ruralhome

The Reverend’s Home

When I began this journal, I made my intent clear. The aim of this log was to accurately document the efforts of Rev. Walker’s Home team from start to finish, from render to reality. I have come to cherish this opportunity to reflect and recount to a wide audience, and make our story is known. Looking back on every success, failure, hardship, triumph, and moment of comradery of my crew has further endeared me to my time as their captain. It is truly bittersweet to say then, dear reader, that this will be my last entry.

Work on Rev. Walker’s (Reggie) Home concluded on the 27th of September, in the early afternoon of a cool Fall day. With great fanfare, cheers, and tears, my crew will disband and embarked on new adventures. Reggie and I will continue to sail this ship for as far as she will take us. I digress, dear reader, my task is yet complete. I will now give an account of the completion of Rev. Walker’s Home. As per tradition, I will offer a description of the current state of the county to provide a context to place the actions of my crew.

To the delight of every soul in Hale County, the seasons have turned. The languid heat of summer has been replaced by a refreshing breeze. This is the only time of the year when the air is your friend around here. Another summer endured, and the feeling of change in the air, the Studio staff and students enjoyed a new burst of energy. In this encouraging atmosphere, my crew set about finish work. The tasks included painting, trimming, flooring, cabinetry, finish plumbing, finish electrical, installing screen doors, and cleaning up for the project opening.

Painting

Of course, a properly finished home needs a splash of paint. The shape of the interior of Rev. Walker’s Home made it a long process. Everything that was painted got a coat of primer and two coats of finish paint. Originally, the plan was to give everything a white coat, however, five gallons of a cream color were accidentally purchased. We ran with it and concluded that it was a happy accident. We feel that the result is an interior that feels warm and house-like.

Plywood Walls

The interior of the home uses birch plywood selectively. The two sides of the galley kitchen are plywood, implying the ability to mount things to it, whether that be hooks, shelves, or additional cabinets. The wall dividing living space from core space is also finished in birch plywood to further emphasize the core volume. Knowing that walls are often not straight, making it difficult to align the sheets of plywood, we used a plunge-saw on a track to get precise cuts. The saw allowed us to whittle sheets down to fit perfectly into their designated spaces. The sheets are fastened with pneumatic-driven finish nails.

Flooring

The floor in Rev. Walker’s Home is a cold-welded rubber system, kindly donated to our project by Interface®. Commonly found in commercial and institutional settings, this floor is robust and watertight. We found the flat quality of the material was preferable to the highly textured aesthetic of more traditional floor systems. We got this done in a day.

Trim

With painting concluded (I use the word concluded lightly), we could move forward with other tasks like trim work. Baseboards, window and door trim, and kitchen wall trim were all done out of cypress boards. We were planning on painting these but ended up liking the look of the cypress and decided on a stain. We don’t have any photographic evidence of us doing this but I can assure you we did. Here’s some finish shots of the interior trim.

Also Paul Did This

House Warming

With all of this done, plus a thousand other odds and ends, we swept and mopped the home, and left feeling satisfied and ready for the project opening. We held a housewarming party for Reggie the following afternoon. Rural Studio staff and students, families of the team, and friends of Reggie were in attendance. It was a joy to be able to celebrate Reggie and his new home, and to have an opportunity to offer our thanks to everyone who made the project possible. Seeing the porches come alive for the first time was an amazing moment.

big roof coming in handy

Rev. Walker’s Home

We hope you love the place, Reggie. (We know you read this.)

A Fond Farewell

In 13 months, a home was designed, a slab poured, a large roof built overhead, and a living space made underneath. However, this is not the end of a story. Rev. Walker’s Home will continue to adapt to the needs and wishes of the client. Given enough time, we expect it will scarcely resemble its current form. For many, the idea of one’s conception becoming another thing over time is frightening. For us, it is the source of excitement that led us on this journey.

If cats could cry, I would be while writing this. Our endeavor was not modest, dear reader, nor our obstacles small. It would take a good team and a charismatic leader to be a success. My crew joined this expedition as fresh as they come. In the beginning, I led with a strict paw. Over time, they earned my trust, leaving me more time for napping. They depart now as confident and skilled sailors out to make names for themselves on the high seas. I suspect that many other great adventures await them, so keep an eye out.

As for me, I have elected to continue my journey with Reggie. I have found this new home an excellent place for laying about, and intend to do so for as long as I can. I’ll be sure to keep a close eye on Reggie and that confounded dog he keeps around. When the time comes to modify the house, I will resume my position as a swift delegator and fierce captain once again. Alas, dear reader, my crew demands a portrait and I must oblige them. This will be my final entry, until our next adventure.

