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An Earnest Account of Plumbing & Piping

Hark, dear reader, and hear my tale! In my previous journal, I happily announced the arrival of Spring in Hale County. Indeed, the change in temperature was welcome by friend and feline alike. However, I must admit that the boons of Mother Spring cannot be divorced from her burdens. The tempests of March are frequent, strong, and heavy as to turn stable earth into a muck so thick it will suck the sole off one’s boot. My crew has been battling these conditions in a campaign to prepare our site for an approaching concrete pour. Several tasks must be completed before the slab is laid down, the first being to install plumbing & piping. With a slab-on-grade foundation, all of the infrastructure must be installed prior to pouring concrete, this includes the electrical and water mains, as well as waste drains. Our process for this is as follows:

Student hammers in stake
set batter-boards & strings
students dig plumbing trench
dig and grade trenches
prime and glue
student checking slope of a pipe
check your work
completed plumbing on site
revel in a job well done

Although most of the digging was done by hand, we were able to make use of the trencher during a few particularly dry days. The width and depth of the trench that the machine makes is perfect for laying water and electric mains because it can easily dig beneath the frost line in the area. We are grateful when the weather is nice enough to start the trencher up.

student operates trencher
trenching for water main
student laying pex
laying water main

You might be wondering why there is so much plumbing! Reverend Walker’s Home features a main living volume with a kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, and loft. In addition to the main enclosure is a separate room that we have dubbed the “bonus room”. The bonus room is a partially unfinished space that is supplied with plumbing and electrical stub-outs to allow for many possible uses, whether for storage, a home office, a studio, or even another bathroom. The initial investment into infrastructure will enable a homeowner to quickly and easily expand their home.

diagram of bonus room
supplying the bonus room with utilities gives it many possible futures

You will be happy to hear, dear reader, that this step in the process is complete. My next order will be for my crew to set formwork for the slab and column footings! Despite the sky’s grim countenance, spring brings longer days and fresh growth, and morale remains high! The wind is at our backs and I will continue to push this team steadily towards greatness! Alas, dear reader, the magnolia leaves are dripping water onto my head, and I must retire to my chambers for chance I catch a cold.

With affection

Taterhead

The site cat Taterhead
Your orator, Taterhead

March Metal Madness

Live from behind welding masks and safety gear, it’s the Thermal Mass and Buoyancy Ventilation Research Project Team!

Jeff watching Rowe weld

First, the team is mega grateful for the donation of material, work space, time and patience from Jim Turnipseed, head of Turnipseed International. He’s invited the graduate students to fabricate the steel for the stair, walkway, door frame, and most importantly structural columns and bracing for the TMBV Test Buildings at his metal shop in Columbiana, AL. Turnipseed International employees Flo and Luis are teaching the team how to weld, cut, and drill steel. They, as well as Javier, have been keeping the students safe and teaching them a ton! Thank you to Jim, Flo, Luis, Javier and everyone at the Turnipseed International for their guidance and generosity!

Practice makes… not so bad!

To start out their first week at the shop, the team practiced welding. They salvaged metal scraps and ground the surfaces and edges to help the welds bind.

Flo taught them how to work the MIG (Metal Inert Gas) welding machine safely. MIG is a welding process in which an electric arc forms between a consumable MIG wire electrode and the workpiece metal, which heats the workpiece metal, causing them to fuse.

After the team got the general motion of welding down, they began practicing more specific welds. This included welding perpendicular steel pieces, steel tube to plate and fusing square metal tube cut at 45-degree angles. These welds are similar to those on the walkway, stairs, columns, and handrails. Seen above is their pile of practice. At this point, there is no clear welding champion…

Grateful for Grate!

Next, the students knocked out the metal grating for the stairs and walkway which connects the Test Buildings to the ground and each other.

The students marked out the 3’ x 3’ 6” sections on the 20’ long 1” deep metal grating. Then they used the infant-sized angle grinder to break down the price where marked. The team got all the metal grating cut in one day!

Column Connections

In order to fabricate the steel columns and bracings which support the Test Buildings, the team had to prep all the pieces and parts. This meant drilling just under 100 holes for bolt connections in the steel plate and angle which make up the ground connections, bracing, and column base and top plates. The team was also deemed ready to weld the bracing ground connections seen above.

Next, the team beveled the column ends with a grinder to help them fuse to the top and bottom plates. They also marked the columns where the bracing connections were to be welded on.

