Folks, it was one heck of a rainy week in Newbern! Though this slowed some of the progress of the floor framing in Ophelia’s Home, the 3rd-years did manage to get some work done on site before the big storms hit. They completed the fabrication and installation of both girders and the termite shield. Soon after the rain came, the site became a mud pit for the rest of the week which pushed the third years back into studio.
On the bright side, the newly installed drain for the foundation has proved to be worth the multitude of gravel-filled wheelbarrows as it was able to continuously drain the majority of the water that came flowing into the site!
Once indoors, construction documents were updated and the 3rd-years were able to get ahead on cleaning up other drawings, so they’ll have plenty of time to kick it into full gear on site once the rain quits. While not being able to work on site, the 3rd-years also began the process of determining the color of Ophelia’s Home. This was done by looking at the context of the surrounding landscape, and discussing how this can relate to the color.
Tune in next Monday folks, for another update on the 3rd-years tomfoolery! P.S. If somebody can get it to stop raining please do.
A major goal of the Front Porch Initiative is to expand home ownership in areas outside Rural Studio’s service area of West Alabama. Recently, we collaborated with another studio within Auburn University’s School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture (APLA) and the McWhorter School of Building Science (BSCI) as well as Auburn Opelika Habitat for Humanity to build two homes in Opelika, Alabama. The design of these two projects is based on 20K Buster’s Home. The homes for this collaboration were optimized for energy efficiency using different efficiency standards, which offers the opportunity to study two models of energy consumption. Additionally, both homes are designed to provide beyond-code resistance to damage from high winds and blowing rains.
The first house, dubbed House 66, is Passive House Institute US (PHIUS) certified, which requires homes to be super-insulated, minimize air leakage through a tight envelope, have high-efficiency windows and doors, active ventilation, and energy efficient equipment. The house was also built to the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety’s FORTIFIED Home – High Wind standard, which certifies that a home’s construction strengthens it against severe weather. House 66 is the first home in Alabama to receive PHIUS certification and, as far as we know, the only house in the country ever certified both PHIUS and FORTIFIED Gold. The second house, House 68, is built to Zero Energy Ready Homes (ZERH) and FORTIFIED standards. Though not as stringent as PHIUS, ZERH also focuses on energy efficiency and preparing the home to adapt to renewable energy sources as they become available. Both House 66 and House 68 have a HERS rating of 38 (learn more about the HERS index here), but our energy models predict that it will cost approximately $100 more in energy costs per year to operate House 68. These costs can further offset by the installation of a photovoltaic (PV) panels, also known as solar panels, which generate energy. A PV system has already been installed at House 66, where excess energy produced is fed into the local energy grid.
Each house is also outfitted with monitoring devices to collect data about energy usage at the level of the individual circuit. David Hinson of APLA is co-leading the project and explains the research: “We will monitor the actual operating costs […] and compare the operating savings against the cost of incorporating these special features. Our aim is to find the balance point between the initial cost of constructing the home and lower operating costs that results in the best long-term solution for the families.” Along with Hinson, Mike Hosey of BSCI and Mackenzie Stagg of the Front Porch Initiative have received funding to analyze the data collected at the homes. Analysis of this data will help us better understand which changes to the building design have the largest impacts on energy consumption.
We began cultivating additional land for crop production last fall, which will add about 33% more growing area. Using the walking tractor, Eric and the students first shaped the new in-ground raised beds before adding soil amendments and compost. Since we are promoting soil health, it is best to have something growing in the beds at all times, so it is important to start growing as soon as possible.
Students planted seed potatoes, which we covered in a layer of hay, and transplanted out collard greens. In some beds they also sowed a cover crop mix for early spring—hairy vetch, field peas, and oats—all to improve soil health and to keep the ground growing before crops are added later in the spring.
We are no-till, but we just tested out a new tool, the tilther. Run by a cordless drill, the tilther is like a baby rototiller, only working the soil to a depth of about two inches. This improves the tilth of the soil by fluffing and smoothing out the soil surface, making it ready to be transplanted into. It also mixes in any amendments, fertilizers, and minor crop residues.
In the greenhouse meanwhile, more seedlings are being started, and the early crop of tomatoes are being moved to larger quarters to allow their roots to expand and grow before they are transplanted to the greenhouse once March arrives.