multiple gable walls, eaves with pronounced overhangs and steep, pitched roofs — but all these features are made of poured concrete.
When all the stucco and ornamental detail are put in place, you won’t be able to tell the difference, Fredrickson said. Using concrete to rebuild instead of wood was a no-brainer, he said.
“Who in their right mind would build a wood house in a wildfire area, if you could build the same house for the same budget?” Fredrickson said.
Fredrickson and Russo’s home, one of the 5,300 Sonoma County homes destroyed in the October 2017 wildfires, is located off Old Redwood Highway just south of the Larkfield-Wikiup burn zone. The destructive force of the Tubbs inferno left no question in Fredrickson’s mind how he and his husband would rebuild.
“I wanted to rebuild it in concrete the second I knew it was available,” Fredrickson said.
Despite its fire-resistant qualities, there are only a handful of concrete homes being built in Sonoma County. Greg McDonagh, the contractor building the Willow Green Place home, hopes to change that. McDonagh, president of Roseville-based Savior Structures, said the high cost of traditional wooden frame construction now has made homebuilding with concrete a more viable option.
McDonagh, who entered the construction business straight out of high school, has been building residential and light commercial structures for 40 years. In late 2006, he invented a concrete wall-forming system using special separators to create narrow plywood boxes for pouring concrete.
Within Santa Rosa city limits, there are only four or five fully concrete homes built since the fires, said Jesse Oswald, the city’s chief building official. Tennis Wick, director of Sonoma County’s permit and resource management department, said Savior’s project is the only concrete home proposed, permitted and constructed in burn zones in unincorporated areas of the county.
Another concrete building technique that’s been used in Fountaingrove homes involves the use of insulated concrete forms, which use a permanent mold for poured concrete. The method produces a single-cast reinforced concrete structure that is also fire-resistant, and the polystyrene mold remains a permanent part of the home.
With McDonagh’s concrete system, the plywood forms or boxes are removed leaving only the concrete, the special separators and reinforced rebar. Expanded polystyrene foam board is inserted into the plywood boxes for insulation.
McDonagh, who was working in Utah in 2006, developed his Spider Tie separator system to build basement walls and not have to rely on concrete contractors. Two years after he devised his concrete building technique, the U.S. economy crashed and the bottom fell out of the homebuilding industry.
McDonagh, whose concrete forming system was already being used by pool builders, turned to designing and constructing city pools, aquatic parks and water tanks. The versatility allowed for the design of unique concrete designs and extreme curves.
“We learned that we could build a concrete structural pool for the same, if not less money, than gunite,” McDonagh said. “The versatility in forming shapes is where we really shine. We had a motto: ‘No one bends concrete like we do.’ ”