concrete

Leveled Up

Last time we saw the 18×18 House team, they were putting shovels into the ground for the first time. Three months later, the project has leveled up! 

The team first got their formwork ready for the concrete pour. This started with them digging their turndowns and trenches and then pulling strings, setting up formwork, and setting the plumbing pipes and electrical conduit.

The next step was putting down gravel, vapor barrier, and rebar. Then came the day everybody had been waiting for—the concrete pour! The team watched as Meagan cried tears of happiness when the slab was finally in place.

Once the slab was set, it was time to get to work. The team ordered and organized on-site to help them work as efficiently as possible.

Before the walls went up, the team laid down, some the termite flashing and sill gaskets to reduce air infiltration between the slab and the pressure-treated base plates. 

After just two days, the exterior walls of the first floor were up and braced, then the team began to build and tilt up the interior walls from inside the house—a task that required lots of careful maneuvering due to its size.

They moved some scaffolding to the site and set it up around the house as to prepare to move upward.

Now the team is working on framing the second floor and building the stair. The joists have already been installed, and the team is gluing and nailing down the subfloor.

With the second floor platform installed, the team got a great view of the sunset down the hill, and they can’t wait to see that view from the very top. Stay tuned to see what the 18×18 House team does next!

Dirty Work

The Patriece’s Home team is getting dirty in this Alabama heat. Quite literally! After ten months of research and design the team is ecstatic to begin learning through building. 

But first some final checks! A meeting with Joe Burns help the team perfect their column and bearing wall details. He also helped the students design the edits for their attic truss to create more upstairs storage.

The team did not break ground on their site, instead they brought about 84 square yards of engineered dirt to make a leveled spot for their slab on grade foundation. The turndowns for the slab were also dug the same day as the dirt delivery and re-grading by Tyler from T & C Excavating. The site work was off with a bang thanks to Tyler! All that new dirt was then covered with hay and the team spread grass seed to ensure their site progress didn’t erode away. 

The team then began the sequential process toward pouring their slab! But first what needs to go in the slab. The students rapidly learned how plumbing works and designed their utilities to penetrate through the slab into the home’s interior. Eventually the team made trenches for the pipes and electrical conduit when they figured out that the trencher runs backwards instead of trying to drag it forwards. The PVC pipe and fittings were then placed and leveled to unsure they protrude from the ground in the correct spot, then glued together, and finally buried underneath the foundation. 

They immediately began building the formwork for the concrete, leveling and securing it with metal stakes and kickers. They then packed in dirt behind the formwork, or backfilled it, to ensure concrete doesn’t spill out of the forms from the underside of the wood and sprayed the ground for termite protection. 

When the forms were almost completed the team used Rural Studio’s beloved Bobcat to bring in gravel, spread it with shovels, then used the trusty site level create a level bed for the concrete. 

The team tucked the gravel bed in with a sheet of thick plastic, the foundation’s vapor barrier and secured the plastic to the underside of the formwork’s boards. Now for metal reinforcement! Rebar was cut, staked, bent, and tied together along the turndowns of the slab. A final layer of metal mesh was pieced together and sat across the slab interior. 

However, the actual final layer was the epic three layer tarp the team draped over the whole foundation to protect it from filling up with Hale County’s summer rains before their concrete pour date. 

The anticipated day arrived! Patriece’s Home team worked with our concrete contractor Clyde Fields to do their foundation and porch pours in one day. Because it was the hottest day of the summer about hours after the slab was floated the concrete was set enough for students pulled off the formwork around the porches and screw in expansion joints. The team then poured their porch slabs, allowed then to set, and sprayed them off to expose the pea gravel aggregate!

Their one and only concrete pour day was a huge success and the team is now ready to be out of the ground and go vertical! Check back to see Patriece’s Home start to take shape.

the finished concrete have sprinkler that sits on top of them and keeps the surfaces wet

Graduate Team Completes Construction and Publishes Paper!

