ruralhousing

Free the Stairs!

Since Halloween Reviews, the 5th-year students designing Patrice’s Home have shifted their design focus of the extra unit within the home. The team is now exploring pushing the larger of the two units to the second floor.

But how would the home function if one family is using all of the spaces? With a helpful review from visiting architect and Rural Studio alum, Amanda Loper, from David Baker Architects, the team is cooking up two schemes that divide the first floor but keep the laundry shared. One scheme is a long shotgun unit and the other is a wider wrapping unit.

The strategy to keep spaces separate frees the stairs to be wholly used by the users living on the second floor. Next, the team will investigate opportunities and challenges of an open staircase in the home, including light, ventilation, storage, user experience, and (potentially) a dormer.

Vignettes of sixteen ways that stairs can be used other than circulation.

The team continues to cook these various schemes and analyze the connection of the interior to exterior porches. Keep watching out for Patrice’s Home team to see what these ideas bake into!

An arial photo of the four team members working at their desks in Red Barn.

First Steps

A selfie of Adam, Lauren, Laurel, and Daniel

Howdy from the freshly established Patrice’s Home team: Adam Davis, Lauren Lovell, Daniel Burton, and Laurel Holloway! While the team has not met their client, Patrice, yet, they have been diligently working on Rural Studio’s next 5th-year house project.  

Rural Studio has been designing and building homes for rural families since 1993. Patrice’s Home seeks to provide flexibility and adaptability for rural homeowners as the number of occupants and their relationships change over the life of the home. Often in rural areas, as homes are inherited and families grow, porches are filled in, and additions are added to provide more interior space.

Written Diagram. Adaptability = One defined space that changes in defined program. That change can be  called flexibility.

The goal of Patrice’s Home is to make the interior rooms flexible enough that they can easily and completely change without significant alterations or additions to the home. Building upon research from one of last year’s 5th-year projects, the Myers’ Home, this new project will also provide more occupiable interior space in the attic. By extending the interior upwards, the footprint remains the same, the cost per square foot of the home is decreased, and the details of exterior additions don’t lead to thermally weak points, leaky places within the home envelope.

The team is also considering the option of an exterior stair that allows for the second floor attic space to be separated from the first floor. This offers opportunities for the home to have two separate families under the same roof or additional space for the homeowner to rent, providing potential for a second source of income.

To understand the limits and possibilities of an interior stair, the team first dove into residential code analysis for interior stairs. Next they drew stair and attic truss schemes into several previous Rural Studio house designs to challenge what restrictions and possibilities come with a two-story house. This research combined with the drawing exercises helped the team develop new criteria for the project.

Halloween reviews are right around the corner and the team will begin to mock-up and understand what makes a delightful Rural Studio porch and the kind of spatial challenges a staircase offers. So, come along and porch sit with this team as they keep this project moving on up (into the attic)!

Shiny House, “Neckdowns,” Things Exterior

Welcome back to the journal, dear reader. In my last entry, I reported that Hale County had entered a state of oppressive heat and humidity. Several weeks have passed since that report, and climatically, nothing has changed. It’s 95oF in Hale County today, but they say it feels like 106oF. Let me ask you, dear reader, that if it feels like 106, then is it not 106? Alas, my mind wanders. Such a question is a trifle in comparison to my duty to you, that is to recount in an earnest fashion, the activity of Reverend Walker’s Home team.

While the environment is still and sweltering, my crew is the opposite. Intrepid and strong, and with the help of a protective roof, they carry on. I will admit, this motley crew are always raising the bar. I previously issued orders for them to complete the exterior of the home in a timely manner, and that they have. It was not a trivial amount of work. The tasks were varied and many. But yet again, the team has risen to the occasion. Doors and windows were built and installed concurrently with the application of siding and flashing. With additional help from new students during “Neckdown” Week, roll roofing was installed, the site was graded, beneath-ground drains installed, and a small patio built.

Doors & Windows

As Addie and Becca finished windows in the woodshop, Paul and George would install them on site. The whole unit is fabricated in the shop, making installation quick and easy. Pre-hung doors were installed and custom trim applied to the face of them to match the window details. As the doors and windows went in the house, siding and flashing were installed as allowed by what openings were done.

