Article No: 222
From foundation to roof in four days
By: Steve Habel
The BuildBlock ICF installation may have set a world record for speed, according to Bill McGrath, the McKernon Group’s director of business development. The building team used a PolarSet accelerator to ensure the concrete would cure in four hours.
Though ICFs are a behind-the-scenes element of the “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” project, they are an integral part of the Vitale family’s new energy efficient healthy home. In addition, an under-slab Viper VaporCheck vapor barrier donated by Insulation Solutions nearly eliminates the possibility of problematic water-vapor migration from the soil into the concrete slab and crawlspaces.
The task was daunting—building a home from foundation to roof in less than a week. The cause was special—construction of a home for a family with special needs and extraordinary circumstances. And the pressure was high—making all this come together under a camera’s unblinking eye as the whole process was filmed for broadcast on network television.
After considering all options for this Vermont home, The McKernon Group, the project’s contractor and a master distributor for BuildBlock Insulating Concrete Forms, realized ICFs were the natural choice for the foundation and walls of the project.
The high-profile venture was commissioned for the popular ABC program, “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” acclaimed for radically rebuilding homes for families in need.
The family for the Green Mountain State assignment, which includes parents Lou and Sara Vitale and their two children, 3 ½-year-old Kane and 2-year-old Louie Jr., have been living in a hunting camp in Athens for the past five years. Louie Jr. was born with several birth defects, including Arthrogryposis, clubfeet, and skeletal dysplasia. He is on both feeding and breathing tubes and is confined to a wheelchair.
The McKernon Group has been building “green” for more than two decades. Bill McGrath, McKernon’s director of business development, says that in addition to BuildBlock ICF foundation and walls, the home includes state-of-the-art windows, low-flow toilets, sinks, and showers, Vermont-grown lumber, green-certified hardwood floors and Vermont slate.
“We also took advantage of the southern exposure to provide passive-solar heating and solar hot water,” says McGrath. “The use of insulated concrete blocks on both the foundation and walls reduces heating cost and environmental impacts by 30 percent. But most important, it provides the Vitales a totally new environment to raise and care for their family in a home that will be very low in maintenance costs.”
Each episode of “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” is self-contained and features a race against time on a project that would ordinarily take at least four months to complete. A team of designers, contractors and several hundred workers and volunteers complete an entire house, including the interior design and landscaping, in four days.
Brian McCarthy from the McKernon Group called BuildBlock’s Jason Fisher about the project a few weeks before the scheduled build date.
“Brian asked if it was possible to build a 2,900-square-foot ICF home in one day,” says Fisher, who served as the ICF technical advisor during the construction. “I told him that as far as I knew it had never been attempted, but with the right crew it would be possible. Brian and I started making calls and setting everything up for the impossible build.”
As participants gathered at the work site on the first day, the excitement in the air was like the seconds before the start of a horse race. Fisher’s team participated in pulling down the site’s existing hunting shack and had a little time to eat lunch as the heavy equipment cleared the debris and dug the hole for the frost wall.
There wouldn’t be much more time for a breath, much less a break to eat. Dario Lamberti, product manager for the moisture control division of Insulation Solutions, says that his team began rolling out the Viper VaporCheck barrier while the heavy equipment was still excavating the other side of the crawlspace. “The only thing that slowed up the installation process was waiting for the backhoe to get out of the hole so we could finish up that section,” says Lamberti, noting the entire building crew’s efficiency throughout the process. Insulation Solutions chose the high-performance vapor barrier instead of the standard 6-mil polyethylene barrier required by most residential projects because of its greater puncture-resistance and tensile strength. “By donating basically our thinnest material, they’re still getting an exceptional product for that crawl-space application. There were plenty of holes and punctures that were on site that the Vipor material was able to resist. In the long run, that family is going to have a nice, conditioned crawl space and not have any moisture problems down the road.”
After the rest of the slab and footer forms were in place and the rebar was set, crews started pouring the 9,000-psi concrete mixture laden with accelerators into the forms.
