Welcome to the blog, dear reader. This journal is my honest recounting of the design and construction of Reverend Walker’s Home. It is late May. Day by day we ease further into the dense atmosphere of the West Alabama summer. The thickness of the air is visible at certain times of day, beautiful and inescapable. This is the time when a big hat is a necessity rather than an accessory. This being the case, my crew has been pushing to raise the great pavilion roof that is the key feature of the Reverend’s home. The roof will provide a solar reprieve through the coming months. It should then please you, dear reader, to learn that a milestone has been made in this endeavor.
Trusses are up! Thanks to Shane of Stillwater Machine, and our professors Steve and Andrew, we were able to get the six trusses lifted, secured, and braced in a morning. What follows is a summary of the steps my crew took to get to this point, starting from what I described in my last entry.
Soon after getting the columns up, the trusses were delivered, and we quickly realized there were a few discrepancies from our specified drawings. The mistakes were fixable so we brought out the angle grinders and got to work trimming steel. Once the revisions were done, the trusses were ready for the boom-truck to lift them into place.
To be perfectly truthful, the process was less smooth than this slideshow implies. There were many obstacles to overcome. But trust when I say, dear reader, that when ill-fated circumstances arrive, my crew does not despair. Due to my fine leadership skills, they rise to the occasion and do what has to be done with their heads held high. With my steady paw on the wheel there is no chance this ship runs aground. I will continue to document the progress of this home in future journals, but for now I see Reggie sitting, and therefore I must also sit. Look forward to accounts of mock-ups, roofing, and window making.
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:
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.
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.
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.
Hi there! Back for more, are you? Well, if you were intrigued enough to return to this humble little blog of ours, we should probably give you the low down on what Rev. Walker’s home is all about. As mentioned in our last post, our project is a continuation of the research started by the 2019-2020 outreach master’s team, who were interested in taking a pole barn structure and applying it to rural housing, as it is an efficient and easy building technique. This, combined with our own observation of trends in rural homeownership, in particular those of expansion, has led us to explore a starter home, completely separated from, but sheltered by a single-source, kit-of-parts pole barn. What is a pole barn? And why would we separate it from the structure of our home? We’re glad you asked!
Typically, pole barns use large, widely-spaced wooden posts buried straight into the ground to carry trusses supporting a large clear-span roof. What can often be found underneath is a slab on grade or merely a dirt floor. These structures can be seen all over Hale County, usually serving as manufacturing buildings, churches, or simply just for storage. Well, that’s where our challenge comes in, dear reader – to make this building type function well as a home.
Because this technique minimizes the use of materials, it can cover swaths of space previously unachievable by past 20K homes for the same price. By having the home begin as an enclosure for a single person or couple, we can dedicate the rest of our resources to providing the largest roof and slab possible, sheltering and providing a sturdy base for future expansion. This is ideal as oftentimes additions compromise the original home’s structure as multiple roof and foundation systems are tied together.
By having the structure of the home completely separated from the pole barn, the owner doesn’t have to learn how to add onto a less conventional post frame home and the overarching roof can remain untouched, maintaining its integrity. The pole barn can then take the brunt of the weather that would typically age a home and can protect new connections if the house grows.
Having two independent structures also preserves the quick and easy nature of the pole barn, allowing all of the components to be purchased off-the-shelf from a manufacturer without having to fuss too much with modifying it to have residential details and tolerances. This is important to us as we want this home to be as accessible to buy and simple to build as possible.
This ability to put up a roof fast also gives us a dry place under which to work without weather delays or breaks (remember: “healthy body, healthy mind”), as well as covering potential expansions by the owner so there’s no need to rush.
In our scheme, the approximately 500-square-foot home is covered by a 1,900-square-foot, 5-bay pole barn. The difference in size results in a luxury of outdoor space, where at the start it can serve as a large porch – the primary social space in rural communities. The home is broken up into two volumes arranged into a dogtrot scheme – one with all the rooms necessary to make a viable home and the other left blank to be used as the owner sees fit.
This not only starts to define outdoor rooms, but also implies infilling between the volumes as the first move of expansion. Additionally, the monopitch shape of the home’s roof gives clues towards expansion, hinting that one can march the same roof pitch between the volumes and come off the high side of the home to infill the front. This extra initial height in the home also provides opportunities for a loft space, which can serve as storage or a sleeping space and help with ventilation.
If you’ve made it to the end of this long but passionate discourse about our explorations, I commend you. But for now I must leave you, as my four underlings are returning to site with greater frequency to prepare the area for construction, but with an alarming lack of extra scratches. Something must be done about this.
Based on our design development thus far, we have decided to incorporate a pole barn structure into our 20K Home design this year. In order to learn more about these type of structures and who is already building them in our community, we set off to do more research.
Typically, pole barns in this area are constructed using treated 6×6 wood posts and trusses composed of metal tubes, with either wood or metal purlins. We started talking with local contractors and manufacturers to get a better sense of pricing, construction options, details, and construction timeline.
After talking with Allen (one of the local pole barn contractors) he invited us to shadow him as he put up a 40′ x 120′ pole barn with his crew. On the first day the team installed all of the posts and cast the footings. We also helped them as they prepared for truss installation by establishing a datum to measure from.
On the second day: the team chopped the tops off the posts to level them, bolted the two halves of the truss together, and then raised them up atop the posts. It was helpful for us to observe the process and ask questions of the guys who do this every day. They’ve been an invaluable resource in helping us understand the possibilities and limitations of pole barn construction.
In conjunction with our research, we are continuing to design. We’re focusing on the “L” scheme with porches on two adjacent sides. We’re now diving further into the sectional implications of putting a small house under a big roof. We’re investigating different facade and insulation strategies and diving further into the details.