Provides stunning Great Lakes view.
By Mark Crawford
Greg Druzbik always dreamed of owning a grand home on a cliff overlooking the ocean. When it looked like that scenario wasn’t in the cards, he did the next best thing – he built his dream home on a cliff overlooking Lake Erie. The most unique and striking feature of his new residence is a precast concrete lighthouse. Standing more than 40 feet tall and attached to the house, it provides a sweeping, ocean-like view of the shoreline near Sheridan, N.Y.
An unusual home feature
A retired ironworker and jack-of-all-trades who never backs away from a good construction challenge, Druzbik first tried to build the lighthouse himself. He poured 12 feet of the base with a slip form, but the job was just too difficult to finish. Inspired by an 8-foot-diameter precast concrete manhole he had seen on a job site, Druzbik wondered if some of those manholes, stacked vertically, could be the tower for the structure. He visited Kistner Concrete Products in Lockport, N.Y., to see if the company could provide him with four 10-foot-diameter manholes – conveniently the diameter of his tower. If so, he planned to stack them on top of each other and fasten them together to create a 32-foot tower.
“He came in with plans drawn up, which he wanted me to look at,” said Michael J. Kistner, vice president of Kistner Concrete Products. “He needed 10-foot-diameter manholes with multiple weld points. It looked good on paper, but I ran it by our engineer to make sure it was wind resistant.
“Once we got the go-ahead on that, we told Greg we could do the project.”
Clarence J. Conrad, sales engineer and project manager for Kistner Concrete Products, added that Druzbik presented them with a well-thought-out plan.
“It was his idea to create the tower by stacking four manholes end on end – a creative, but also very simple, solution for what he was trying to accomplish,” he said.
The precast solution
Kistner Concrete Products manufactured 8-foot-high, 18-ton manhole sections to create the 32-foot vertical structure. The manholes were designed to provide enough weld points to resist the strong winds that can blow along Lake Erie.
“Even at a weight of 18 tons per section, if not properly secured they could be easily toppled by strong winds,” Conrad said.
The precast concrete manholes were manufactured with standard manhole molds. The units were custom manufactured with sets of matching weld plates at the tops and bottoms of all sections to allow for the welding of straps to provide structural continuity.
“Partial openings in the manholes were also provided to help with handling,” Kistner said.
Druzbik had a crane ready to float and set the four manhole units when they arrived. He also field-cut a door opening at the base of the bottom unit to serve as the entrance to an interior spiral staircase that would climb to the top of the lighthouse. The owner then built a 15-foot-tall turret section and used a crane to place it on top of the tower.
Home sweet home
Since construction, Druzbik has built a widow’s walk around the top of the tower. The lighthouse is still a work in progress that will keep him busy for months to come. Other planned features are iron stairs and railings, a door to the widow’s walk, mahogany and cherry wood walls and trim, a vaulted, conical roof and the spiral staircase. Druzbik also applied the first 10 feet of stone veneer on the outside of the tower. When finished, the lighthouse will be the perfect spot to catch a sunrise or sunset over the lake.
What impresses Kistner the most about the project is the creative, out-of-the-ordinary application of a standard precast concrete product.
“People don’t realize what they can do with standard components, with some creative thinking,” Kistner noted. “We made an impressive, unique structure with precast components, which would have been much more difficult and labor-intensive to cast in place. Very few modifications were required to adapt the precast manholes for this project.
“And, it saved the owner considerable time and money.”
For many people, their dream home’s defining feature is a pond, a tennis court or a swimming pool. For Greg Druzbik, it was a lighthouse.
“It just goes to show that, when we put our heads together, we can work with customers to come up with an innovative solution, using standard products, that turn their dreams into reality,” Kistner said.
Mark Crawford is a Madison, Wis.-based freelance writer who specializes in science, technology and manufacturing.