Article No: 220

2007-09-24 13:51:06
Prairie Palace
By: Article reprinted with permission from the National Concrete Masonry Association

To hear masonry contractor John Born Jr. tell it, he and the boys just went out in their spare time, carrying with them a sketch of a plan, and set to work. And, when they were done, Born had himself a house.

“It is just a house done with what I do,” says Born, owner and president of Stone Masons Inc., in Kechi, Kansas, north of Wichita. The construction schedule was intermittent, he admits. “Since [my crew and I] did it ourselves, we did it when we had time. We probably worked on it two years.” But one look will tell you it isn’t “just a house.”

It’s more of a neo-Tudor-cottage-inspired palace on the prairie—a capacious 8,800 square feet, including the basement. Born wanted to be away from the city, so the house stands on 30 acres in the open country outside Wichita. It is distinguished by its deep-red decorative brickwork, its family of gables, a two-story polygonal bay dressed in limestone, vertical limestone dentil work at various corners, and two helix-shaped chimneys.

The entire exterior of the house is brick and stone veneer attached to structural concrete masonry walls. Concrete masonry units (CMUs) give the house mass and protection against the elements, but the famous Kansas twisters don’t concern the mason contractor—he doesn’t think of CMU’s strength for storm resistance as its chief benefit. “I’ve lived in Kansas all my life and I’ve only seen tornados twice—as a kid,” he recalls.

What he likes is how block prevents the transmission of sound. “There could be thunderstorms outside, but it’s quiet inside the house.”

Born has lived in his prairie palace for ten years. This is the third house he has built for himself, but the first using CMUs. Earlier homes had wood frames with masonry veneer—the only way they build them in Wichita, he asserts. Then he got the idea to build what he knows: veneer over concrete masonry backup, just like the commercial structures his company builds most often.

“I’ve done masonry construction since I was 14 years old. Applying commercial specifications to this house was no news to me,” he comments matter-of-factly.

Deep window ledges
The only wood in the house is in the floor and roof trusses. Everything else is block, brick, or stone, making the house highly fire resistant. The exterior of the house is a 4-inch veneer of clay brick and stone. Before the veneer was laid, the builders applied 1 1/2-inch-thick rigid insulation to the structural CMUs, while allowing an air space between the insulation and veneer. Flashing and weeps were used above all openings and at the floor level.

Born installed bond beams at each floor and at roof level, and used masonry lintels over the windows. The walls are vertically reinforced at 32 inches on center, and on both sides of the windows and doors. Remaining un-grouted cells were then filled with loose fill insulation, according to Born.

“On the interior side of the block walls, we furred them out with 1 1/2-inch metal studs before the sheet-rock was applied,” Born says. “Then we ran the wiring between the block and the sheetrock.”

The result is a solid, low-maintenance home—with deep window ledges. Born loves his window ledges, saying, “This gives you a nice, thick window area. There are 12-inch window ledges throughout the house. It’s a rich look, in my opinion.”

The house has five bedrooms, a large entry foyer, family room off the kitchen, library, office, and computer room. The drama continues with four imposing masonry fireplaces, pushing smoke up through ornate, eye-catching chimneys. A spectacular, smooth-cut flagstone stairway leads to the second floor.
When asked what inspired the appearance of his home—inside and out, he simply replies that he likes beautiful architecture, and so does his wife, who designed most of their family’s impressive home. Concrete flat tile covers the roof. “So we don’t have to worry about home damage.”

If a tornado were to hit, the family could take refuge in the storm shelter in the basement, where Born installed a 4-foot by 10-foot CMU-walled safe room. Heavily reinforced and solid grouted 8-inch CMU walls, and a reinforced concrete ceiling just below the first-floor joists provide the necessary protection against any tornado that might pass through.

CMU now, CMU next time
Construction of the house began below grade. “We poured 8-foot concrete stem walls for the basement walls,” Born explains. “Then added two courses of 8-by-8-by-16-inch CMUs before the floor trusses, and went on to make the ceiling height in the basement 9 feet, 4 inches.”

He continues, “We pocked out for the top chord bearing-floor trusses, and continued with 8-inch block to the second floor trusses, setting those for 10-foot ceilings. Beginning at the second floor, the design switched to 6-inch block and stepped back to set our trusses.” He cut 2-inch deep pockets into the 6-inch wall, which when added to the 2-inch ledge created by the step-back, a full 4 inches of bearing was provided.

The house is so solid that “after 10 years we don’t have a single crack in the exterior of the house.”

The house may not have changed, but Wichita has. The city is growing and is catching up with John Born, and he’s pondering the next house he’s going to build.

“My next house will be built in the same fashion. It will be a masonry house again,” he declares. “I love the strength and the quietness CMU gives.”
Will he do anything differently? His response suggests that he has no complaint with CMU.
“In the next house, we’ll do away with the carpeting.”
Text and photography reprinted with permission from Concrete Masonry Designs, courtesy of the National Concrete Masonry Association (NCMA).