Article No: 164

2006-05-03 09:16:22
An Original Work
By: Carole McMichael

Photography by Aran Kessler Photo Imaging

The "Extreme Homes" program on HGTV tickles, intrigues and sometimes stuns viewers' imaginations. For example, builders and architects have showcased their creativity by designing exteriors that resemble tree huts, fairy-tale abodes and alien spacecraft. Though Vince Schrementi's Crete, Illinois, house has not appeared on HGTV yet, it would be right at home. The product of three years of work, Schrementi's home showcases the extreme creativity that earned him the 2004 International Bomanite Gold Award for "Best Project Worldwide."

Schrementi is the proprietor of Everlast Concrete, which he started in 1979. Everlast specializes in decorative, architectural, stamped, stained and colored Bomanite work. This work includes texturing and finishes for any type of hardscaping exteriors, such as driveways, walkways and patios, and interiors, such as floors and countertops, as well as features like fireplace surrounds.

Schrementi's artistic inclinations and the nature of his business make a happy marriage. He is always seeking innovative materials and textures, especially from nature, to come up with new surfacing designs. One of the reasons he was drawn to concrete for building a house was the great substrate it provided for his interior experimentation. He notes that, in this case, his experimentation was largely for his personal project rather than for the business because many of the textures would be a tough sell to the average homeowner.

The concrete canvas
Schrementi first prepared his interior walls by screwing a metal lath into the ICF fasteners across the entire surface. He then applied layers of thin-set concrete and used a wide range of texturing techniques. "Some were conventional stamped rock finishes, some were ones that I created using spray foam to make a mold," says Schrementi. "Different techniques of spraying foam or melting it with solvent create different textures. When it is done, I can make an impression on the wall."

"In the great room and foyer, I created different textures to resemble the layers of strata in the earth that would be revealed in deep excavation. You would see blacktop, some clay, some rock--all with different colors of earth--reproduced with Bomanite coloring and stains. Where the piano sits in the great room, I tried to develop textures as a wall finish that resembles rice paddies terraced on a hill--an inspiration from pictures in National Geographic Magazine."

Schrementi's living room is still a work in progress. He is sculpting concrete textures by hand and embedding found objects into the surface. He is also precasting some textures in wax. "I create impressions in hot wax, let it cure, then pour concrete into the molded wax," he explains. "Then I melt the wax off in my wife's oven, which so far has not been going over too well. I also use glass, and metal droppings soldered around found metal objects, then plaster them onto the wall."

Stairs to remember
Schrementi has also applied his artistic talents to the staircase to create a helix-shaped sculpture. The stairs have concrete handrails and extend from the basement to Schrementi's future office area above the kitchen. "They are supported by two steel I-beams that I had bent and twisted to form the stringers," he says. "The I-beams were put through a roll press, but to get the twist, I had them inserted at an angle. They had to be super-precise."

"Then, I framed up individual stair steps in a mop-head design, so it looks like thick linguini. The top of the steps I textured with a slate-like surface. My steel artist, who goes by the name of "Junkman Jeff," helped with the spindles, which were stick men walking up the stairs but carrying the concrete handrails. We cut out shapes of metal in body parts and assembled them as different characters and in different, sometimes comical, positions. Some are just carrying the rail, some are lying down propping it up with their feet, some are helping, others are horsing around as they hold the rail."

Naturally, as the owner of a Bomanite company, Schrementi installed concrete floors in his home. Some use stamped designs, but the floor under the piano features a giant yin and yang designed to intertwine four yin and yang symbols that represent Schrementi, his wife and two daughters. The pattern begins as one color and becomes four at its center.

Any concrete surface in the home is an invitation to Schrementi's artistic efforts. One of the steel I-beams has a welded design like a totem. Some of the kitchen countertops have leaves embedded in them, and some include pieces of glass or metal objects. A fireplace surround of brick and block is open on three sides. For this, Schrementi had a special truss made to carry the weight, and the bricklayer cantilevered his work so much of the weight is toward the back of the fireplace. Then, Schrementi used metal plaster laths as a supporting structure for sculptured cave-style formations that look like draperies. He finished the creation with a covering of thin-set concrete.

"The exterior is mostly cedar siding with natural wood stain," says Schrementi. "On the garage side, as concrete was still setting, I embedded steel dowels so they were protruding about 4 inches. After the ICF was done and dowels were set up, I put some form liners in a fieldstone design and poured the exterior. We framed up just one side. When it was poured up against the ICFs, it grabs onto the dowel bars. The wall is 6 inches thick and 4 feet tall. I also poured a sill cap that protrudes over the wall. Total wall width at that point is 17 inches."

