Dream home becoming reality for LaPlace man

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 29, 1999

ERIK SANZENBACH / L’Observateur / September 29, 1999

LAPLACE – How would you like to own a house that is hurricane-resistant, termite-resistant, doesn’t need painting and would save you lots of money in utility bills? Sound like a fantasy? Well, for LaPlace resident Ruben Keating, his dream house is about to become a reality. On Camphor Street, just off W. FifthStreet, contractors have already erected the walls of his new house.

Considering they started just a week ago gives you a clue this is not your ordinary house.

“This is a whole new technology,” said Keating, co-owner of Highland Fabricators. “This is the wave of the future.”What makes this house so unique is the building materials. There is hardlyany wood at all. The walls are a combination of polyurethane foam, steelrebar and concrete. While an extra-deep slab is being set, steelreinforcing rods are placed around the perimeter of the slab, about every 16 inches, like normal studs in a wooden house. After the cement sets,workers slide empty shells of polyurethane foam over the rods. Thencement is poured into the empty shells forming a concrete wall that is protected by the foam and reinforced by the steel rods.

Keating said the walls have been tested to withstand a wind load of 200 miles per hour, something that is pretty handy to have in our hurricane- prone part of the world.

“They took a 2-by-4 and shot it out of an air cannon at a wall made with the foam and concrete,” explained Keating. “The 2-by-4 bounced off thewall and barely made a dent.”Not only are the walls wind-resistant, but because there is no wood in them they are also termite-resistant. The walls are almost a foot thickand have a R value of 40, which makes them incredibly efficient when it comes to heating and cooling. The ceiling will be 8 inches of the samefoam with a plywood laminate on each side. The ceiling will have an Rvalue of 30.

The contractor, Ronnie Amorillo of Poly-Steel Systems, has built two houses using this method in Sorrento. According to him the houses have anaverage monthly utility bill of under $70, and that was during the summer.

“The efficiency of the house is what really sold me, ” said Keating.

The only part of the house with a lot of wood will be the roof, and the contractors plan to attach it to the four walls of the house so it will also be able to resist the high-winds from a hurricane.

“Even if my roof gets blown off,” said Keating, “at least I will still have the four walls standing.”Keating likes the idea that after the house is built, it will look like a regular dwelling. He plans to put vinyl siding and brick on the outsidewhich will make it almost worry-free when it comes to painting and upkeep.

Because the building materials are so different, so is the construction methods.

“It’s almost like putting together a big jigsaw puzzle,” Amorillo said.

“There is a lot less back breaking labor.”Keating joked, “My neighbors think it is strange. Here is a house being builtand they don’t hear the sounds of hammering and nailing.”Keating said the actual construction is pretty easy. As an example, he toldof a couple in St. Tammany Parish that put up the walls themselves andthen got carpenters to finish the roof.

Construction is also very quick. They plan to be finished with the 1,650square foot, three-bedroom house before Christmas, and they started building on Sept. 21.Amorillo hopes this construction method will catch on in this part of the country.

“They’ve been using it for awhile in Florida and the rest of the country.

Louisiana seems to be late in catching on,” he said.

In fact, this is the first house of its kind in St. John the Baptist Parish.Amorillo has also built a foam-and-concrete truck stop in St. Gabriel, plusthe two houses in Sorrento.

“In this day and age,” said Keating.” It makes a lot of sense to build likethis. What with the scarcity of wood and energy costs.”If there is a drawback to this type of construction it is the price. Keatingadmits that the cost is about 5 percent higher than normal house-building, and that is because of all the cement. However, he doesn’t see it as a lossat all.

“I figure to recoup all my losses in five to 10 years,” he says.

With the savings on utility bills and upkeep costs, that sounds like a realistic prediction.

Besides, in this part of the world, it is nice to have something that will withstand a hurricane.

“All my neighbors have picked out spots in my new house,” Keating said laughing, ” because they plan to use my house for the next hurricane party.”

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