research project

This House is Lit

Howdy from the Patriece’s Home team! The trees are turning green here in Hale County and the 5th-year projects are emerging from Winter with pent up energy and an excitement to build!

Since their last blog post, the team completed a soil test at their site and starting identifying the home’s location on the site. They’ve also been busy developing a landscaping strategy, pushing forward with a zero eaves strategy, and designing warm, wood-clad porches.

Rural Studio students have a myriad of consultants and reviewers checking over the designs and advising the projects. Recently, the Patriece’s Home team had a visit from Pete Landon and Cameron Acheson of Landon Bone Baker Architects in Chicago, IL. The students received feedback on how they could consider detailing the column and headers of their wood-clad porch.

Next, the team met Cheryl Noel and Ravi Ricker of Wrap Architecture in Chicago, IL, for a successful code review of the home, The team then proposed the home’s lighting strategy to lighting designer Thomas Paterson of Lux Populi, from Mexico City, Mexico. He advised the team that the light desired in a home at night is not the same character of light desired during the day.

The students decided to take a trip to the 20K Model Homes at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. to review the amount of daylight the windows provide and test what ideal nighttime lighting would be. For Patriece’s Home, the team is designing wall-mounted lighting to cast general light into a dark room and layered task lighting to illuminate highly used surfaces and spaces.  

Patriece’s Home most recently met with Rural Studio’s structural engineer, Joe Farruggia from Chicago, IL, for advice on when it is best and most economical to use laminated veneer lumber (LVLs) instead of dimensional lumber in the headers of the home. The team is also getting extremely detailed in the design of the cabinet and electrical plans, imagining how to design spaces for the hundred-year lifespan of the home.

The Patriece’s Home team is sprinting toward Pig Roast, Executive Review 2.0, and graduation, all in the next three and a half weeks! The students will begin buying materials, moving dirt on site, and constructing a full-scale mock-up of the home’s details. Stay tuned! Thanks for checking in on the project!

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!

Weather Proof and a Roof

Live from the Test Buildings, it’s the Thermal Mass and Buoyancy Ventilation Research Project team. After swiftly assembling the Test Buildings, the graduate team began weatherproofing. The team’s goal is to have the buildings protected from rain quickly so they can get to work on installing the thermal mass panels on the interior. The weatherproofing systems are designed to mitigate heat gain in different ways to eliminate experimental variation.

First, the team covered the buildings in shingled tar paper–a heavy-duty, waterproof construction paper. Next, the team installed battens which create space between the structure and cladding allowing for ventilation and avoiding heat gain. The roof is also ventilated and covered with highly reflective, low albedo corrugated sheet metal. This means the materiality and color of the roof are fighting solar radiation.

Lastly, the team installed the beautiful steel door frames. Turnipseed International donated the steel and Brad of Superior Metals LLC welded the frames Thanks for reading and stay tuned.

Tar Paper and Battens

Roof Battens and Flashing

Roofing Metal

Both roofs complete!

Door Frame

The Great Walls of Newbern

Live from within the newly completed Cooling Porch retaining walls, it’s the Thermal Mass & Buoyancy Ventilation Research project team! We’ll take you through the evolution of both north and south wall and all the earthwork in between. If you stay tuned ’till the end you’ll see Cory’s latest artistic venture; a short film titled, “Le Grevier.”

Backfilling and adding the final course to the north wall

North Wall: Complete!

After laying and leveling the dry-stacked concrete highway barriers, the team backfilled gravel and earth against the wall. Directly behind the walls are drains that are wrapped in landscape fabric and covered with gravel. This protects the drains from getting clogged with Hale County Clay. Behind the gravel, the team piled and compacted earth. They are reusing the dirt excavated for the building foundations. This process repeats for each course, refilling the initial dig. The Cooling Porch is still a hole in the ground, but it’s becoming a far more precise hole in the ground.

Tamping over damp dirt and clay is a struggle

Voila! The joints, pattern, color, and textures of the north wall turned out fantastic. The team was astonished by the uniformity of the wall and the blending of the different blocks despite using reclaimed materials. On to the south wall!

South Wall: Complete!

Beginning the 1st course of the south wall and taking down the batter boards!

The process of constructing the south wall was essentially the same as the north wall. Small concrete footings were poured wherever the retaining wall went off the building foundations. The team also completed the installation of the drainage. The space began to form right in front of their eyes!

Fully Blocked

The team feels the space looks exactly as they drew it–which is both slightly surprising and super satisfying. All the measuring, drafting, and double-checking produced a beautiful pit. And, bonus, the reuse of materials is a surefire way to build with the environment in mind and luckily these concrete highway barriers turned out to be the perfect durable, stackable material. The backfill and dug-out stairs makes getting around site a whole lot easier. It’s all coming together!

Thanks for following the progress of the soon-to-be chilly demonstration space! Stay tuned for SIPs construction and laying the ground surface in the Cooling Porch. Now, for your enjoyment, follow the life of a scoop of gravel in Cory’s feature film, “Le Grevier.”

Le Gravier

Le Grevier: Directed by Cory Subasic starring Wheelbarrow, Shovel, Bobcat, and Gravel with a special appearance by Livia Barrett as “Gravel Girl.”