The Thermal Mass and Buoyancy Ventilation Research Project (TMBV) graduate students have concluded their work and time in Newbern, AL. In their wake, they leave a published, peer-reviewed paper and two research-ready buildings.

In the course of their graduate year, the TMBV project dove deep into the results of their initial small-scale experiments, culminating in a research paper published in the Journal of Physics: Conference Series as a part of the 2021 CISBAT Hybrid Scientific Conference. At the same time, the team designed and constructed two Test Buildings. The cooling and ventilation effects spurred by the optimized thermal mass will be studied throughout the next year, providing ground truth data for the system at a building scale.

The paper: A synopsis

The open-access research paper entitled, “Synchronized coupling of thermal mass and buoyancy ventilation: wood versus concrete” was published in November 2020 in the Journal of Physics Conference: Series. This was an effort involving the entire TMBV research team including Salmaan Craig, Remy Fortin, Sebastien Asselin, Kiel Moe, David Kennedy, and Andrew Freear. The paper describes small-scale experiments that test the accuracy of sizing parameters which suggest how to optimize the coupling of an internal thermal mass—which allows a building to store heat and thereby avoid major temperature fluctuations—with natural ventilation cycles, regardless of the material or the scale of the building. The results suggest the sizing parameters may be valid for early-stage design. They also show that biomaterials, such as wood, can perform as well as conventional thermal mass materials, such as concrete.

Why is this important? Typical, mechanical thermal comfort systems pump greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, raising the temperature even more. They also cannot perform in power outages during weather events caused by the ongoing climate crisis. Therefore, using regenerative materials, such as wood, to mitigate rising temperatures without reliance on the power grid suggests sustainable thermal comfort with less burden on the environment. That is an ongoing aim of the TMBV Research Project, and these initial results are an encouraging step. Before such lofty goals can be reached, the TMBV Test Buildings will provide more insight into the capabilities of the system.

The buildings: A summary

As stated above, the TMBV Test Buildings examine the coupling of thermal mass and buoyancy ventilation as a reliable thermal comfort system at the building scale. Currently, the buildings are set up for these first large-scale experiments and will later be fitted out for housing. The buildings are designed to be flexible spaces for ongoing experiments as well as dwellings for 3rd-year students. Therefore, the buildings balance valid experimental conditions, the realities of construction, and the basic needs of college students. One Test Building is powered by a plywood internal thermal mass and the other by concrete. Both buildings are designed to achieve the same performance parameters for temperature dampening and ventilation rate despite their material differences—i.e., the surface area and thickness of the material.

The buildings are the first Rural Studio buildings constructed primarily out of Structurally Insulated Panels (SIPs). Towering over the Supershed on Morrisette Campus they hover 8′ off the ground. Underneath the buildings is a gathering space nicknamed the “Cooling Porch.” During the day it is meant to collect cool air flowing out of the buildings, providing a place to enjoy the systems en masse. Air travels here through the extended chimneys, which increase ventilation speed and denote the building’s function.

With such tight buildings, dependent on accuracy, the team showed out on all the details. From three-week welding sessions to mapping out patterns of old sidewalk scrap to calculating the discharge coefficient of rooftop vent caps, this team investigated every inch. Feel free to peruse the TMBV blog to see the process, but for now here are the results.

The team: An abridgement

What a journey! These kids, ready to learn how to craft a beautiful building, were not expecting a crash course in thermodynamics, experimental design, and scientific discourse. It was an incredible opportunity to do both. Blending design, construction, and scientific rigor was an extremely unique and fulfilling educational experience. And the TMBV team sharing that experience across North America!

Rowe, the TMBV team’s certified best and most patient construction instructor, has moved to Bozeman, Montana, to join Love | Schack Architecture.

Jeff, a master of power tools and 3D modeling, is taking time to further his coding and woodworking skills.

Cory, a most relaxed, renaissance man, is enjoying his stint at the Ghost Residency with MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects Limited, in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia.

Livia, the heart and volume of the operation, has settled in Austin, Texas, working with Rural Studio Alums at Thoughtbarn.