Yours fondly,

Captain Taterhead

A Variety of Tasks

Welcome back to my journal, dear reader! This log aims to provide for you an accurate account of the goings-on of Reverend Walker’s Home. Might my words inform or at the very least entertain, then I should be satisfied with its effect. I generally begin these entries with a current description of Hale County as a whole, to provide a context to place the actions of my crew.

As of late, the county has sunk into a thick, languid humidity that prevents large amounts of evaporation. This atmosphere results in dense fogs, oppressive temperatures, swampy ground, and incredible displays of heat lightning. It is not a forgiving climate, to be sure. But it is a West Alabama climate and it’s in it that the special quality of Hale County is made.

My crew labors through these conditions with spirit and humor. They are a hardy bunch indeed. But enough of my musings, dear reader, you must think me sentimental. I have set the team a multitude of tasks to be completed. These range from procuring materials and making final orders to wiring and plumbing the home.

Interior Framing

putting in the interior walls

To separate program and create a loft space, a small number of interior walls were built. These divide the living and core spaces, and divide the core space into a bathroom and kitchen, with a small closet facing the living area. It was not a big task, but it was a good feeling to be done putting the bones of the home together. After getting the sticks up we put together the loft floor and were ready to sheath.

short wall

Sheathing

Reverend Walker’s Home uses an OSB sheathing system wrapped in tar paper. The large sheet material makes it a relatively quick process. It was interesting to experience the space in and around the solid volumes for the first time.

before
after

Mechanical, Electrical, Plumbing

Before we can get drywall up, we need to install the guts of the home. This includes running wire for fixtures and plugs, running water lines, drains, and vents. Reverend Walkers Home uses a PEX water supply system. Getting to focus on some nitty-gritty MEP details was a refreshing change from rough carpentry.

pulling wires
pex
shower fixtures
water wall
stack out the roof!

Lighting Design

Before we can finish up electrical and get insulating, we need to develop a lighting strategy. To help we used the built volumes as 1:1 mockups, and clamped lights around to draw conclusions. We did this for the interior and porch spaces. Interestingly, our initial idea for lighting the exterior was to use the overhead roof as a lighting device. Instead, we found it far more comfortable to reduce the scale by bringing the light down. This has developed into an overall strategy of letting the spaces be grand and open during the day, and shorter, closer to human scale at night.

porch light brought down

Windows

The quest to crank out window units continues. You will recall the custom cypress windows our team have designed. We are eager to complete these and get them in the house so that we can move forward with cladding the home in galvalume r-panel. In total there are five windows of three varieties. The difference being in the proportion of glass to hatch. I walked into the shop for some pictures, this is what I found Addie up to.

scribing

Indeed, my crew has been hard at work. I have put my full trust in them to perform their tasks well. Fortunately for me, they are a good lot which makes management easy, leaving more time to nap. As the Reverend’s home nears completion, look forward to learning about siding, lighting, and finish carpentry. Things are going to begin coming together fast. Alas, dear reader, I must draw an end to this journal entry, for I have grown weary. I believe I will choose the Reverend’s slab porch for today’s restful occasion.

Cordially,

Taterhead

Further Assembling a Rather Large Roof

Make way, dear reader! My crew is steaming ahead at an alacritous boil and would take several miles to stop given their momentum. Where I last left, I detailed the process of erecting the columns and trusses that support Reverend Walker’s Home’s grand pavilion roof. In this entry, you will see the roofing process through to the end. With truth, dear reader, the hot and muggy days have affected me. Most of my time is now occupied with napping. However, my crew, motivated by the promise of a permanent shade structure, carry on without my constant oversight. I trust them to be the thoughtful and disciplined design-builders that I know they are. Let me begin to describe our progress.

After securing the six steel trusses that hold the roof up, the next step was to bridge them with 2″ x 6″ purlins. Purlins provide a surface to screw sheets of roof metal onto. In our case, the purlins are painted white to help brighten the porch areas under the roof. The process involved trimming the 2″ x 6″ material, passing them up to two team members on the scaffolding above, placing and securing them into the manufactured purlin clips that came on the trusses, and bracing them to be 2′ on center. We repeated this process for each bay.

trim purlin
secure purlin in purlin clip
touch up paint above a sea of braces
brace purlins 2′ on center
purlins

