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House built to fit a wounded Marine

November 16, 2012 12:10 am


LEFT: With the touch of a button or iPad, shelves slide down from the kitchen cabinets. hh111612peckram1.jpg

This custom-built home is for Marine Sgt. John Peck, who lost his limbs to an IED in Afghanistan. On Monday, Peck received the keys to this mortgage-free home in Spotsylvania's Estates of Chancellorsville. hh111612peckram7.jpg

The spacious master bedroom provides outdoor access. hh111612peckram6.jpg

The master bath features a jetted tub and roll-in shower. hh111612peckram5.jpg

ABOVE: Peck cranks up the tunes, showing off his whole-house sound system. hh111612peckram4.jpg

Kristen Pruitt, co-owner of American Heritage Homes, explains features in the kitchen of Sgt. John Peck's new home for news crews on hand for the key presentation Monday.


John Peck is pretty much like any young man moving into his new place. He wants to crank up the tunes on his new sound system for his friends to hear, and also wants to see to it that the fridge gets filled with food and drink.

The difference in this case is that this young man is Marine Sgt. John Peck, who lost virtually all of his limbs to an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan on May 24, 2010. He received his second Purple Heart, the first awarded after he suffered a brain injury in 2008 while serving in Iraq.

To help him live as independently as possible, a new smart home was built for him through the Tunnel to Towers Foundation, the Gary Sinise Foundation and the Veterans Administration. American Heritage Homes of Spotsylvania County built the home at cost, donating its construction services.

Peck, 27, who will live at the house with his mother, Lisa, received the keys--including the automatic push-button variety--during a poignant ceremony at the site earlier this week. It was also move-in day, with a moving van full of his belongings arriving the same afternoon.

"This was a jam-packed busy day," said Peck of the events Monday, which was, appropriately, the official observance of Veterans Day. "But I am so glad to be in here."

He said he was highly involved in the design of the home from the beginning, but first had to decide where the house was going to be. He's originally from Antioch, Ill.

"There were other places I considered--Illinois, California, New Hampshire," he said. "Virginia--I thought 'That's a nice place,' and it put me close to the hospitals [in both Richmond and Washington]."

He was also taken with the fact that the Estates of Chancellorsville subdivision is built on hallowed ground, and he has actual Union-built trenches on his property.

He said two things in particular allowed him to understand and help with the project.

"I learned CAD [computer assisted design] in high school and I'd designed a whole house," he said. "I've also always been able to pick up on technology pretty quickly."


American Heritage Homes co-owner Kristen Pruitt welcomed the opportunity to build the house, though it was unlike the luxury homes she's accustomed to building for her clients. She gave Spotsylvania code compliance officials credit for their cooperation and working through the learning curve that everyone shared.

"This house was built specifically for John," she said. "He has more of his left arm, so the faucets are to the left of the sink where he can reach them."

The kitchen looks like any nice, new kitchen, with granite countertops and stainless steel appliances. But consider the typical-looking contemporary-style, dark-finished kitchen cabinets. They have motorized shelves that are lowered from within the cabinets to reachable countertop height, activated either by a hard-wired switch or a tap on Peck's iPad. They retract out of sight with another touch.

Other kitchen features follow universal design methods in line with Americans With Disabilities Act guidelines, with roll-under sink, range and counter space, and an elevated dishwasher that's easy to load and unload.

Peck is aided by the prostheses for which he was fitted, but they're not comfortable enough to wear all the time.

"John's needs are so individual. The house is designed to meet those needs and help him live independently," said Pruitt. "The house needs to help him, and we needed to think through the day that way."

The house is built on a slab, and totally free of steps or other barriers. Hardwood flooring is used throughout, making it easier for Peck to move about in his chair.

The master suite, even more than the kitchen, is designed to serve him and his needs. It has a separate HVAC zone, Pruitt explained, because Peck lacks the surface area of arms and legs that help keep the body cool. So the indoor environment needs to be kept generally cool, especially for sleeping.

As a backup in the event of a power outage, a natural gas whole-house generator is ready to kick in.

Between the master bathroom and bedroom are a doorless roll-in closet and separate shelving area for easy access. This and other shelving were built after measuring and observing Peck's reach from his chair.

Enter the bathroom, and the first thing that happens is the toilet seat cover lifts up via a motion sensor. But that is hardly all that this touchpad-operated toilet does. The $2,500 appliance doubles as a bidet, automatically leaving the user clean and dry.

There is also a jetted tub and a separate roll-in shower with body sprays from the walls and ceiling in addition to the standard shower head. Soon to be added is a teakwood bench built to fit the perimeter of the shower. Teak shrugs off standing water and damp conditions.

As in the kitchen, bathroom faucets are on the left, within Peck's reach to adjust the water flow and temperature.

The house is thoroughly wired, allowing Peck to activate the whole-house sound system, adjust heating and cooling--even monitor the exterior of his house with soffit-mounted cameras. And he can do these things with his iPad, whether he's in the living room or half a world away.

Another high-tech feature is the weather sensor on the roof of the oversized, two-car garage. If there's ice or snow, the sensor activates a heating system beneath the turnaround portion at the top of the driveway, allowing Peck to maneuver his specially designed Chevrolet Silverado Z71 pickup safely before proceeding.

(The pickup has a laterally opening door that then lifts his motorized wheelchair into the cab, where it is locked into place behind the wheel. Special controls allow him to drive the vehicle.)

For the most part, the home looks like any other, inside and out. Some living areas are already furnished, thanks to a donation from Virginia's own Bassett Furniture. The laundry room is already equipped with an easy-to-use front-loading pair.

The house has 2,532 square feet of living space with three bedrooms, two full baths and a half-bath.

It's a handsome design that is largely maintenance-free. The single story ranch has overlapping gables for visual interest and is covered in broad, white HardiPlank siding. It was landscaped during a recent community volunteer event.

By far the lion's share of cost of the house is borne by the foundations with help from the VA. Pruitt put the market value of the house with the "smart" technology at about $650,000. The actual cost of Peck's house is significantly less because of donated labor and at-cost materials. She said the technology alone costs about $60,000.

Richard Amrhine: 540/374-5406

Here are the trade partners and vendors that worked with American Heritage Homes in building Sgt. John Peck's home:

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