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The Mobile Register--Mobile, Alabama- 05/19/02

Business News

A 'classic look in concrete'
Builder uses system of blocks in constructing homes
Real Estate Editor

Harry and Lundy Wilder of Memphis wanted to build their new home on Fort Morgan with precast architectural stone but couldn't find them locally.

"I was very discouraged," she said. "I was driving on (Alabama) 59 and saw the Hood's building in Foley and did a huge U-turn. I asked the guy where did these blocks come from?" She was referred by the building materials store to builder Ted Dial in Mobile.

"We had just finished a bicycle trip across Italy and the architecture there just blew us away," she said. "I could see how it could all come together for a hurricane- prone area -- if we could accomplish that classic look in concrete and have it reasonably priced."

The Wilders used Dial's DAC-ART building system to build their beach house. "It's the perfect thing for the beach," she said. "There's no maintenance factor and no corrosion and no painting."

Dial's system is a network of concrete blocks that weigh an average of 400 pounds a piece. The blocks features architectural details that resemble European architecture. The blocks are dry-stacked and concrete is poured inside them to seal them. There is no masonry involved, Dial said.
The blocks are different from insulated concrete forms that some builders use, since those forms typically require an exterior finish such as stucco or brick. Dial's blocks provide a finished interior and exterior surface. The architectural details are designed as part of the concrete block.

"I go to Paris every year and I was intent on making a European limestone look," Dial said. "It's really concrete with a couple of tricks to help it look like that."
The blocks average 12-inch in thickness and the blocks can withstand 150 mph winds, according to Dial. The block-built house costs about 5 to 10 percent more than other new homes. For homes that are $300,000 or more, the prices are comparable to other new homes that have custom architectural features, he said.

A builder for more than 20 years, Dial had specialized in restoring historic homes in Mobile and New Orleans before turning to new custom home construction 15 years ago.
It was "pure misery and frustration with the construction business" that prompted him to devise the concrete block system four years ago, he said.
"I was doing a $2 million house in Birmingham and it is so difficult to get subcontractors to show up and do the work that needs to be done, particularly in Birmingham," he said. "I wound up spending a lot of time scaffolding and getting big bricks laid and it took too much of my time. I was already making a lot of architectural details with molds. I thought, why not make the house thicker and build a whole house out of it?"

So far, his blocks have been used for custom homes and commercial buildings in Alabama, Louisiana and Texas. He hopes to sell the product to other builders.

A number of new building products have come on the market in the last five to six years, some stemming from the fluctuation in lumber prices, and some due to the storm-resistant factor, said builder Mike Daniels of B.C. Daniels in Mobile.
"People are looking for stable price point and some have looked at steel and at this particular product," Daniels said. "Most of these things cost more or else everyone would swap to them. Usually people don't want to spend more. And you won't find it used on spec houses, you'd find it on custom homes."

The Wilders helped in the construction of their house and have a website with photographs showing the process. The site is http://www.ScrapbookScrapbook.com/DAC-ART

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