Article No: 297

2011-07-14 09:16:48
Huff and Puff

One of the most valuable pieces of land for building in any coastal community is as close as you can get to the beach because a breathtaking water view can motivate buyers to shell out millions for a home that complements the view.

But the nagging question in the back of a buyer’s mind is "When I go back home after a summer at the shore, will my multi-million-dollar investment still be there when I come back?" Certainly there are risks to homes built in oceanfront communities: hurricanes and other storms, winds, flooding, mold, rot, pests and the constant deterioration from the year-in, year-out pounding that a home near the water takes.

But coastal building technology has developed into a wind and water science, and regardless of code requirements, concrete construction has an inherent superiority over other building methods and materials. Not only will a well-built concrete house be standing tall year after year, but the owner will save money along the way.

Dave Eppes, Don Stewart and Harvey Ryan – principals in Turnstone Builders of Rehoboth Beach, Del. – wanted a project that would demonstrate their capabilities to high-end buyers, as well as to demonstrate their growing confidence in insulated concrete form (ICF) building systems, which virtually mitigates and eliminates all of the risks of building near the water.

The result is a 7,100-square-foot luxury home in North Indian Beach, Del., just south of Dewey and Rehoboth Beaches, that well may be one of the most beautiful and functional homes on the mid-Atlantic Coast. Just finished and still conducting a series of open house events in June and July, this beautiful house currently has five bedrooms, four baths, two half-baths, a media room, 2,200 square feet of deck space and 1,900 square feet of living space on the ground floor that can be customized to the buyer’s desire.

But the "priceless" advantage of this home is the spectacular view that ensures quality living and an awesome venue for entertaining. The home boasts an enormous front porch, wrap-around decks and a private master bathroom deck. from the rooftop deck there are 280 degrees of local ordinance-protected, unobstructed views of the ocean and the bay, as well as surrounding towns.

Eppes said the house is situated in a perfect location.

"The street in front of the house separates the town limits and the county limits, so on the other side of the road, the height limit of all the houses is 35 feet," Eppes said. "On our side of the road, the height limit is 42 feet. So we’re a good seven feet above all the houses across the front of the house, giving a direct view of the whole town. In fact, from our rooftop you can see two towns over." And the height advantage assures a measure of privacy on the rooftop deck.

The property itself was what started the project. "Having been down in this area for a long time and to see the effect that the real estate slump has had on some of the lots; during the heyday, I would have had to pay twice as much for this lot. To have such a large lot so nicely situated – we just couldn’t pass it up.

"The decision to build right now wasn’t exactly opportunistic as to the real estate market, but I thought it was opportunistic in terms of demonstrating our capabilities and trying to demonstrate this technology on a really grand scale. That’s why we made the decision to go ahead with the construction even though the market for high-end homes is really pretty much nonexistent."

The coastal property in the area is one of the prime destinations for people living in or around Washington D.C., Baltimore and Philadelphia. He said he believed the house would be bought as someone’s second home and eventually it would become their primary residence.


"In the last 100 years there have probably been 17 hurricanes that have struck the Atlanta Coast, most of which did not directly hit us," Ryan said. "But we experienced winds up to 75-100 mph with decent tidal surges and things of that nature. But one of the biggest issues we’ve have are the nor’easters, and we’re very prone to nor’easters in this area."

A nor’easter is a storm along the East Coast of the United States and Atlantic Canada that can occur anytime of the year but most commonly between October and April. Nor’easters can be devastating and damaging, especially in the winter months, when most damage and deaths are cold-related, as nor’easters are known for bringing extremely cold air down from the Arctic air mass to meet the warmer ocean water from the Gulf of Mexico. These storms thrive on the converging air masses and can hang around offshore and pound an area relentlessly for days.

"Back in 1962 was the biggest one that everyone knows about," Ryan said. "Back then, there were about 400 people living in the area along the coast. Now there are more than 24,000 permanent residents. Most of the coastal homes were destroyed, as well as businesses, boardwalk, bridges, everything. Calculating with today’s dollars, there was about $512 million in damage to this area."