In order to weld the bracing connections on plumb and level, the team rigged up a jig. They put their newly acquired welding skill to the test to make a stencil which held the columns and plate in place as they weld. They welded all the column connectors and will be moving on to top and base plates next!

students in the corner of Turnipseed international metal working shop

Above is the Thermal Mass and Buoyancy Ventilation teams’ home away from home. Tucked into the corner of the shop they have plenty of room and help from the crew to crank out the rest of their steel work. Thanks again Turnipseed International, and as always stay tuned!

Mains, Drains, and Automobiles

Myers’ Home team is on the run! They’re setting utilities, laying plumbing, and picking up materials as construction ramps up!

Rainbows and lightning galore

These folks had a review last week with Jake LaBarre to refine the building set contents. (Kudos to Riley, emerging expert in construction drawing formatting!) These are drawings that the team references during construction for just about everything. With updated documents in hand, they’re dodging rain and wind for spots of sun on site.

Meeting with Jake LaBarre, from Newbern to Seattle!

Power Trip

To power their saws, charge up those drills, and keep the tunes playing the team had to set up a temporary power pole. With Judith driving the trailer as Bobcat Delivery Girl and Madeline manning the joysticks on site, the pole was set and power nearly ready to connect.

Pipe dreams? Not so much.

Before the foundation slab can be poured, utilities are run, gravel leveled, and formwork is set. To begin work on utilities, more batter boards were constructed in order for the plumbing and electrical to be properly placed. These boards sit between the batter boards which mark the footprint of the home, they mark where pipes will emerge from the slab.

The team marked the utility lines on the tamped earth and began trenching for, first, plumbing and, above that, electrical conduit.

Next, they simultaneously begin dry fitting the joints and noting the lengths of pipe needed in the trench (cut a little long!). Throughout this they sloped the pipe in the trench and checked with the site level to ensure proper drainage.

Seal the deal

Following a successful drainage test, the team began assembling and gluing small length pipes, the shower run, washer, and toilet. After that, they dry-fit to the main drain. They triple-checked the pipes, marked for re-fitting, and primed purple. Finally, the team began sealing with the bright blue plumbing glue.

Madeline and Riley marking and gluing pipe segments

With everything in place, they began re-leveling and aligning the pipes with the position of future stud walls. As sunset approached the trenches were finally re-filled and the new utilities tucked in for the night.

One slab, comin’ right up!

The final steps before that long-awaited concrete truck’s journey to Newbern are gravel and formwork. The home’s footprint will be completed in two pours, one upcoming for the 24′ x 40′ interior, and another for the 8′ x 40′ porch slab.

The house, as of late.

In the coming days, the team will be cutting and setting the formwork for the slab and ordering gravel to level the area before the blessed arrival of sweet, sweet concrete. Hang tight to get the scoop! Over and out.

1st-Year Students Visit Rural Studio to Construct ‘Things for Sitting’

Auburn University 1st-Year architecture students graced Rural Studio with fresh faces and eager spirits. Main campus professors Alyssa Kuhns and Gorham Bird organized a wonderful project for the students which culminated in a drive to Newbern and a day of fabrication at the Morrisette Campus. The experience was a blast for Rural Studio faculty and students. Let’s get into how the 1st-Years studied, designed, and made their, ‘Things for Sitting’.

an aerial view of students and faculty using power tools together under a large wooden pavilion
Mid-day construction madness

In Studio Preparation

The 1st-year students began the ‘A Thing for Sitting’ project by studying iconic benches, chairs, and stools. Next, they developed highly crafted 1:5 models and rendered drawings of their assigned iconic ‘thing for sitting’. After this study, in groups, they developed their own ‘thing for sitting’ inspired by what they studied. First, each student individually developed joinery studies connecting planar or linear elements. Those studies were combined to create a group assembly.

The joints and resulting assembly or ‘thing for sitting’ were developed through full-scale cardboard mock-ups, 1:1 drawings, and storyboards to ensure students were working within the material, tool, and process limitations. With approved designs and drawings, they piled into cars for a Saturday caravan to the Rural Studio Morrisette Campus.

a large group of students watch as a male professor demonstrates how to use a table saw
Steve Long demonstrates how to safely use power tools

Welcome to Newbern

The 1st-Years have arrived! The day started with a thorough introduction to the proper use and safety precautions of basic power tools. Steve Long taught the lesson with demonstrations from the ongoing projects’ tool trailers. That’s right, these 1st-Years took on the task of making beautiful objects, not in the illustrious Rural Studio woodshop. Instead, they worked “on-site” at the Fabrication Pavilion with construction-grade tools. With safety training completed, the 1st-Years began practicing with several faculty members and students to keep watchful eyes and dole out advice.