They were still pouring one side of the slab as the ICF crew set the vertical rebar for the first course of BuildBlock—by that time the sun had disappeared behind the spectacular mountain view. The slab crew was just pulling off their ride-on trowel as Fisher’s ICF crew whipped into a well-oiled frenzy, setting the first courses and placing the rebar for the 5½-foot frost wall.
“We had volunteers strategically placing BuildBlock forms around the hole,” Fisher says. “Other volunteers were handing the forms and rebar down to our ICF installers. The installation was going so fast, the ICFs seemed to grow out of the slab itself.”
As BuildBlock’s ICF installers worked, the framers were on the slab erecting pony walls and floor supports. There were people everywhere, and all of them were on a mission.
“We started pouring concrete from the unfinished floor as the framing crew was finishing the other side,” says Fisher. “We used the same mix design as the slab because we needed the concrete to cure to 3,500-psi in four hours so we could set trusses when the walls were finished.”
The crew used a PolarSet accelerator to speed up the curing process. Two concrete trucks were offloading into the pump truck at the same time. The long, backlit arm of the pump truck looked like a dragon’s tail reaching over the build site as clouds of dust filled the air.
“Our ICF crew jumped back onto the job as the last drop of concrete was deposited in the frost-wall forms,” says Fisher. They were diligently placing the blocks when Geoff Mees from Jamb-It-All arrived with his pre-built steel bucks. Mees carefully positioned his window and door bucks as the crews from New-Form stacked block for the first floor.
“We were setting block as fast as the volunteers could hand them to us,” says Fisher. “As we were building the exterior walls, the framers were framing the interior of the first floor. Meanwhile, the HVAC crews were installing ducting and the mechanicals and the plumbers were installing their plumbing under the floor we were working on.”
The heat radiating from the slab and ICF walls began to give plumbers and HVAC crews blisters on their feet. Volunteer firefighters brought in industrial-sized fans to help cool the area.
The first concrete mixers arrived shortly after the sun rose from the misty mountains. “We were working so hard and fast, most of us realized it was morning only when we saw the sun rising over the top of the mountains,” Fisher says. “We were finishing the last corner when concrete was being poured into the walls on the other side of the house.
“I have never seen an ICF home built that fast,” Fisher adds. “By the time we were finished, we stacked almost 800 forms overnight.”
The McKernon Group had the Vitales’ home Energy Star rated, and it exceeded everyone’s expectations, achieving the highest rating available. “It was the second tightest building the energy expert had ever tested, and we built it in less than a week,” Fisher says. “We built the impossible build and finished it on time.”
Headquartered in Oklahoma City, BuildBlock Building Systems produces state-of-the-art Insulating Concrete Forms (ICFs) at ten manufacturing facilities throughout the United States. ICFs are hollow EPS foam blocks which are stacked into the shape of the exterior walls of a home or building, reinforced with steel rebar and then filled with concrete. The EPS panels stay in place to provide permanent insulation. Used in combination with the concrete core, the ICFs result in a structure with remarkable energy efficiency, safety, strength, and noise reduction.
“We are thrilled to have participated in this exciting project by donating the forms and on-site technical support,” says Mike Garrett, BuildBlock’s chief executive officer. “It is a real boon for the entire ICF industry since it will expose so many people to the concept of ICF construction, especially in relationship to green building.”
The home was presented to the Vitales on September 12, with the telecast of the project set to air sometime in December 2007. There is little doubt of the fortunate family’s gratitude toward the project’s participants and the change their new home has made in their lives.
“I later found out ABC gave the Vitale family their choice of going anywhere in the world for a vacation,” says Fisher. “They chose to volunteer at a hospital in the same state. They helped people that have the same health problems their son is experiencing.”
“That solidified my feeling we helped the right family,” Fisher adds. “As our crews were working as hard as they were, the Vitale family was helping others. It reminded me of the Pay it Forward movie I saw a few years ago. I was proud to be a part of this extraordinary project.”