Rural Studio Blog

Best Footing Forward

Collage of slab to core connections

Welcome back to the CLT Core House team blog! It has been a busy month filled with details and deliberation. As the title suggests, we have been focused on our footing design, particularly on the connection of our heavy and bulky CLT core to our concrete slab. We wish it were as simple as just “screwin’ er’ down.” However, because the slab will be on grade at ground level, we’ve found it difficult to design the right detail. We have worked through many kinds of solutions, all of which we eventually dropped for either being too complicated or too messy.

While working through footing details, we have identified the need for our core to be a six-sided box that arrives on-site wrapped like a present with a bow: something that you only unwrap once you are finished with the dirty business of finishing a house. Also, we know we want our concrete slab to be finished in one pour to avoid the orchestration of getting a concrete truck and team on site multiple times.

Our latest strategy—single-pour slab and a completed box—may not seem like much, but it eliminates most of our previous hurdles. As we both design the core and develop the process of moving and placing it, we are focusing on making sure others can easily replicate our work in the majority of rural contexts. The footing, our most recent detail, is hitting most if not all of our criteria and we continue to examine and refine it. What’s funny is that the final connection is only screws, so we may just be screwin’ er’ down after all.

Section of bathroom core footing

In Other News,

We have been steadily working in various other areas of the project. We are drawing elevation options, both interior and exterior and considering where our porches should be and what they look like. We are also asking ourselves what the human comfort scheme is, which is the heating and cooling of the house, and what passive strategies we could employ.

We have also been in the business of testing the spatial aspects of the cores and taking field trips to Rural Studio projects and places.

This point in the project is exciting. Hopefully, in the next blog, you will see a mock-up and some details that are finally nailed down, pun intended.

Get MEPped

Spring has sprung on the 18×18 House site! And with the grass, flowers, and leaves on the trees, new things are springing up inside the house too…

After installing their Pella windows at the start of this semester, the team kept moving with mechanical, electrical, and plumbing rough-ins, or MEP for short. That means pipes and wires!

First up were the drain, waste, and ventilation pipes. The PVC had to be cut and sections fitted together, leveled to slope downwards everywhere, and then taken apart to be glued BACK together. It took some trial and error, but Julie was on top of it.

After drain pipes were glued and checked for leaks, the team moved on to water supply lines. These had to be run to the outside of the house, where eventually the main line will be connected to the water meter.

Student with water line

Inside the house, flexible pipes snake through the walls to a few places. They eventually reach the locations of everything that will use water: the bathroom sink, toilet, shower, kitchen sink, washing laundry, outdoor hose, and refrigerator. Some of the spaces were tight, but once again, Julie saved the day.

Then we ALSO checked all of those pipes for leaks, but this time using air pressure.

Student reading air pressure

Meanwhile, we were also filling the walls with wires to run electricity throughout the house. Wires need to run to every single outlet, switch, and fixture, which can get complicated in a compact space like the 18×18 House.

But fear not! Meagan kept track of all the circuits, which all worked when tested! Phew.

And if that weren’t enough to keep everyone busy, the team has been finalizing some new flashing details for the exterior of the house. The 18×18 House will have about two-thirds of its cladding bumped out by a couple inches to add some dimension to the metal siding. Jake’s on that one!

Look at him. We’re all so proud.

Student with flashing mock-ups

And the FINAL thing the team has done to date… interior finishes! As the insulation and drywall stages approach, the “18s” are deciding on flooring, stair materials, railings, you name it.

The spring evenings in Hale County are setting the 18×18 House aglow every day. Keep an eye out for more changes as spring turns to summer, and as the team gets closer to the finish line!

Rural Studio at Habitat for Humanity International Affiliate Conference

Welcome to our recap of the 2024 Habitat for Humanity Affiliate Conference, a gathering that epitomized collaboration, innovation, and community empowerment. Held in the vibrant city of Atlanta, GA, between March 4-7, this event brought together over 2,000 passionate individuals dedicated to the efforts of housing affordability. With an extensive offering of more than 150 workshops, the Front Porch team along with our partners had the opportunity to lead panels and present in sessions on diverse topics influencing the future of housing initiatives. Proudly sponsoring at the Bronze Hammer level, we showcased our commitment to driving impactful change across the Southeast, unveiling collaborative research and highlighting our regional footprint. Our Front Porch team, actively engaged with current Habitat partners and initiated connections with potential future collaborations.