He was referring to the "Great Atlantic Storm," also known as the "Ash Wednesday Storm of 1962 (heaviest damage occurred on Ash Wednesday)" or the "Five High Storm (lasted through five high-tide cycles)," which raged March 6–8, 1962, along the mid-Atlantic coast of the United States. The storm lingered for five high tides over a three-day period killing 40 people and injuring more than 1,000 while pounding coastal areas with continuous rain, high winds and tidal surges, and dumping large quantities of snow inland for several hundred miles.

The massive Great Atlantic Storm, which had wind gusts up to hurricane strength, was caused by an unusual combination of three pressure areas, combined with atmospheric conditions of the Spring equinox, which normally causes exceptionally high tides.

Waves more than 40 feet high occurred at Rehoboth Beach, destroying the boardwalk and most beachfront homes. Sand dunes were flattened along the entire length of Delaware’s ocean coastline. The tidal surges during five high tide cycles forced flood waters all the way through the bays and lowlands, which couldn’t flow back out until the storm abated. It damaged property in six states.

"The land this house is situated on is two blocks wide. We’ve got ocean on one side and then we’ve got bay on the other with two blocks in between, so there was a complete wash-over," Ryan said. "Basically the ocean and the bay met in the middle, right down a major highway."

It was considered by the U.S. Geological Survey to be one of the most destructive storms ever to affect the mid-Atlantic states, and one of the 10 worst storms in the United States in the 20th century.


But Eppes said ICFs are the most secure of any construction system for coastal areas. "For this area, this really is the new standard for coastal living." Storms aside, he said problems most people in coastal areas constantly face on a daily basis are high wind, noise, rot, constant high humidity, heavy rain not related to storms, mold and insects. ICFs are resistant to all coastal threats.

"The wind loads that occur coming off the ocean just continually pick apart the houses – especially older houses that are stick-built. They just deteriorate. However, the ICF is able to withstand the high load we experience on an average winter down here."

Wind uplift is not a problem with an ICF concrete home because the house weighs 1.5 million pounds, and is a completely sealed envelope, including the roof. The noise with a normal storm with high wind and heavy rain can be deafening and frightening in a traditional wood house, but with concrete the exterior noise is substantially reduced.

"Wind-driven rains here can go on and on," Ryan added. "And if there’s any place in the envelope that’s not sealed tight, you’re going to have people constantly taking off siding or deck boards and finding rot throughout the house."

This ICF house can withstand a 20-foot water surge and the impact of items being blown about in more than 100mph winds.

"If you went up and down the coast with the humidity levels and the moisture from the ocean, there’s probably not too many houses that do not have a mold issue. But using ICFs with the polystyrene—2 inches exterior and 2 inches inside the concrete, you don’t have any mold growth or bugs."


If a major hurricane plowed through this community, the reason this house would most likely weather the storm is because it is a sealed concrete envelope sitting on 3-foot by 3-foot grade beams joined to 74 pilings that go 20 feet deep into the ground. The grade beams are tied directly to the pilings with steel-reinforced concrete; the ICF walls, the floors and the ICF roof are also steel-reinforced concrete – and it is all tied together from the roof to the pilings.

Stewart said there are HSS steel columns attached to the pile caps with 24-inch-long by ¾-inch anchor bolts, and the steel columns extend vertically to provide additional support in different areas with different point loads.

"The pilings were driven in about 20 feet. Once we capped the pilings off at the bottom, we drilled two adjacent three-quarter-inch holes in each piling," Stewart explained. "We then inserted No. 6 rebar in each hole with an X in each piling. The rebar was then bent straight up and turned in a hook at the top of the piling.

