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A home that's built for keeps page 2
Large concrete home was major engineering project.

 Mosaic and ceramic tile add beauty to the showers in two bathrooms.
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Date published: 11/30/2012


There is a single 4-ton, 20 SEER heat pump with energy recovery ventilator that will cool the house in the summer and provide supplemental winter heat, which Phelps expects will seldom be needed.

If the Simmses ever decide to add photovoltaic solar panels for their hot water supply, the necessary plumbing is built in and ready to go.

"With a house like this you want to plan ahead for everything," said Phelps. "It's much easier to patch a hole than punch a new one."

ICF construction uses foam forms that are stacked around steel rebar that sprouts from the concrete foundation. Concrete is then poured into the forms to create steel reinforced walls with foam insulation inside and out that provides a factor of R-45. The foam can be cut to accept wiring and outlet or switch boxes. Drywall creates an interior appearance like any stick-built home.

On the exterior, a stucco coating is often used, but the Simmses like the idea of brick. (True Virginia bricks were selected.) That only adds to the mass of the exterior walls, which on this house are 18 inches thick.


Much of the home's energy efficiency is derived from its passive solar design. It was sited with rear getting full southern exposure. There are lots of huge window in this house, all of them triple-paned. Those out of reach can be opened electrically while others open with casement-type cranks. Fully operable blinds are contained between the panes.

Key to the windows doing their job are the roof soffits. The overhangs of nearly 4 feet prevent the intrusion of direct sunlight during the summer months except late in the day on the home's west side, where the garage is.

On the other hand, the windows welcome the warmth of the wintertime sun, which hangs lower in the sky.

All of these aspects combine to qualify the house for Energy Star certification.

Yet another key enviro-friendly component is the rainwater collection system. The house is largely gutter-free, with water running off the drip edges of its metal roof onto a reddish-brown gravel that follows the perimeter of the house and hides the French drain system. The roof gutters that protect the home's entry points also direct water into the gravel.

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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