Concrete in His DNA
By: Chad Deters
When you grow up in the concrete industry and your parents are icons synonymous with concrete construction, deciding to build a concrete house is an easy choice. Making the decision to use insulating concrete forms was yet another easy step in the construction process.
From there the word easy was no longer associated with the process because it was time to find a lot, design the plan, get financing, pull permits and determine which subcontractors I was going to use. Throw in the crashing housing market and the financial meltdown and it is a miracle a hole was ever dug. I learned early in the process that building this home was going to take patience and perseverance; what I didn˜t know was just how much. But this was going to be so much more than just a house for me: It was an experience I would continue to learn from during and after construction.
The construction process started with a bang, literally. I found limestone embedded two feet under the ground and spent two days busting out rock. After this short delay, it was time to pour footers and basement walls.
Instead of using insulating concrete forms (ICFs) in the basement, I wanted to try an idea that I had to help make concrete houses more affordable. I poured conventional concrete basement walls and then stacked the ICFs on top of them. The only walls that were ICFs in the basement were the walk-out portion. The basement required almost 100 yards of concrete and included two large retaining walls. It was waterproofed with Marflex on the exterior of the concrete walls and covered with foam board insulation to meet the local energy code.
It was finally time to start stacking the Nudura ICFs. The first ICF section was relatively small and consisted of 50 feet of 12-foot-high walls in the walkout basement portion and one form high on the concrete walls that had already been poured. As a builder, I wanted to minimize pump charges, so I decided to pour these walls at 6 a.m just before my basement slab was to be finished.
This was my crash course in neighbor relations. When the pump truck started setting up to pour at 5:30 in the morning, my neighbor was on my site in minutes " still in his pajamas with plenty to say about what he thought of my early morning pour. I explained that on a day that would be near 100 degrees that concrete has to be poured early. This however, was not comforting to him and was the start of a tense 9-month relationship. Unexpected guests aside, the pour was a success and it was time for the framers to start setting interior walls and putting in the wood sub-floor.
MIXING FORMS TO SAVE MONEY
The next phase of ICF construction was ready to begin, but that had to wait until I returned from my wedding and honeymoon. Upon returning, I quickly jumped back into construction and with the help of a few friends, a couple of ICF installers, and some beer and pizza we started stacking the forms for the first floor.
This part of construction allowed me to experiment with another theory I had that would also help to make ICF construction more affordable.
Instead of using one thickness of form for the entire first floor, I used a mixture of 4-inch and 6-inch concrete cores. I used the 6-inch core where it was needed structurally and the 4-inch everywhere else. I made the conversion from one thickness to the other at the corners so that when the drywall was applied, no one could see there was a difference in thicknesses.
Despite the inexperienced work force, the ICF construction moved along quickly and after two weeks of working nights and weekends the walls for the first and second floors were successfully completed. The house used 80 yards of 4,000 psi ICF concrete and two tons of ½-inch reinforcing steel to reach the roof.
HURRICANE IKE IN INDIANA
With ICF construction complete, it was time to frame the roof. That is until Indiana experienced the unthinkable " a hurricane! The remnants of Hurricane Ike met with a low-pressure system to create a freak weather event.
Just across the Ohio River in Louisville, Ky., 300,000 people were without power. Part of the roof blew off, and six extra bundles of ICFs that were in my front yard blew across the neighborhood, including on the neighbors roof more than 200 yards away.
I was left with no power and no roofing contractor. The roofer discovered that more lucrative storm repair work was plentiful, and he was never heard from again. Three weeks and countless dollars later, my construction project finally got back on track.
LIFE CHANGING TRAGEDY
On Oct. 8, 2008, my father passed out and fell at his house, and he was sent to the emergency room for tests. As we waited for three hours in the ER, we had some great conversations. He let me know how proud he was of me for everything I had accomplished and for building this house. I let him in on my secret that I was making a guest suite for him in the house so that he could stay anytime and as long as he wanted. The doctors eventually determined there was nothing seriously wrong and sent him home. The next day he passed away.
My dream of building my own concrete home now seemed like more of a nightmare. It went from being an exciting experience, to an unwanted burden. I lost my motivation, my passion and my drive, but I couldnt give up. I knew that my dad would never have wanted to see that. Fortunately, I had some great subcontractors and friends who helped me along the way.
As if all of this wasnt enough, Mother Nature stepped in again with a devastating ice storm that decimated the region and again shut down my construction site for more than two weeks.
MAKING ICFs MORE AFFORDABLE
My goal starting construction was to build an energy-efficient ICF home that was also very affordable. I got to put into practice some of the ideas I had running through my head after working on other people˜s homes.
