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A home that's built for keeps
Large concrete home was major engineering project.

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Date published: 11/30/2012

BY RICHARD AMRHINE

This is no ordinary house, and the proof is in the numbers: 1.5 million pounds of concrete (or 750 tons) and 4.5 miles of rebar went into its construction.

That information tells you a lot, but it's by no means the whole story.

Preston and Lynn Simms had owned the 42-acre parcel in the Mount Rose area of King George for decades. The question was what sort of house to put on it when the time came.

As career engineers, the Simmses were prepared to take on a significant project involving state-of-the-art, energy-efficient technology.

The answer was ICF--insulated concrete form construction. And when you're talking a home with 10,300 square feet of finished living space, you're talking a lot of concrete and rebar.

You're also going to need people who know what they're doing to execute this sort of engineering marvel. Working with the Simmses on their dream home were builder David Phelps of Innovative Property Developers (IPD Homes), architects Herlong Associates, Freeland Engineering, and Drafting and Design Associates--all from the Fredericksburg area.

Discussions about the design began in 2010, but actual construction took just over a year. The Simmses expect to move in before Christmas.

Phelps said during a tour of the house this week that collaboration is the key to such projects.

"We had to make many on-the-fly changes, but we expected that," he said. "But for the most part the exterior design remained unchanged."

BIG BUT EFFICIENT

Though the home's design footprint is substantial, its environmental footprint is extremely small, as builder Phelps explains. The primary source of warmth is radiant heat that emanates from the concrete floors on both the main and basement levels. It is a six-zone system--four on the main level, two on the lower--for which hot water is provided by a dual-loop, 98 percent efficient propane boiler that's no larger than a standard tankless water heater. One loop supplies domestic hot water, while the other sends hot water as required through a system of six pumps, one for each of the home's heating zones.

"Once this house is heated or cooled, it isn't going need a lot of help to stay that way," said Phelps, thanks to the the concrete floors and walls. It's all about the mass and "thermal dispersion."


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Here's a list of the subcontractors and suppliers involved in the project:

Concrete footers and flatwork: Brandonbilt Foundations

ICF provider: Creative Building Products

Concrete floor system: Metwood

Metal roof: Roof Works of Virginia

Brickwork: Huston Construction

Stucco: Lyon's Stone & Stucco

Deck railing and stairs: Virginia Railing and Gate

Windows: Pella of Richmond

HVAC: Country Heating & Cooling

Plumbing: Southern Spotsylvania Plumbing

Electrical: ROC Electric

Rain collection system: Tidewater Irrigation and Septic

Plumbing and lighting fixtures: Ferguson

Tile floors: Penn-Mar

Tile showers: RC Lee Carpet One

Custom cabinets: Artistic Designs

Stained trim and painting: IPD Homes

Architect Dana Herlong of Herlong Associates Inc. said the home designed for Preston and Lynn Simms is an example of how a house is supposed to be built.

"This is how you work the house and the site as one, using practical methods and good principles," she said.

The fact that both the Simmses are engineers made them a pleasure to work with, she said, despite the "learning curve" involved.

Details were covered down to exactly which trees were taken down. (The largest oaks were set aside, and one will become the Simmses' dining room table.)

When passive solar design is in play, it all begins with the siting, she said. In this case, the back of the house has a southern exposure to best use the winter sun.

"We considered the topography, and looked for the highest point," she said. That turned out to be near the center of the parcel, which also served the Simmses' desire for privacy.

The topography also allowed for the walk-out basement at the rear to provide easy outdoor access.

The plans went on to incorporate other aspects the Simmses wanted, such as universal design, front-to-back sight lines, energy efficiency with high-mass construction and passive solar, and as little maintenance as possible.

Herlong referred to the low-slung design as prairie style, which is generally associated with Frank Lloyd Wright and the Arts and Crafts movement of the early 1900s.

"We settled on a modular design that would give them the function they needed," she said, and the ICF construction was an ideal choice. The overhangs were calculated to provide summertime shading, and clerestory windows were used to provide continuous light.

Herlong referred to the "monitor roof," which recalls a time when people wanted to keep a close eye on their surroundings.

"When a complex project like this gets done with everyone working together, it's very rewarding," she said.

--Richard Amrhine