Siding

Reverend Walker’s Home is clad in the same galvalume r-panel that makes up the roof. Large, cut to length sheets make a fairly easy process. The only tricky parts are at those window locations where c-shapes need to be made out of the sheet metal. Bottom flashing was installed prior to siding.

leveling bottom flashing
installing r-panel
sided wall

Flashing

After the siding was put up, metal flashing and trim were next. The corner trim was installed first and then the top of wall flashing. The typical metal building corner trim has always been a team favorite. It is incredibly easy to install and is so big that it somehow disappears, or appears as just another ridge in the r-panel. Thank you fat corner trim. Top flashing was trickier with the different angles and cuts needed to make crisp connections between pieces. But with some practice cuts and good measurements it came together without much trouble.

cutting flashing with an angle grinder
flashed, trimmed, capped

Roofing

As flashing wrapped up, “Neckdown” Week began. Each day we were assisted by one or two new arrivals, bright-eyed and incredibly clean. We were also able to welcome Becca and Addie back from their shop sabbatical/site hiatus! Reunited and reinforced, we set about our work. Becca and Addie led the charge on the application of asphalt roll roofing to the top of the volumes. The roofing provides the final layer of water protection to the two volumes underneath the roof.

roofing layed out

Fireplace Patio

As the roll roofing went on, Paul and George were joined by several Landscape Architecture students, who offered advice and assistance in making a small gravel patio. After a quick design discussion, the area was graded, and a first length of French drain was installed so that we could move forward with edging and infilling with gravel. The rest of the drain would be installed later.

relax

Grading

When the roofing and patio jobs were complete, it was all hands on deck for site grading. With the help of the skid-steer, earth was moved from the excavated pile to the slab edge and graded away. Additionally, several large ruts were filled in and the site was smoothed out. The septic mound was extended with any remaining earth in the pile.

So, post grading, what we are left with is a mostly finished exterior of a house. There are always a few odds and ends to take care of, but there is no doubt that “Neckdown” Week was a huge success on site.

Certainly, much has happened in a short period of time. I tell you once more, dear reader, that this bunch is special. Of course this is not to say that it could have been done without my strong leadership. It takes a steady paw to guide a vessel this size through choppy waters. On the horizon I see finish carpentry, plumbing, electrical, and other odds and ends. I will continue to record the progress of Reverend Walker’s Home for posterity, the world deserves to know the intricacies of our grand adventure. Alas, dear reader, the sun draws closer to the horizon and I have grown weary. I must put aside my journal in favor of a nap. I think I will chose a nice spot in between two elephant ears Paul has acquired for this occasion.

Yours sincerely,

Taterhead

Welcome to the Front Porch Initiative Blog!

The Habitat product line house
Image by Matt Hall

The Front Porch Initiative seeks to expand the reach and impact of the ongoing research, design, and construction work at Rural Studio. Capitalizing on over 25 years of work in West Alabama, our goal is to use the deep knowledge of quality home building developed by students in Hale County to promote quality home ownership in other underresourced rural areas.

Over the last 15 years of focused research and development on rural housing, student teams have continually built on the previous work of their peers, with an increasing focus on how each home is designed for both construction affordability and optimized performance. The result is a line of homes that are designed to be durable, efficient, resilient, and healthy. The Initiative aims to offer quality housing products in communities across the South and Appalachia (climatic regions most amenable to the 20K Home design) as well as offer our knowledge and technical assistance to housing providers more broadly.

“Good housing is a fundamental human right. It improves health, economies, and communities. Our goal is to provide access to beautiful, dignified, equity-building homes for our rural communities.”

– Andrew Freear, Rural Studio Director

The Initiative is collaborating with a range of government, NGO, and industry partners to tackle the issue of the lack of housing that is affordable, both through the construction of high-performance homes and by lowering the financial barriers to home ownership, including mortgage requirements, insurance costs, zoning, and permitting challenges.

The Initiative currently has a variety of projects and collaborations underway across the Southeast, and we look forward to regularly sharing more details about our partners and continued progress over the coming weeks, months, and years. Stay tuned here to follow along!

Learn more about the Front Porch Initiative here.