By Miriam Raftery
Zak Valade and his wife, Gina, lost their home in the 2007 Witch Creek fire. Now, they’re rebuilding a new home designed by famed architect Drew Hubbell,.constructed of fire-safe and energy efficient materials. They’ve also ripped out their avocado grove and planted a vineyard instead.
“Today, this is the new fire buffer,” Zak Valade says, standing atop the roof of his home under construction in the heart of Ramona’s wine country. He hopes to sell grapes to a local winemaker--and make his new residence both safe and sustainable. “I like port wine; I have a friend who got me into earth building,” he recalls. “He’s a premier grape mixer in our area. I wanted to build out of adobe, but California won’t let you anymore because of seismic requirements.”
Instead, the home’s basic building blocks are PerformWall, a fire-safe product that maximizes design flexibility . “This is post-consumer foam—recycled Styrofoam like TVs are shipped in,” Valade says, hoisting a surprisingly lightweight Perform Wall block over his shoulder. “You mix in potash, Portland cement, and make blocks.”