When we finished up the purlins we were ready to put our galvalume r-panel on. On steep roofs, we generally predrill holes on the ground for easy screwing. An issue we quickly discovered with this method is that purlins are normally flat, providing a large surface to drill into and greater tolerance. Our purlins are vertical, meaning much less tolerance. Given that wood is rarely straight, we would have to continuously measure to ensure the holes were drilled in the right spots.

measure purlin centers
predrill
pass it up
push screws

After getting the sheet metal up, the final step was the ridge cap. For this step you will need some ridge cap and a Paul. We used a system of ratchet straps to get the lengths of metal up to him.

pass ridge up
fasten
enjoy a (mostly) complete roof

As you might have gathered, dear reader, the trust that I have placed in my crew is well-founded. I have done my duty as Captain, and through strict leadership have made them into good sailors. It appears that I may allow my management style to relax in the future, given the frequency of scratches does not suffer any loss. I have little worry of it, dear reader, for they both love and fear me. Ah, it appears scratch-time is immanent. I must cease my musings for a time, but rest assured I will be back with more updates on Reverend Walker’s Home in the near future.

Crew member, Becca, giving me scratches

Yours with esteem,

Taterhead

On Recent Occurrence and Activity

Greetings, dear reader! A lot has happened since my last journal. Springtime in Hale County is always busy with excitement as the weather improves. Short and cold days gradually turn sunny and quietly cheerful. The cows are particularly pleased as their fields begin to turn green again with fresh and tasty grass. Cats like myself take to basking. The students welcome the shift. Jeans are replaced with jean shorts, toboggans with sun hats. Moral appears to be high. What follows is a synopsis of recent events.

View to Field by Reverend Walkers Home

Ground Breaking News

My crew has been hard at work pushing the design of Reverend Walker’s Home to a new level of detail. Progress is swift and we look forward to breaking ground within the coming days. But before the shovel meets the dirt, there is a lot of rigorous preparation that needs to happen to ensure a smooth process. The team has been putting together a series of construction sets ranging from batter board drawings to plumbing documentation.

Batter board plan
batter-boards documentation
Jig for footings drawing
pier bracket jig

Last week, our friend and mentor, Steve Long, joined us on site to put up our batter boards! Batter boards give us the ability to make exact measurements during the building process. In the next couple weeks, the boards will help us with marking for earthwork, slab formwork, setting columns, and positioning plumbing stub-outs.

Students doing batterboards
distant students set a batter board
Addie through the site level
a site-level’s view of Addie
Paul through the site level
a site-level’s view of Paul

Milling

In addition to studio and site work, Adam Maggard, an Auburn University Forestry and Wildlife professor and Extension Specialist in Forest Systems Management, brought the Forestry Department’s portable wood mill to give a demonstration to students and faculty, mill two trees that were felled on Reverend Walker’s site, and to inspect the studio’s own portable mill. With Adam’s help, as well as Rural Studio Alum Will McGarity, and Professor David Kennedy, we milled cedar for a closet, and pecan slabs for exterior benches.

becca mills wood
Becca operating the mill
pecan slabs
pecan slabs
cedar boards
cedar boards

Windows and Hatches

An important component of Reverend Walker’s Home is a light & ventilation unit we are designing and building. The system takes the components of a single-hung window: light and ventilation, and separates them within an overarching frame. The goal is to produce a system that is more durable than the windows that are typically within budget.

single hung window
typical single hung window

The system features a fixed frame glass panel next to an operable ventilation hatch, which is covered by bug screen. By separating these systems we can potentially create a product that is comparably priced, and more airtight than conventional windows.

Reverend Walkers Window Unit
Reverend Walker’s Home unit
section drawings of unit
current iteration: sections through window and hatch
window unit plan
current iteration: plan of unit

After many iterations and with the help of Keith Cochran from Wood Studio, this is the current state of the system. It is a shop-built painted cypress frame containing a fixed glass window and an operable cypress hatch. We will be testing this design with a full scale mock-up in the coming weeks!

Taterhead the cat
Taterhead

That is all for now, dear reader. I implore you to return for more information as I continue to document our endeavors. My evening tuna is being served in the officer’s hall, so I must leave my crew to continue their work. They are a self-sufficient and hard-working bunch, and I trust them to meet and exceed my very high expectations.

Respectfully yours,

Taterhead

Reverend Walker’s Home

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.

components of a pole barn

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.

Diagram of house connections
points where additions tend to fail

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.

weather cant keep us off site

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.

Sketch of interior loft space
View of the loft from below

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.

Rendering of Reverend Walker's Home on site
Rendering of the home on its site

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.

Image of Taterhead the site cat

Until next time – Taterhead the Cat