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A fast-and-dirty job? Nope

Experts say skilled workers, no-expense-spared methods and onsite inspectors ensured quality in a clock-racing home project.

Published March 15, 2005

[Times photo: Cherie Diez]
More than 200 members of the Lexington Homes team worked in rain Wednesday to frame a new home for the James Dolan family, the day after a slab was poured using fast-drying concrete. Building inspectors onsite checked each phase of the work as it was done.

Your mother said haste makes waste. Your teachers said not to rush your work. So we can just guess what they would say about the bright idea of building a five-bedroom, 3,500-square-foot home in less than a week.

But you might be surprised at what the experts think.

"I don't have any concerns regarding this house," said Rajan Sen, a engineering professor at the University of South Florida. "You know, when you look around, you see bridges which were damaged with fire are replaced in seven to eight days. The state of technology is moving, and they have a large number of people working on the house. I'm sure everything is fine."

The ABC television show Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and builder Lexington Homes orchestrated the rapid-fire construction of a house in Seminole over four days last week for James Dolan, who was blinded in a Nov. 18 shooting at a RadioShack in St. Petersburg.

Workers demolished Dolan's old house in 10 minutes on a Tuesday morning and poured a 5,000-square-foot concrete pad soon after. By 3:30 the next morning, they were building a frame on top of the already-dried concrete. They hammered the frame together in the rain.

The pace was frenetic, the schedule ambitious and the stress level sometimes high. But that doesn't mean the house is necessarily unsafe or improperly constructed, experts said.

That's because the TV producers used resources that other homeowners can't always tap into, such as: an army of roughly 1,000 professional construction workers and another 1,000 volunteers; quick but expensive construction methods; and the luxury of having building inspectors onsite at 2 a.m.

"I think it can be done on a frame house ... if they have proper guidance and proper supervision," said J.C. Russello, an architect and engineer in Spring Hill.

Workers used quick-drying concrete, so they didn't need to leave the site idle for days, which sometimes happens in more conventional home building. Sen, the USF professor, who was a fellow at the American Concrete Institute in 2003, said the strength of quick-drying concrete is well-established.

Pinellas County's building department, considering this a unique project for a worthy cause, agreed to schedule its building inspectors onsite virtually around the clock. About 14 inspectors came onsite at various times, sometimes three at once, said director Robert Nagin.

This meant the inspectors often had the chance to watch the construction in progress, as opposed to checking it afterward.

"If we did see something wrong, it (could) be corrected right then and there," Nagin said.

Nagin said he would be willing to move into a house that had been built in four days, if it were built to the same standards that his inspectors signed off on last week.

Building the wood-frame house in the rain didn't cause the experts concern about mold inside the home. If you spend six months building a house, the wood is going to get rained on a lot more than this one did, said Mike Hickman, a custom home builder in Lakeland and past president of the Florida Home Builders Association.

"From that standpoint, it's probably as good or better" than normal home building, Hickman said.

Workers also used heaters and driers for such jobs as speeding up the drywall process.

--Times staff writer Chase Squires contributed to this report.

[Last modified March 15, 2005, 04:09:03]

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