One of our innovative and active Housing Partners, New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity, was honored with 2024 Best in Climate Resiliency National Home Design Award for their Rural Studio-designed homes. This award recognizes the incorporation of high-preforming and resilient design features in the rebuilding efforts in Jean Lafitte, Louisiana. To learn more about this project and our collaboration with NOLAHFH, see our case study in Jean Lafitte.     

At the conference, we were extremely fortunate to be given the valuable opportunity to moderate and present at several workshops alongside our Housing Affiliate Partners. This experience allowed us to not only share our expertise and insights but also to collaborate closely with our partners, exchanging ideas and knowledge to create meaningful and engaging sessions for all participants. It was a rewarding experience that strengthened our relationships and contributed to discourse of the conference as a whole.

Dollars and Sense: How to Select and Implement Performance Improvements with Grant Funding

Presenters:

  • Betsy Farrell Garcia, Auburn University Rural Studio
  • Mark Grantham, Auburn-Opelika Habitat for Humanity
  • Carmen Smith, Chipola Area Habitat for Humanity

The presenters discussed the ongoing research with Habitat affiliates and Auburn University Rural Studio that demonstrates how the savings realized from improved building performance can be shifted from an operational expense to an investment in the value of a home. The two affiliates shared their decision-making process for using BuildBetter with Whirlpool grant funding on energy efficiency and resilience improvements. For more information on these case studies please see: AOHFH Stevens Street and CAHFH Chipola Street

BuildBetter with Whirlpool: A Shared Vision for Climate-Resilient Housing

Presenters:

  • Rusty Smith, Auburn University Rural Studio
  • Teunis Aarnoudse, Habitat for Humanity East Bay/Silicon Valley
  • Edwin Hensley, Habitat for Humanity International
  • Rosa Skinner, Whirlpool
  • Wendi Goodlett, Habitat for Humanity of Monroe County

In this session, the participants interacted with an affiliate implementor, research partner (Rural Studio), and Whirlpool representative. The Habitat affiliates shared their resources to successfully implement and achieve these shared goals.  Each initiative’s research partner discussed lessons learned about homebuyer satisfaction and the impacts this technology has on affordable housing and how that can support our decision-making for future builds and even our storytelling.

Build Influence: Actionable and Systems-Based Innovations in Housing Affordability

Presenters:

  • Mackenzie Stagg, Auburn University Rural Studio
  • Marguerite Oestreicher, New Orleans Area Habitat
  • Carmen Smith, Chipola Area Habitat for Humanity

This panel session shared actionable pathways for going “beyond the build” by seeking opportunities to influence the larger systems in which Habitat homes are situated. Panelists presented tangible examples and results from successful pilots for how Habitat affiliates have engaged in influencing zoning policy, diversification of financing, and expansion of home product lines while collaborating with organizations, including colleges and universities, government agencies, financial institutions, and other community development agencies. For more information on these case studies please see: NOLAHFH Jean Lafitte and CAHFH Chipola Street.

We also want to highlight and share some other great and impactful work sessions led by our external Partners that we were able to attend and support.

Affordable Home Financing: Emerging Options and Opportunities

Presenters:

  • Sidra Goldwater, Fannie Mae
  • Cynthia Williams, Chipola Area Habitat for Humanity
  • Dwane Krumme, Habitat for Humanity of La Pine Sunriver
  • Sara Padilla, Habitat for Humanity of Oregon

They discussed emerging and existing pathways to expand financing options for homebuyers. They presented a collaborative pilot project that demonstrates how sweat equity can be an acceptable source for Fannie Mae’s HomeReady mortgage loans and add value to closing. The first implementation of this product was in collaboration with Rural Studio’s Front Porch Initiative in the Chipola Street development in Mariana, Florida.

Weaving the Work: How Strategic Partnerships and Collaboration Advance Black Homeownership

Presenters:

  • Maria Evans, Fannie Mae
  • Brooke Walker, Minnesota Homeownership Center;
  • Robyn Bipes-Timm, Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity;
  • Aarica Coleman, City of Bloomington, Minnesota;
  • Talaya Lawson-Shoals and Shereese Turner, Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity

In this session, the presenters covered the discovery of shared objectives, innovation, resource sharing, market access, risk mitigation, negotiation, and agreements, along with the evaluation and adjustments necessary for a fruitful alliance. The speakers elaborated on the Twin Cities Habitat’s ongoing collaboration with Fannie Mae, Minnesota’s Homeownership Center, and the City of Bloomington in weaving a tapestry of strategic partnership.

