By Dave Leestma
It was a beautiful November day when I met new Rutherford County neighbor, Brock Hefflin, at his mountain top home. The 180 degree view was spectacular as Brock shared his story of how he built his steel house here in this special place most Breeze readers call ‘home’.
Please give our readers a brief background of yourself and how you chose Rutherford County as the place to live. What attracted you here?
I am originally from Pittsburgh, PA, but moved to Rutherford County in 2014 from the Greater Washington, DC area where I worked as a medical officer in the US Public Health Service. I was attracted to Western North Carolina (WNC) while watching a movie that featured beautiful footage of the area. I love the natural world and often spend vacations hiking in beautiful locations, in particular our national parks. For the past few years I have been working as an online consultant to an overseas medical device informatics company, enabling me to work anywhere there is internet access, so I started to consider living in a place that resembles the places in which I like to vacation.
After looking at some WNC properties online, I contacted a Lake Lure realtor and started to seriously look for a lot on which to build. In a year’s time, and about 40 lots later, God blessed me with a large-acreage lot outside of Rutherfordton with a hilltop building site and a panoramic mountain view.
Why did you choose to build a steel house?
I try to keep things simple in life, and a steel house helps by being affordable and low maintenance. A steel house almost never needs to be repaired or painted. It resists fire, mold, strong winds, and wood-destroying animals (the carpenter bees hover in frustration). In addition, when the house is demolished at some point in the future (distant!) all the steel can be recycled, so in this sense it is a greener option.
There is a variety of steel houses on the market. I chose a house from Kodiak Steel Homes based on budget and house design. In particular, I wanted a design where most of the living space was elevated above ground level to take advantage of views. A steel house is typically purchased as a kit which includes all components necessary to produce a dry-in shell. My kit included red-iron steel for the frame, light-gauge steel for interior studs, steel roof panels, steel exterior siding, and fasteners. An insulating wrap was provided to envelop the steel frame and help minimize interior heat resulting from sun exposure.
Any construction or site surprises? Challenges?
It was a challenge to find a local residential builder for this project as most only have experience with wood framing. My realtor recommended Bob Isabell, of Isabell Builders LLC, who I later learned had experience with commercial steel buildings, so this was his first residential project in steel. Bob used a non-local company for the erection of the exterior steel frame and roof, but the rest of the construction was performed by local professionals.
Getting the steel to the construction site, on top of a hill, was a challenge during the summer of 2013 when the area was drenched with rain almost daily. The driveway to the site is almost ¼ mile in length and was deep with mud, so much that the semis that delivered the steel could not climb it. We had to transport the steel components up the hill in small groups, with the help of a neighbor’s tractor.
The soil on which the house is built is very sandy, so extra-large footers were placed in the foundation as a precautionary measure. Also, the exterior steel siding was relatively difficult to apply to the house compared to other types of siding (e.g., vinyl, aluminum, cement fiber). There were other small challenges here and there but nothing we could not overcome.
Are you happy with the finished product?
The finished house looks and functions great. I was able to make modifications to the original interior floor plan and added porches that flank the house on the ground level. I also sought to be environmentally responsible with green house features such as bamboo flooring, countertops with recycled materials, ductless heating/cooling system, spray foam insulation in the walls and roof, and a roof solar panel system. My particular house is traditional in design and fits well in its setting.
What do you like about living here?
I especially like the natural setting with the wonders of creation all around. Every day the sweet smell of the trees and distant mountain views – it never gets old. The folks here are definitely more welcoming to strangers than any other place I’ve lived.
Any advice for building a home like yours?
A would-be builder of a steel house should first research the variety and quality of steel houses available. Different steel house companies have different models from which to choose, and some companies only produce materials for custom houses after you provide them with architectural drawings. A quality steel house exists for most budgets. Also, if a building site has been identified make certain it is accessible by semi……makes life so much easier.
A final comment, please.
I have visited many places, but chose to live in Rutherford County. Maintaining a clean and peaceful community environment will encourage others to make the same decision.