By: KARIN MARIE
Sometimes fate plays the architect with a master plan: laying a foundation, opening doors, bringing the right materials together and creating a project charged with electricity. Such is the case with the Portland Cement Association's show home for the International Builders' Show in Atlanta this February.
The International Builders' Show is the largest construction industry conference in North America, and 2002 marks the ninth year that PCA has featured a show home, says the association's residential promotion manager, Jim Niehoff.
The annual conference attracts construction professionals from about 100 countries. For the concrete home industry, it provides an extraordinary opportunity to reach and educate thousands of builders. As in past years, PCA and numerous vendors will provide a ready mix of concrete-related information at the conference, set up together in an area dubbed the Concrete Pavilion.
While builders can learn about techniques, products and suppliers at the tradeshow, the show home offers a tangible demonstration of what can be achieved with residential concrete construction.
"We want to give builders an opportunity to walk through a concrete home and see that it's not a bunker," Niehoff says.
This is an opportunity that PCA highly values. "Builders can be a harder sell about concrete homes than homeowners," Niehoff says. "While homeowners get excited about the benefits like energy efficiency, safety and durability, builders want to know if they are going to be able to sell concrete homes."
PCA expects between 60,000 and 70,000 people to tour the show home. Conference attendees are taken by special bus to the site. The tour lasts about three hours and includes a stop at a Habitat for Humanity project that also features concrete construction. Following the conference, the show home will be open for public tours.
This year's show home, "The Hideaway," was built by Three Crown Construction of Snellville, Ga. It is constructed with insulating concrete forms (ICFs) manufactured by Polysteel.
This year's show home generated a great deal of excitement, and is, perhaps, a sign of things to come. To understand why, one must know, first of all, that residential concrete construction is primarily a high-end custom home business.
Secondly, in past years, the show home has been built specifically for the conference. "We hook up with a builder for the project — sometimes it's a concrete home builder, sometimes not," Niehoff says.
But this year is different. The Hideaway is the first house to go up in a 30-home subdivision of concrete homes. In addition, the development was on the drawing board before PCA started thinking about this year's show home.
Three Crown owner Steven Miles began planning the subdivision, named "Governor's Walk," more than a year ago.
"Steve is a builder who believes in concrete homes," says Will Oliver, an independent distributor for Polysteel.
Governor's Walk is located about 30 miles outside of Atlanta in a rustic setting. In addition to the ICF panel construction, The Hideaway features decorative concrete elements such as concrete countertops and flooring. The home's interior walls are a combination of concrete panels and traditional wood framing.
The 7,416 square foot home is two-story with a full basement. It has four bedrooms and four full baths. In addition, it includes a computer room, library, game room, two pantries and a wine cellar. Special features include a garden parlor, loft, five porches, an outdoor bar and a home theater that doubles as a safe room (a concrete-reinforced room that withstands tornado- and hurricane-level winds).
The floor between the basement and ground floor is also constructed of concrete. Decorative concrete components include stamped and stained interior floors as well as exterior walkways and pool deck. The countertops for both the indoor and outdoor bars are made of concrete. The home's exterior is brick.
Oliver played the role of matchmaker, bringing the Governor's Walk project to the attention of PCA. "I had been working with Steve and realized it was time to get ready for the 2002 show," he says. "So I introduced Steve to PCA. He was going to build a Polysteel neighborhood regardless of whether he participated in the show or not. It was a perfect marriage."
Miles became interested in alternative construction techniques as a student at Georgia Tech University. "When I started college, I wanted to build skyscrapers," he says. "I became interested in houses because they are more personal and intimate." He researched a variety of residential building techniques, from steel frame to rammed earth, for a thesis-like final project. During this time, he met Oliver and learned about ICF construction.
He liked concrete construction because it utilized the fundamental characteristics and properties of concrete to its best advantage. Other types of alternative construction, he says, were either impractical or were just traditional construction using non-traditional materials, such as steel.
After college, Miles worked in traditional frame building, both in renovations and new construction. While he started his own construction company in 1997, it took another three years before he moved from traditional building to concrete.
"I started in wood because that's what everyone was familiar with," he said. Once he built a reputation as a builder, Miles began the switch to concrete construction.
Governor's Walk, which he refers to as a neighborhood, rather than a subdivision, has a number of unique characteristics, such as shared driveways and a one-way looping street with a center median. The median begins as an eight-foot strip at the entrance, widening to a 110-foot neighborhood-gathering place with a gazebo.
The homes are in the Charleston style, with large front porches, big windows and multiple floors. Some are reproductions of historic homes. Miles credits his mother with the idea for the exteriors. He also works with his father, an architect, who does the designs. "My job is to get out in the mud," he says.
The community is causing a buzz in the area, Miles says. By early December he had six pre-sells. When The Hideaway is complete, he and his family will move in.
Interestingly, builders on the PCA show home tour will be able to see two types of residential concrete construction. A second stop is a Habitat for Humanity site demonstrating concrete construction for the affordable housing market — a market that the industry is just beginning to tap.
"It's exciting that builders can see different applications and techniques on this tour," Niehoff says.
The International Builders' Show runs February 8-11 in Atlanta. For more information, call 800-368-5242 or go to www.buildersshow.com.