Masonry shows off in Florida
By: Carole McMichael
If you check out what builders in Florida are doing with masonry, you will likely find that the masonry-stick combination is the most common choice. According to Kim Goehring, president of Goehring and Morgan Construction Inc., in Orlando, Florida, the first floor of a home is usually built with concrete masonry blocks and the second floor is wood frame.
Goehring notes that using the combination approach makes the process faster than doing the whole house in masonry. Wood is lighter than concrete, making it easier for the crew to use on second-floor construction. The connection of the two systems, which are attached by metal strapping and tied together, provides a solid finished structure. The termite problem, almost guaranteed with stick-built homes, is about 80 percent eliminated because the second-floor walls are not accessible from the ground.
"Currently, about 98 percent of homes in Orlando are built with masonry," Goehring says. "I have been in residential construction all my life, learning hands-on from my father. I do stick-built and masonry (high-end custom and spec) single-family homes. I prefer to build with masonry and, generally, the public prefers masonry-built homes.
"One of the reasons that masonry is so popular is that concrete blocks provide protection against termites, which are such a big problem in Florida, and strength in the face of hurricanes. Hurricanes, going back to the disaster of Andrew in the 1990s, gave birth to new building codes that make masonry even stronger."
Building a show home
Goehring was the masonry builder for the New American Home 2005, a show home at this year's International Builders' Show. The home, part of a new development in downtown Orlando, was a project conceived by Builder Magazine and the NAHB. The site was one of 3,000 on a 1,100-acre tract of land a developer has planned for condos, apartments and single-family homes. The show home was a single-family unit built in Baldwin Park, the estate section of the development.
"Because this was a show house and a project by committee, the planning and designing phase took about a year," says Goehring. "After I was chosen as the builder, I had meetings with Builder Magazine and the NAHB, reporting on the products that would be used and coordinating with the architect, who was also chosen by the sponsors. Once the building phase began, the committee made occasional site inspections to track whether the progress was on schedule and the products were according to plan specs."
Preplanning included soil evaluation of the site and placement of the design on the lot. Once the plans were set and approved, the engineer added the structural evaluation and requirements; then they were submitted for the building permits. The only subcontractor involved at this stage was the wood truss company that did the engineering for the door and window areas.
"The biggest challenge was the time frame," Goehring says, "especially when building by committee. For the show home, you have from January to October. How much a problem it is depends on the size of the house. By the end of this project, we had 70 to 80 workers on the job at the same time. Because the home building market is so strong in this area, there are no priority projects. We did have the advantage that our company has worked with the same subs for many years. We are loyal to them and they are loyal to us."
New American Home 2005
The two-story show home has an impressive Mediterranean-style, U-shaped design with 6,200 square feet of air-conditioned space, plus another 1,800 square feet of outside living area. There are five bedrooms, five and one-half baths, a main kitchen, butler's pantry and a morning kitchen, which is off the master suite so the owners can enjoy a leisurely and private breakfast in the early morning. Other rooms include a dining room, living room, family room, study, library and a guest suite with its own AC and fireplace. The suite is located off to one side of the house, accessible from the inside but quite separate. An elevator and a striking spiral staircase lead to the second floor.
There is no doubt that the show home is set up to entertain. There are 11 television systems, Bose access in every room, seven refrigerators and a pool. The house is wired for the internet as well. The entertainment star indoors is the activity room that includes a drop-down, 92-inch screen and blackout shades hidden behind the window valances to transform the room into a private theater. The rest of the time, the room can be used for homework, playing games, TV-watching or just lounging.
As great as it is indoors, this home's outdoor entertaining space may be even better. On the first floor, a French door system folds and slides aside so the whole area is open to the pool and the view. At the far edge of the pool, facing the house, is a 12-foot, Old World-style carved limestone fireplace that reflects flames onto the surface of the pool. Midway up the fireplace, a thin sheet of water cascades over the fire into the pool. Lit by colored spotlights, the patio is bathed in magic.
The home has four fireplaces, inside and out. In addition to the one by the pool, there are two made of stainless steel, one on each floor, and one made of synthetic Tennessee Fieldstone upstairs.
The interior is dry-walled and faux painted true to the Mediterranean style. The exterior is distressed stucco that replicates Old World finishing techniques. The stucco crew started with a traditional smooth finish and then distressed it. Goehring used the true stucco, putting on two coats. Although some see traditional stucco as more prone to cracking than synthetics, Goehring says that if you do it right and let it cure properly, there is no problem.
