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User-friendly home is welcome Christmas gift

December 21, 2012 12:10 am


The concrete-filled Styrofoam forms, plus drywall, create foot-thick walls that help maintain interior temperatures. 122112concretehousescr3.jpg

Berber carpet is easier for a wheelchair to move about on than standard pile carpeting. 122112concretehousescr2.jpg

That's 'hardwood' vinyl in the master suite. An extra-wide pocket door separates the bedroom from the bathroom. hh122112tumble3.jpg

The concrete panels rise on what would become Terczak's insulated concrete form home in Caroline County. hh122112concretescr4.jpg

After living for 20 years in the single-wide in the fore-ground, Terczak will move into his new house nearby. hh122112concretescr1.jpg

Peter Terczak will have lots of room to move around in his new home, which he helped design to be user-friendly for someone with a disability. The insulated concrete form house was built by G.H. Watts Construction.


Just in time for Christmas, Peter Terczak will move into his new Caroline County home, and after 20 years in his old single-wide trailer, moving day couldn't come too soon.

He'll become the owner of a comfortable, insulated concrete form house built by G.H. Watts Construction of Bowling Green.

Terczak and his brother, Frank, will call the place home. It has three bedrooms, three bathrooms and 2,200 square feet of living space on a single, barrier-free level.

The barrier-free part is particularly important to Peter Terczak, who has been rolling himself around in a wheelchair for the past 37 years. Back in 1975, when he was 16 and at Gar-Field High School in Prince William County, the athletic Terczak took an unfortunate tumble on his head while doing some flips in gym class, which crushed his spinal cord and cost him the use of his legs.

Twenty years ago, looking to get away from busy Prince William County, he found a secluded 2.3-acre lot off Tanglewood Road in northern Caroline County and put the single-wide on it. It wasn't the easiest place to move around in, and getting to and from his car involved using a fairly steep ramp.

Last spring he decided it was time to figure out what to do about his future. He and his brother looked at some houses in the area but could find nothing that was both decent and affordable, let alone that would be any easier for him to use.

But a couple of times they'd driven by a house going up with a G.H. Watts Construction sign out front.

"The thing was I didn't want to wait for a house to be built. I wanted to move right away," he said. "But I was surprised at how fast they were building that house."

On Aug. 12--a date Terczak won't forget--he made the call to G.H. Watts, and owner Gary Watts answered the phone. They discussed the situation and what Terczak needed, and Watts immediately committed to making Terczak's dream come true.

Watts associate David Elsey took it from there. And the first thing they figured out was that the house could be built on the lot Terczak already owned, as long as the old single-wide was removed within 30 days of the new house's occupancy permit being granted.


"What Peter needed was not necessarily a house that met all the ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] guidelines, but something that would work just for him," said Elsey. "We also had to work within a tight budget."

It didn't hurt that Terczak had picked up some residential design experience along the way, so he knew what was and wasn't possible. He also knew what he needed and wanted.

"The whole house is basically his design," said Elsey. "Our job was to provide what the customer wanted."

Elsey came back with a plan for a stick-built ranch that incorporated a variety of universal design features. Not surprising, though, it came in over budget despite the company's efforts to provide the best possible deal. But there had to be a way.

Well, how about ICF construction? The initial cost would be a little higher, around 8 percent, but month-to-month utility bills would be cut between 50 and 70 percent. It's also storm, moisture and mold-proof.

Elsey said the positive cash flow each month would quickly repay the initial cost and make the house cheaper to operate in the long run.


Coincidentally, Elsey said G.H. Watts recently became a regional mid-Atlantic dealer for Quad-Lock Insulating Concrete Forms, and the manufacturer provided materials for the house at cost as a demonstration project, savings that were passed along to Terczak.

The change also made it cost-effective to build the house on a conditioned crawl space rather than a cold slab. Elsey explained that Quad-Lock forms are designed to lock together efficiently at intersecting wall T's, and are easily cut to create custom curves if they're in the plans.

"We're not limited to 90- or 45-degree angles," Elsey said.

Also, in addition to the vertical steel rebar that's inserted into standard ICF forms before the concrete is poured, the Quad-Lock design accepts horizontal rebar every 12 inches up the wall for even greater strength.

"He ends up with R-22 insulated walls that not only reduces his utility bills, it lets him drop down by half on the HVAC system and to a much smaller whole-house generator for when the power fails," Elsey said. The thermal mass of the concrete helps keep the indoor temperature comfortably steady.

Terczak added that power outages are fairly frequent in that area of Caroline and can make life particularly difficult for him, so the generator was a must.


Terczak will soon enjoy a home that helps make his life easier and more convenient. The kitchen, with roll-up recesses under the sink and counter, merges into the main living area around a peninsula counter designed for casual meals.

The flooring is a combination of easy-to-navigate vinyl and berber carpeting. Vinyl is looking good these days, whether it's the faux slate in the kitchen and great room, the faux tile in the guest bathroom, or the faux hardwood in Terczak's master suite. The shower in the master bath is real ceramic tile, handsomely done. Pocket doors are used to keep them out of the way.

A hoist attached to ceiling tracks in his bedroom will lift Terczak from his wheelchair into bed, while another in the bathroom will move him easily from chair to toilet or whirlpool tub.

"I'm looking forward to that whirlpool tub," he said.

He'll be able to roll out through a rear door onto the deck, where the grill will be, or out to the covered front porch and down the gentle ramp--both concrete--to his car in the driveway. The exterior of the house is virtually maintenance-free.

Terczak is grateful, to say the least, for how things turned out.

"When I was first in the hospital there were soldiers there who didn't have any arms or legs," he said. "They were a lot worse off than I was, so you have to count your blessings.

"This is the best Christmas present I could ever hope for."

Richard Amrhine: 540/374-5406

Copyright 2014 The Free Lance-Star Publishing Company.