A huge thank you to the faculty and staff of Auburn University Rural Studio, the teams’ student colleagues, the project consultants (including Joe Farruggia!), the donors and teachers of Turnipseed International, and “Crane” Shane of Sweetwater Construction LLC for your time, knowledge, and support. Most obviously and ardently, thank you to the TMBV research conglomerate Salmaan Craig, Andrew Freear, Steve Long, David Kennedy, Kiel Moe, Sebastien Asselin, and Remy Fortin for the stellar work and dedication. It took a village!

This lot loves Rural Studio and all of its people. Hope to see y’all soon.

Cladding, Concrete, Continuing

The Thermal Mass and Buoyancy Ventilation Team’s days of pouring concrete and manning the man lift are over. All of the internal thermal mass concrete panels have been poured, cured, and installed in the Concrete Test Building. Another milestone hit is the completion of the exterior cladding (minus the Cooling Porch ceiling). The team waved goodbye to both the articulating man lift, generously donated to the project by Sunbelt Rentals, and to team member Livia. She journeyed to Austin, TX, to work for Rural Studio Alum Lucy Begg and Robert Gay at their firm, Thoughtbarn. Good luck Liv!

Let’s check out the progress!

Cladding Completion

The team met their goal of finishing all cladding which required the articulating man lift by the end of October. The bleach-stained cypress covers all exterior surfaces including the Chimneys. The team left one side of the cladding longer than necessary. Then they came back with a skill saw and a guide to give one clean cut. This ensured that all corner reveals were exactly 1/2 inch wide.

Interior Optimized

Over 70 1-1/8 inch concrete panels now line the walls of the Concrete Test Building. The team crafted formwork and processes for pouring, transporting, and installing each panel. Behind the panels is 1/2 inch rigid insulation which creates a thermal break from the OSB sheathing during the testing phase. For roughly the next year, the Test Buildings will be unoccupied as temperature and ventilation measurements are continuously recorded. Afterward, the Test Buildings will be prepared for either more experiments or occupation by 3rd-year students living on Morrisette Campus. Check out the nearly complete Concrete Test Building below! Only some buffing and shining to go!

Bonus!

Also in the works as of late is a vent cap for the bottom chimney opening within the Test Buildings. This cap seals the lower ventilation opening shut during winter occupation. Seen below is Rowe welding a frame for the hatch!

Don’t miss Jeff and Rowe’s wonderful Halloween Review costumes. Jeff as his prized Milwaulkee leaf blower and Rowe, a leaf, one of many victims. Keep checking back in as the Test Buildings near completion!

It’s a Cover-Up: Cladding the Interior and Exterior

History professor Dick Hudgen’s TMBV Test Buildings Sketch!

Right now the Thermal Mass and Buoyancy Ventilation team is all about concrete and cypress. They’ve been busy creating and installing the shiplap jointed, 1-1/8″ thick concrete internal thermal mass panels. These panels line the walls of one of the Test Buildings and create the designed cooling and ventilation effects. With Jeff at the helm of formwork building, they’ve completed three out of four panel pouring phases. The panel-making process is separated into phases, so most of the formwork can be used more than once, eliminating waste. Formwork, or molds, are fabricated with precision in the woodshop. The team installed phase 1 before Cory began his journey to Nova Scotia to participate in a residency with McKay-Lions Sweetapple Architects Ltd. Congratulations Cory, we miss you already!

Also on the agenda as of late; exterior finishes! With weather-proofing complete, the team has taken to installing the cladding part of the ventilated cladding system. This system is completed with 8″ and 6″ cypress boards which are protected with Cabot® Bleaching Stain. The stain also helps the wood age consistently in the sun. With Livia cutting and Jeff and Rowe installing, the cypress siding is flying up!

Unseen are the myriad of other little things the team is finishing up such as electrical and grading. The team is keeping the momentum up so stay tuned to see the buildings fully wrapped!

Panel Production

Panel pouring process: Mix concrete, fill form, transfer to vibrating table, trowel, and finish!

Cypress Siding