"From there, we went ahead and poured our 3-foot by 3-foot grade beams that joined all 74 pilings. Inside the grade beams were No. 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8 rebars – horizontal and vertical to form different cages. That rebar actually goes through those hooks into the pilings, so it makes the grade beams tie directly to the pilings.

Inside the grade beams, vertical rebar stood up to about 20 feet above the beams, which was used inside the Quad-Lock ICF walls. So the ICF walls were set-formed to wrap the footings. In the ICF wall, there is horizontal rebar every other course and the vertical rebar coming from the grade beams were then tied into the horizontal to go straight up to the roof.

On the roof, Stewart said they used Quad-Deck, a roof product from Quad-Lock.

"Actually we set our panels and the side walls were poured to within 6 inches of the roof and we set our Quad Deck panels and used the two No. 5 pieces of rebar and a 4-inch cage wire mesh on top. The horizontal rebar running across the Quad Deck was then tied down into that 6-inch drop in the wall into the horizontal and vertical rebar.

"We then poured 2 inches of concrete on top, which actually forms down to 12-inch I-beams with rebar when poured inside the Quad Deck," Stewart said. "The roof is tied into the walls and the walls are tied into the grade beams and the grade beams are tied to the pilings."

There are two covered third-level turrets on each side of the front of the house that are actually structural columns. The exterior walls of the back of the turrets run at a 23-degree angle forming a 45-degree angle against those walls.

"They are sitting on top of an I-beam because concrete had to be poured on top of something and we couldn’t use wood. So the HSS steel columns extend throughout the house at different locations holding up these steel I-beams. So when the concrete is poured around the steel it actually binds to the steel."

Two horizontal structural beams, comprised of three steel wide-flange beams, extend from the front to the rear of the house with four HSS steel columns transferring the load directly to the grade beams. Quad-Lock can run up to a 42-foot span, but anticipating the weight and the wind load the engineers wanted two 12-foot by24-foot steel beams to help with some of the lateral loads going the opposite direction from the I-beams formed in the concrete.

The first-floor is a 4-inch-slab with an 8-inch turndown all the way around that was poured in between the Quad-Lock walls, tying the slab into the walls directly every 2 feet with horizontal rebar. A regular No. 4 rebar schedule runs right through the slab with 4-inch mesh. Stewart said this is actually "balloon construction" where the walls are continuous all the way up and the floor system sits inside of it.


While Eppes, Stewart and Ryan are concrete evangelists, Ryan said Turnstone builds stick houses as well as concrete houses depending on what the customers wants. "The overall cost for this house because of its size and steel was about 11 percent more than a stick-build house. We just don’t know with the wind loads in this area if we could even build a stick-built home of this size here."

Basically, 2,000 square feet elevates up to 42 feet high where the unobstructed winds are even higher.

Ryan said that if the house wasn’t made of concrete, it probably wouldn’t be able to withstand the actual winds.

"With the technology that went into this house, it’s almost built like a hotel. If it was built of wood, the cost would be enormous with all that strapping and framing we would have to do. The concrete is much stronger and enables us to build the house and save on some costs.


Ryan said they stacked the ICFs 10 feet at a time and then poured, doing one story at a time about every week and a half. Each time they built a new floor it helped to provide the stability needed to raise another story of concrete walls. Interior walls were added after the shell was completed.

"We chose Quad-Lock because of the complexity of the house," Ryan said. "We’re not tied to any one manufacturer’s product, but for this project, Quad-Lock was a better product for us to use. It is a very versatile product and as far as doing the angles and the changes in the wall thicknesses from 6 inches to 12 inches, that product helped out a lot."

They actually hired additional help for the project because they were under extreme deadline pressures, as well as the sheer size of the house. The homeowner’s association only allows construction from September through May. They drove the pilings at the end of March and had to have the shell completed before the three-month work stoppage began.

Eppes said getting ready for the roof also involved shoring up the entire house to support the load and the weight of the pour. Putting the panels on was a three-day job, but shoring from the third-floor down to the first-floor down to the ground-level in order to support the weight during the pour took an extra week and a half.