After a little power tool practice and a big lunch from Chef Catherine, the 1st-Years began making their objects. First, they fabricated their pre-designed joints using 2″ x 4″ Southern Yellow Pine lumber and plywood. They also had access to all the tools the trailers have to offer and their own personal Rural Studio student.

Making a ‘Thing for Sitting’

When the students completed their own joint, it was time to fit it together with the rest of their teams’ pieces to create the full ‘Thing for Sitting’. To make the parts come together as one took adjustments to the individual joints and sometimes the entire design. Thankfully, Faculty members Chelsea Elcott, Steve Long, Emily McGlohn, and even Andrew Freear joined in to right all the wrongs and problem solve. In just 5 hours of intense work, every single 1st-year team created a ‘Thing to Sit’ which stood entirely on its own. Even more impressive, every single object was sit-able! No splintering under pressure here.

The day ended with a gathering of students and fabricated objects on the Great Hall. Each student team spoke about their objects’ inspiration and aspirations. Mostly, they spoke of what they learned. Everything from communicating with team members to how difficult it was to take it from drawing to reality. “Things don’t just fit together as you drew them!” Learning typical design-build lessons early. Overall, everyone gained confidence in using tools and fabrication. Hopefully, some of them caught the Rural Studio bug!

Rural Studio faculty and students were impressed and proud of the 1st-Year students’ final product as well as their journey to it. Check out their lovely ‘Things for Sitting’ above! A big thanks to professors Alyssa Kuhns, Gorham Bird, and David Kennedy for planning the day and bringing the 1st-Years over to Hale County. Come back and visit soon!

I Just Gantt Do It, Captain!

Want to get the low-down on details for Myers’ Home? Look no further! These kids have broken ground, but that doesn’t mean their work stops in studio. The team has focused attention on details the last few weeks with site work interspersed.

Details are drawn full scale, reviewed, drawn again, and again

Draw it big!

In true Rural Studio fashion, every inch and corner is designed with intention and iteration. While the first aim is to keep the home warm and dry, these layers can meet all sorts of ways. It’s these joints that will also give the house a language. It can read as planes, solids, thin, thick, anyway through the treatment of joints and surfaces.

Drawing details full scale allows the team to grasp the size of the materials they’re specifying. The team can trace vapor and water barriers through the wall sections to find gaps.

Breaking the Shell

Myers’ Home is a protected shell, as such any punctures must be deliberate. The exposed edges created when the shell is pierced are strengthened against environmental elements. To evaluate the layered seals to the punctures, the team has drawn every opening connection in the home.

Myers’ Home team is currently designing a window system that is more durable and efficient than common windows in this context. This system will combine a fixed window for lighting, smaller fiberglass operable window for ventilation, and a window AC unit with a universal sleeve.

Ventilation, light, and AC concentrated to puncture points

Grouping these elements reduces punctures in the shell to single pre-fabricated unit that will be produced with precision in a shop, like cabinetry. A shop-built cypress “box” will hold the pieces together and be far more dimensionally stable than typical stud framing.

A review of the shop-built window system with Dan Wheeler

The team reviewed these details with Dan Wheeler of Wheeler Kearns Architects and adjusted accordingly. Next up, mockup! The students will build the refined window unit in the shop with the intention that it be used in Myers’ Home. Another 1:1 mockup is being designed as a small scale replica of the home’s details. It is a reference library where the team will test flashing, siding, and roof details.

The Big Move

To begin regular site work Myers’ Home team needs to know just what they’ll be doing each week. This means writing and updating a Gantt Chart, the comprehensive calendar of the project’s construction.

A weekly schedule annotated by the team
Myers’ Home Gantt chart in Red Barn, edited by week with site work and order details

They also must identify just what tools they’ll need. Building process is drawn from surveying through drying in — when the home is enclosed and weather-sealed. And in cartoon form!

Meanwhile, tools have been inventoried and assigned to newly organized tool trailers. If nothing else, a team can control the state of its tool trailer.

Myers’ Home is leaping into a fresh Hale County spring with high hopes! Until next time.

Madeline, Judith, and Riley: jumping for joy.