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A home that's built for keeps

November 30, 2012 12:10 am


Mosaic and ceramic tile add beauty to the showers in two bathrooms. hh113012concretePC9.jpg

The low-slung prairie-style home in King George County contains 750 tons of concrete and 4.5 miles of rebar. hh113012concretePC6.jpg

The careful siting of the house provides the rear with not only a walk-out basement, but also full southern exposure. hh113012concretePC4.jpg

A dual loop boiler heats water both for domestic use and the radiant floor system. hh113012concretePC3.jpg

The living and dining area of the insulated concrete form home has a two-story ceiling. hh113012concretePC2.jpg

The nearly completed kitchen shows that the ICF home will look like any other home once the drywall is installed. hh113012concretePC1a.jpg

A bed of stone around the home's permieter collects water running off the roof where it's collected in a French drain and carried to a 3,000 storage tank and recycled for irrigation.


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."


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."

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.

The runoff is filtered and collected in a 3,000-gallon underground tank. The water can be accessed from blue-topped spigots and used for irrigation or car-washing. Hose bibs attached to the house are hooked into the home's well-water system.


The house was designed and built for single-story living on the main level. It is flat throughout, even across the breezeway and into the garage. The master bathroom, with a granite vanity, has a roll-in shower that's a work of art with the combination ceramic and mosaic tile. There is also a secondary bedroom with its own bathroom on this level.

On the other side of the house is the large gourmet kitchen with granite countertops and commercial-grade stainless steel appliances.

Phelps explained that special care was taken with the large range hood because of its ability to draw large amounts of air out of the tightly built home. A few tweaks will allow the hood to do its job as intended without creating a vacuum.

This side of the house contains the laundry room, mud room, and access to the two-car garage.

The center area of the home with its soaring ceiling will be the dining and main living areas. Huge windows fill the area with light. The crown molding, part of the handsome dark-finished trim, will hide indirect rope LED lighting.

Flanking the main living area at the front are two home offices, one for him and one for her. Flanking the area at the rear are window-walled sun rooms, one of which provides access to a concrete deck with a wire railing that doesn't obstruct the view.

A wide staircase leads to the lower level and a spacious area for recreation. There are two bedrooms down here as well, a second master suite and a secondary bedroom with its own bathroom.

Altogether the house has four bedrooms, four full bathrooms and a half-bath.

Beneath the breezeway is a utility room with the hot water system and space set aside for the possible solar panel-heated water system down the road.

Continuing through that room leads to a workshop that's beneath the garage. Phelps said the workshop ceiling, with the two-car garage above it, is one of several places where the home is "overbuilt" to support both the weight of cars and the concrete.

Only the home's roof system and interior walls are wood framed.

Richard Amrhine: 540/374-5406

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

Copyright 2014 The Free Lance-Star Publishing Company.