And They’re Off!

Newbies in Newbern

The Spring 2024 3rd-year students found their way to Newbern, and for Rural Studio’s own 30th Anniversary year! These past few weeks have been filled with many firsts for this group. They learned quite a lot already about putting things together and have been thrown into Rural Studio history with the traditional first-week Project Tour!

During their first week in Hale County, the newbies discovered trivia at The Stable and weren’t doing too well, stuck in last place throughout the whole night with 53 points. Then came the final round, which was the special twist: answer the question right and you gain the points that your team wagered, but if you get it wrong you must subtract the points wagered. The group of five decided to wager it all to give themselves a fighting chance at surpassing the first-place holder who had 98 points—and it worked! The group won with 105 points! Unfortunately, the following trivia nights sadly do not share the same happy ending.

Winner, winner, pizza dinner!

Notorious Neckdown

During their second week in Hale County, the 3rd-year students had some good old-fashioned bonding time with the 5th-year students and faculty during “Neckdown” Week! Each day, the students battled the crazy weather and were split into groups to help out around Hale County.

The first group visited Perry Lakes Park with Emily McGlohn and Judith Seaman. They swept the walkways and replaced rotting boards on the boardwalk to the Birding Tower, Bathrooms, and Pavilion.

The second group was the Fabrication Pavilion with Andrew Freear, John Marusich, and Steve Long. The students helped take apart and assemble scaffolding that was then used to replace parts of the columns.

The third group had their first days on the farm, helping Eric Ball plant seeds, harvest carrots, and prepare microgreens to grow in the greenhouse. Group four was busy over at the Model Homes sprucing up for a Spring roster of exciting visitors. Students cleaned the homes, painted walls, and helped Mason Hinton and John Allen with general maintenance. Last but not least was the mobile task force later in the week with Emily and Judith. With a rotating team, they cleaned the Thesis Barn, Newbern Town Hall, and Brick Barn. They also scrubbed the fence to a shine along Highway 61 at Morrisette Campus.

“Neckdown” Week wasn’t for the weak, with such wacky weather almost every single day. From freezing weather to lots of rain, the new 3rd-year students got an unusual Neckdown forecast. At the end of the day, they had a great time getting accustomed to the new lifestyle in Newbern.

Rookies at Rosie’s

Working on Rosie’s home had been one of the most anticipated tasks for the 3rd-year students. With help from a few of last semester’s students, they quickly picked up where the Fall 2023 team left. Kati taught Julia how to trim the windows; Tanner, Sarah, Brysen, and Mac all worked on continuing the cypress wood paneling; Caitlin and Deane built louvers for the attic vents; and finally, Yesenia and Jack continued the electrical work. One big hit from the first week on Rosie’s site was the cats! The most famous is Crunch, who is extremely loving.

Over the next few weeks, the 3rd-year students all teamed together to finish putting up the cypress wood paneling that wraps the ceiling. This was a big step in the right direction when it came to finishing Rosie’s Home. The cypress wood ceiling perfectly reflects lighting down into the room creating a beautiful effect.

Once the ceiling was completed, it was time to trim and caulk the windows and louvers throughout the house. This step only took a few days, and soon after, the scaffolding was able to come out and the flooring began! The scaffolds leaving the house and completing flooring in the living and kitchen areas were such big accomplishments, we deserved a good rest on the floor. The flooring is called Marmoleum, a variety of linoleum which is manufactured with linseed oil that uses a click-lock backing system and is part of 3rd-year students’ ongoing study in healthier material alternatives. Along with its health advantages over vinyl, the whole class is loving how easy Marmoleum has been to install.

The class is super excited to keep checking tasks off of the list and pushing towards the finish line of Rosie’s Home.