Building with concrete
The idea of building the house itself from concrete was also part of Schrementi's pursuit of innovation. Although he had not built an ICF house before, he decided to be his own builder.

"I checked out four or five systems," he says, "and went with Reward Walls because there was a dealer in my area that worked really well with me. I put the wall forms up myself, but I had a product rep from Reward who came out to the job site to answer questions. The dealer gives you a binder, which is a kind of how-to manual, when you buy the system. I relied on that, plus my own background in pouring foundation walls.

"I went to one site before I started, but it was a finished project, so I didn't actually see ICF-building in process. A carpenter contractor, who did all the non-concrete aspects of my house, including the roof, helped me with the ICFs--he was interested in learning about ICF building as well. Our crew was made up of about five people, but they were not previously experienced with ICFs or concrete. I used the manual to train them, and spoke with the product rep at the start of construction. They adapted very easily. There was a little learning curve for the subs, who also didn't have ICF experience, but I showed them what to expect from the manual and, once they adapted, they were off and running."

According to Schrementi, building the shell was simple; his background in concrete helped immensely. It was also a slow process, in part because they were over-cautious and over-braced the walls, and in part because he was running a business and could not work on the house full-time.

Bumps in the road
The building process began on an upswing when Schrementi and his wife gave a big bundle of sketches and miscellaneous pictures, along with notes on the location of rooms to architect Grant Currier, who "absolutely nailed it." Then, things went south. After the engineer signed off on the plans, Schrementi spent a year and a half proving to the federal government that his land was not in a flood zone.

The next bump in the road came with the site. As Schrementi dug for the foundation, he reached the footing levels and discovered very poor silt soil, forcing him to excavate from 3 feet to 8 feet deeper than expected.
"There was trouble from the get-go," says Schrementi. "To accommodate the poor soil substrate, we needed 640 tons of stone dumped just to get up to the footing level. I had planned on just a 4-foot wall, but because we went so deep, I framed it up with 8-foot forms, and now have a poured-in-place basement under my garage. It is not a finished basement, but serves as the winter softball training room for my two daughters. It is great for pitching and hitting."

The ICF process
"Because of the poor soil condition," says Schrementi, "we spread the footings to about 36 inches wide, and 14 inches deep. We loaded them up with No. 5 rebar every 6 inches. I overbuilt it, but it was my first ICF house. We had rebar verticals coming up every 12 inches and poured the foundation wall over the top of the footings. We used hollowcore precast concrete planks, which are prestressed, for the floor. I chose it over wood because I though it might take me quite a while to frame it, and I didn't want the moisture to affect wood flooring. As it turned out, it didn't take a long time."

The concrete ceiling and floor planks attach to the top of the foundation wall, which is 16 inches wide. They sit on 4 inches of the wall and the ICF sits on 11 inches, so Schrementi had an inch to play with. The planks in the garage, which has a clear span of 33 feet, are 10 inches thick; the rest of the house uses planks that are 8 inches thick.

The Reward forms Schrementi used were 4 feet by 16 inches. They have an offset lap feature--one to the outside and one to the inside to connect the blocks (corner and angle blocks as well). To begin stacking the blocks, the crew slipped them over the rebar, which protruded out of the foundation. Then they were stacked up to 9 feet in most areas, but in some places they were higher. The walls with the glass block windows reach 16 feet.

"We did the whole 9 feet in one pour, but in layers," says Schrementi. "We didn't want to stick the hose down inside from the top of the wall, so we cut a 6-inch square block out of the ICF at about 4 feet up and put the pumper hose in the hole, so we were only dropping the concrete 4 feet. Then we went another 2 feet and then poured the final layer down from top of the wall. We continued laterally around the foundation and vibrated after each layer.

"We had one leak at the bottom where we first started because we forgot to close the spot. Then, in the 16-foot area, 4 feet from the top, we had a blowout at a corner that we didn't have adequately braced. They were both minor and easy to fix. Otherwise, everything went perfectly."

The final step in the building process was passing inspection. "We had the greatest and most understanding code inspectors in the world," says Schrementi. "They were very open to a lot of things that were new to them. The good part of building in a small town, where there is still some of the Mayberry left, is that common sense prevails.

"I have had inquiries from other builders, but they seemed curious mostly about why I would build with this technique. My answer: energy efficiency, structural soundness, quiet, no drafts, evenness of temperature, comfort."