Steel vs. Wood: ‘Fire-Resistant' Homes the Wave of the Future in California?

With fire season approaching, a Bay Area company is giving the public a glimpse of what could make things safer for homeowners in the future.

Yuhu Builders in Morgan Hill unveiled the prototype framework of a fire-resistant home; basically, metal where wood is usually seen. Builders say this could be the wave of the future.

Yuhu Builders invited city officials, realtors and fire agencies to see what it called "fire-resistant innovations."

"California historically has faced so much fire hazards, and this is one of the solutions," Yuhu founder and CEO Eugene Yu said.

Cal Fire says the concept still needs testing but called it "encouraging."

"We absolutely have to change our building environment to make California safer, more resilient," said Dwight Good, Cal Fire battalion chief. "The wildfires are not getting smaller."

Yuhu says it wants to get the price for frames, big or small, down to $300 per square foot. One realtor says the steel structure is appealing.

"So, it’d be fire retardant, and the insurance would be a lot less for a wood frame, for the fire," said Realtor Cindy Dominguez, of Intero.

Another factor is getting workers acclimated to using steel.

"It’s doable, but it’s going to take a little time," building supervisor Mitchell Lucatero said. "The biggest obstacle is finding the workers or training them."

City officials are hopeful.

"I think if there’s enough investors and this does take off, I think it’d be very beneficial to my city," Morgan Hill Mayor Rich Constantine said.

Vice Mayor Chappie Jones added: "The market will determine if we can do this on a mass production type of way, to expand it out to California and the rest of the country."

While the biggest appeal is safety, the biggest problem will be cost: steel costs about 50 percent more to use than wood.

But Yuhu says it learned a lot from building the prototype and will have the cost problem solved when it finishes construction by the end of the year.

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