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BASEMENT IN FLORIDA ISN'T PIPE DREAM OR CHEAP

A company unveils a way to build a waterproof underground room in spite of the high water table.

The idea came to him last year, when gasoline cost $4 a gallon and energy costs were soaring.

Like most people, Chuck Puccini thought, "This is insane."

Only, unlike most people who can do little but gripe, Puccini was in a position to help find solutions to the energy crisis.

He's the chief executive officer of Coastal Caisson Corp., the Odessa-based subsidiary of the German company Bauer Spezialtiefbau GmbH, which specializes in foundation construction and innovation.

"If a solution is in the ground," he thought, "it's up to me to find it."

The result is a project that would allow Florida homes to be built with basements.

Yes, basements.

In an area where few homes have basements because of the high water table, Coastal Caisson - which was named New Business of the Year at the Pasco Economic Development Council's annual banquet Tuesday night - says it has developed the technology to do just that.

It's called Cutter Soil Mixing, in which special equipment cuts through the ground and uses the existing soil and water to mix with cement and make concrete on the spot. Chemicals can be added to keep it from curing too quickly so all the walls can get done without joints, making the structure less vulnerable to leaks.

The technology allows the structure to be built up to 100 feet deep, cutting off the water table.

Additional steel is added for reinforcement, then the wall is covered with soil while it cures in about a month. Crews then remove the soil and continue construction.

The basement is cooled and heated with energy from the ground.

A unique geothermal piping system is embedded in the 25-inch thick basement walls and is connected to an indoor compressor, thus providing a highly efficient ground water cooled air conditioning system, says the Web site for Coastal Basement, the company formed by Coastal Caisson for this venture.

The structures can be used for entertainment rooms, hurricane shelters, panic rooms or to store all that junk that prevents many Florida residents from using their garages for cars.

What about sinkholes? The folks at Coastal say that the concrete walls that are part of the ground actually protect homes from damage.

Now, the only thing that is prohibitive for most regular people is the cost. Building such a basement would double the cost of a new home, Puccini said. For now, only high-end residential builders would be able to offer it.

A few have already weighed in on the idea.

"No one in Florida has developed a water-tight, below-grade basement system (that we are aware of) therefore Coastal Basement System will surely be on the leading edge of this market," wrote William Byington, president of Shoreline Construction, which builds luxury homes and commercial buildings.

The technology, which is being used on a prototype under construction at the company's Odessa headquarters, also has many commercial applications. Company officials say a school district could save money by building an underground room to serve as a hurricane shelter instead of being required to build the entire above-ground school to withstand hurricane force winds.

"Now you have to make an entire school hurricane resistant," said James Mancuso, administrative project manager for Coastal Caisson.

The company hopes to have its on-site basement floor in by October, with completion soon afterward.

Lisa Buie can be reached at buie@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4604.

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FAST FACTS

And the winners are ...

The winners at the Pasco Economic Development Council's annual awards banquet on Tuesday night were:

- Manufacturing Industry of the Year:Tampa Bay CoPack of Dade City (in category 1, for companies with 60 employees or fewer); Earth Tech, Inc. of Land O'Lakes (in category 2, for companies with more than 60 employees).

- Service/Distribution Industry of the Year:Cooper Financial Services, Land O'Lakes (in category 1, for companies with 30 employees or fewer); American Consulting Engineers of Florida LLC, Wesley Chapel (in category 2, for companies with more than 30 employees).

- New Business Award: Coastal Caisson Corp., Odessa.

- Special Contribution Award: Morton Plant North Bay Hospital, New Port Richey.

- Special Recognition Award: ISPC, Odessa.

- Technology Award: Pro Tech Monitoring Inc., Odessa.

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ON THE WEB

Basement design

For information about basement design in Florida, visit www.coastalbasements.com.

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