The first layer of stucco, which bonds to the block, sets in about a day and a half. The second layer and the sealer take about 30 days to completely cure. The stucco is not protected from rain because the moisture slows the drying process; the slower it dries, the fewer cracks it has. If it seems to be drying too quickly when it is being applied, it is sprayed with the hose. Painting is the final step; special additives in the paint help keep the seal, but still allow the stucco to breathe.
The roof is done with concrete cap-and-tan barrel tiles that honor the 100-year-old style of tile roofing. Because it takes more labor and material, typically a modern tile roof uses the interlocking S-curve rather than the semicircle cap and tan. Goehring chose the older system because it is more authentic and aesthetic.
Step by step
"First, you clear the lot and have a surveyor point out the layout for corners," Goehring says. "Then, put down the batter board, (two-by-fours up to two-by-eights) and run a string line so the masons have something to go by. Then, we pour the footers and the masons lay the stemwall. We used a standard CMU block, 8 by 8 by 16 inches. The corner doesn't use a specialized block; we just set one 16 inches and the other 8 inches."
Goehring uses a high-strength mortar mix. It is mixed on-site in a small mixer that produces about 1/2 yard at a time. The sand and water are put in first, and then the mix is added. Next, more water is added to adjust the consistency of the mix. Adjustments are the mason's call. The block cannot be laid if the weather is too cold (28 degrees Fahrenheit or below) because the mortar becomes too hard; nor can it be laid if it is too rainy because it would be too fluid. If the weather is quite hot, some additive may be mixed in to help slow down the curing, but that again is the mason's call. The masonry walls are scraped clean each day with a pan scraper. If the wall is not kept clean, the drywall process can be out of plumb from covering bumps of hardened mortar.
Once the stem wall is laid, Goehring waits two or three days. If there are more than four courses set, he has to add No. 5 steel rebar every 4 feet, at every corner and at the windows and door openings. Window and door openings for masonry construction have to be accurate to 1/8-inch tolerance. Next, a 2-by-8-inch pressure-treated board is attached to a 2-by-8-inch ledger, so J-bolts and 22-inch metal strapping can secure the wooden floor joists for the second level. The same method is used to attach the ceiling joists. From there, the house is built with traditional wood-frame construction.
Heat and hurricanes
When you think of Florida, you think of heat. Goehring approached insulation in three ways. First, he used 3/4-inch rigid foam insulation and placed it on the interior side of the block in a furred-out area. Second, he used an open-cell expanding foam, which is poured in liquid form that fills all the crevices in the block surface. Third, he used L-foil that takes advantage of open air space for insulation. All of Goehring's houses have an energy evaluation specifically designed for masonry construction. It factors in square footage, window orientation and size to determine the proper tonnage for HVAC. The show house is heated by heat pump and heat strips, which are part of the air handling system.
In the attic, which is completely closed to outside air, Goehring used fiberglass batts on the ceiling and expanding foam, which was blown onto the plywood rafters. Consequently, the attic area is climatized, keeping the temperature within 5 to 7 degrees of the interior house temperature. It can be safely used for storage without fear of damage from the heat.
Another thing that Florida brings to mind, especially after last year, is hurricanes. "The three hurricanes that came through in 2004 dumped lots of rain on us in the building process," Goehring says. "But it did not do any damage most likely because of the new codes. We use more metal strapping, tighter nailing patterns, better shingles and adhesive for holding the roof tiles to the underlayment. Screws for attaching the doors and windows to the substrate also have improved engineering. The code is designed to produce a house that can stand up to 120-miles-per-hour winds. The highest we got during the hurricanes was 105 miles per hour."
According to Goehring, the response to the show home at the NAHB conference was highly favorable. The home was open to the public for a week and a half after the show before it was donated to the National Kidney Foundation and sold.
What's in the future?
"Masonry for homes is always going to be here, the perception of it is as the strongest," says Goehring. "The only downturn is the lack of adequate education and training for young masons. The future of masonry will depend on technical schools stepping up to train the next generation of masons. They need to get them when they are young, showing what the construction industry has to offer. The perception of a lot of young people is that it is a low-paying job that is a lot of hard work. It is hard work, but it is a well-paying job. Masons earn a good living and have plenty of work."