"If you are trying to pour concrete three stories high and the walls are just floating, it definitely raises the degree of difficulty," he said. "I don’t think most companies would attempt such a complex project with the walls not being stacked. It definitely slowed the process a little, but I think we motored through it pretty well."

They said one of their key objectives was that when people drove by and looked at this home, they would think it was a traditional home and have no idea it was a concrete home. They all agreed that they had accomplished this goal.

To that end, Turnstone added a 42-inch Mansard roof around the flat-rooftop deck. It not only looks like a normal roof, it also provides a measure of privacy for people on the rooftop deck, and it provides a handrail around the edge of the deck.

The deck is covered with a moisture-cure, fire-resistant two-coat polyurethane elastomeric coating system called GEOGARD.


Compared to a typically constructed home (stick-built), which has an insulation rating of R-13, an ICF home is rated R-38. This provides energy efficiency, indoor air quality, constant temperature control, and elimination of outdoor noise.


The house has an inverted floor plan with living area on third level, five bedrooms on the second level, and a garage and additional bedrooms, media room, gym, game room or office on the ground floor.

Entrance to the ground floor is through the garage or through a ground-level sliding door. In addition to the garage, there is 1,900 square feet that has been left open for use by the eventual owners as additional bedrooms, a home gym, game room, storage or other uses. Interior stairs go to the first floor, and an elevator connects all three levels.

In addition to the interior stairs from the ground level, exterior front steps lead up to a grand two-story foyer entrance with a two-story hall that goes all the way through to the back of the house. On this level is the master bedroom and bath, as well as four other bedrooms and three baths. The master bath shower has a door that opens into an outdoor shower on a private deck.

The top level is 2,500 square feet of mostly living and entertaining space that includes the kitchen, dining room, living room, a powder room and a media room or office.

This level takes advantage of one of the best views on the property.

"When we acquired the lot, we were pleasantly surprised to find that on the southwest corner of the house we have really great views back over the bay at that height, so we decided to take advantage of that view from the kitchen," Eppes said. "The kitchen opens up to sort of an indoor-outdoor dining and entertaining situation because we have a very large screened porch that also opens up through those windows.

"There is an angled wall in the kitchen similar to the two angled walls in the front. That wall is a floating glass window that is 9 feet wide. You open two latches and the whole window opens completely in an accordion fashion. The kitchen countertop extends through to a bar top out on the screen porch out on the back of the house."

Down a hall to the media and powder rooms there is a set of interior stairs to an 1,800-square-foot rooftop deck. The deck has a 280-degree panoramic view of water from both the bay and the ocean, and offering spectacular sunrises and sunsets.


Stewart said that one of the ways ICF houses save their owners money is that smaller systems are needed to heat and cool the house. A unit this size would cool a 4,000-square-foot home, but is adequate for this 7,100-squre-foot home, making it very efficient.

"We find we can reduce our system size by about 40 percent," he said. "In this house we were able to go with a small-duct high-velocity central heating and air conditioning units from Unico. Actual vents in the rooms are about 2.5-inch diameter circles.

"The vents are high, so they basically wash the walls. With 10-foot ceilings, your air flows are really high and wash back on the walls, so you are not getting a lot of drafting or cold spots or hot spots."

The Unico manufacturer claims their units remove 30 percent more relative humidity than other systems, an advantage for coastal living.

"These houses are so tight that they are prone to humidity, so we installed an energy recovery ventilator (ERV) system which takes the inside air through a unit that’s placed on the first level so that when the air comes back through the return, it forces the air back," Stewart explained. An ERV takes the latent energy out of the air as it dehumidifies and exchanges the humid, stale air for fresh outdoor air.

For those who enjoy coastal living and entertaining, a luxury house like this that requires virtually no upkeep yet stands up to almost anything Mother Nature can throw at it – season after season – can truly say that life’s a beach.