Head-Turning History

Dick Hudgens is the professor for the history seminar here at Rural Studio. However, his classes are not like any regular history classes these students have had before. Hudgens takes the students on trips to visit historic homes around the Black Belt region and includes the use of natural watercolors in his sketching assignments. At the beginning of the semester, a watercolor-making class is held led by local textile and dye artist Aaron Sanders Head. During this class, the students are shown a few ways that watercolor pigments can be made using natural resources like local plant matter, kitchen scraps, and leftover building materials.

So far, we have visited four homes: Glencairn, Magnolia Grove, Bluff Hall, and Lyons Hall. We learned a lot from these four homes and are excited for the other trips as the semester progresses. If you’d like to see everyone’s work, all sketches and watercolors done throughout the semester can be found at Pig Roast coming up at the end of next month!

Locations of the homes visited so far:

1.          Glencairn, Greensboro, AL

2.          Magnolia Grove, Tuscaloosa, AL

3.          Bluff Hall, Demopolis, AL

4.          Lyons Hall, Demopolis, AL

Working Hard in Woodshop

The 3rd-year students have been spending a lot of time in the woodshop these past couple of weeks and have been keeping the woodshop instructor, Steve Long, on his toes. Each semester students are given two projects to work on within the shop. The first is a cutting board, which allows them to get familiar with the equipment in the shop. The second, and most important, project is to recreate an architect’s famous chair design from found documents. Most of these chairs are manufactured on a machine scale, so the project requires students to design the processes to build these seats by hand using the resources of the Newbern shop! Both finished products will be on display at Pig Roast, so be sure to come by at the end of the semester.

So far, we have made the cutting boards, performed research for our chosen chairs, and created storyboards for them. Most recently, we have started making mock-ups to prepare for the final chair build. We are excited to see how the chairs will turn out!

Here’s each group and their chosen chair!

Denae and Julia: Standard Chair No. 4 by Jean Prouve

Sarah and Yesenia: Stool No. 60 by Alvar Aalto

Brysen and Mac: Frei Edigio (Folding Chair) by Lina Bo Bardi

To end on a good note, get to know the new group! Here are some of their fun little theories…

What’s your fun little theory?

Denae Inniss is from the Bahamas. Theory: Animals that run out in front of your car are controlled by insurance companies.

Julia Van Pelt is from Columbus, Georgia. Theory: Farmersonly.com puts farms out of business.

Sarah May is from Huntsville, Alabama. Theory: Dogs have names for humans.

Yesenia Serrano is from Collinsville, Alabama. Theory: Whales have contact with life in the deep sea and life in space.

Brysen Calvin is from Chicago, Illinois. Theory: There is one cow on the moon; it never jumped.

Mac Harlow is from Atlanta, Georgia. Theory: The Denver airport.

Thanks for checking in, look out for big strides out at Rosie’s Home as we celebrate the home stretch of this 3rd-year project! See you soon.

Donut Ask How Many Plans We’ve Drawn

The CLT Core House team continues exploring wood construction technologies and prefabrication in Rural Studio’s latest housing affordability project. The goal for this project is to reduce the overall labor costs on-site by prefabricating one key “core” part of the home in a controlled environment and then transporting it to the site.

It has been a long road of many crumpled sheets and drafted lines. Every week, it feels like we tell our classmates, “We finally have a plan.” As in a house floor plan. How silly we were. Many iterations felt so close, seeming to be just out of reach. If only we pushed one more week, we told ourselves, surely it would work! Alas, our continual effort never seemed to reach that coveted goal. That is one of the great benefits of being at Rural Studio. We have the luxury of time, and great help from teachers and visitors alike, to help us realize when we aren’t hitting the mark. Sometimes it is hard to even find words describing why something may not work. Still, through every iteration, we are learning.

Fresh Air, Fresh Ideas

This semester, we have been hoping to reach one final floor plan. We had a list of requirements and details that we saw as essential. It took a long time to realize that maybe we have been trying to hold on to too many of these “essential” criteria. We have a good concept. We have a core that holds all mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems while also acting as the shear structural support for the house. Rather than forcing the concept to work in a plan, we wanted it to inform a plan clearly and effectively. It felt like we were forcing the idea onto floor plans that tended to muddle the ideas.

We have finally developed a plan that is simple and clear while also giving that large family the privacy and utility that they might need. We have been calling it the Donut Plan as there is a free-floating core and program organized around it. There is still a long way to go and plenty of iterations but, “we finally have a plan.”

Right?