Using these ideas, I was able to keep the cost of an ICF house within 2 percent of stick-framed construction, which would make it an easier sell to potential homeowners. Since completing my house last year, I have helped construct five more houses using poured concrete walls in the basement and ICFs for all above-grade walls. I recently helped stack the ICFs for a house constructed this way for Mike Oney Builder in the Homebuilders Association of Louisvilles 2010 Homearama, which would be seen by tens of thousands.
This idea has also helped turn the local poured-wall foundation contractors into ICF contractors. They quickly realized that they could keep their existing poured concrete wall work and then add to it by going above grade with ICFs. The very contractors who used to bad-mouth ICF construction are now some of its best sales people.
With a house that cost just 2 percent more than comparable conventional construction, I achieved the goal of affordability with ICFs. But what about energy efficiency? The 100 percent electric house was tested by an energy rater from Energy Star and it received a Five-Star-Plus rating and a HERS score of 63.
The HVAC system consisted of a dual-stage 16 SEER heat pump for the basement and first floor and a single-stage 15 SEER heat pump for the second floor. What I have found is that it is rarely necessary to use the second unit; instead, I leave just the fan on to circulate air through the second floor.
The appliances are all GE Profile and Energy Star-certified. The attic floor consisted of two inches of spray foam insulation to seal everything up and then covered with a thick layer of blown in fiberglass insulation.
All of these efforts paid off and the house is performing better than anticipated. It is the equivalent of 5,800 square feet of conditioned space and the electric bills have averaged $125 a month for the first year. This average included heating the house during a record cold spell in southern Indiana when the temperature didnt get above freezing for almost three weeks. Also, there was one month in the fall when I never turned on the heat or air-conditioning and the electric bill was just shy of $100.
NEW DECORATIVE TECHNIQUES
The ICF portion of the house was not the only area where I was able to experiment with new ideas. Advance Ready Mix Concrete, my employer, recently started a decorative division called Cornerstone Concrete Designs.
I used my house to try out some new decorative ideas and techniques. The driveway was poured using San Diego Buff integrally colored concrete. I tool-jointed a 1-foot border around the driveway and used Topcast 05 surface retarder to give the appearance of a sand-blast finish. I then used Topcast 75 for the main part of the driveway to give the more traditional exposed look of Ohio River gravel, supplied by Nugent Sand. This was all poured and washed at the same time, but now gives the appearance of two different concrete pours.
I also used the Topcast product on the front sidewalk and back porch. This concrete was poured using dark gray integral color and Eclipse shrinkage reducing admixture. The Eclipse Plus admixture allowed me to pour a 20-foot by 20-foot porch on the back of my house without a single joint or crack. This admixture was also used on my front porch, which was stamped using Outback Integrally Colored Concrete, a charcoal release and an ashlar slate stamp pattern.
The final decorative work I poured was the front apron and a porch on the side of the house. This was poured using the San Diego buff integral color, charcoal release and a slate texture skin stamp. The stamped concrete all had Stampseal 30 sealer from RussTech applied to it.
I did a lot of experimenting on my house and I am pleased with almost all of it. However, not all of my ideas were smashing successes. I decided to use integrally colored concrete for my garage and basement slabs. Unfortunately, my color selection did not give the desired results.
However, I was able to improvise and took it as an opportunity to try my hand at some acid staining. I had my basement slab cut into 4-foot by 4-foot squares and then I stained alternating colors between walnut and caramel. I then grouted the joints and put the same high gloss sealer on the concrete. It was a great learning experience and provided a durable and attractive finish for the basement floor.
Micah Construction and Broughton Construction of Louisville helped me with concrete flatwork on my house and did an outstanding job. It was partners like them who helped me complete the project when I wasnt sure that I could.
The house was finally completed in April of 2009. The construction process took almost nine months from the time the hole was dug until we moved in. When completed, the home was 3,300 square feet on the first and second floor.
The first floor is an open floor plan with 18-foot ceilings in the foyer and great room, which has built in cabinets and a stone fireplace. There is also a formal dining room and an informal dining area that connects to the kitchen. The master suite rounds out the first floor, and its bath has a Jacuzzi tub, tile shower and a large walk-in closet. The second floor has three bedrooms, two bathrooms and a loft area. The basement, which is still being finished, will add more than 1,000 square feet. The final touch in the basement is a safe room under the porch that provides safety from tornados or even the occasional hurricane.
What started out as a monument that would validate my life in the concrete industry in a way that made my dad proud, has turned into a beautiful, safe, efficient home and a model for others. My dad didnt live to see the home finished, but I know he would be proud that the house that he inspired is so well built, so energy-efficient and so affordable that it has already begun to convince others to build with concrete as well.
Chad Deters grew up in the offices of the Kentucky Ready Mix Concrete Association where his mother and father managed the association. After college he went to work for the Tennessee Concrete Association, and he is now the residential sales manager for Advance Ready Mix Concrete in Louisville, Ky. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.