C.H.O.I.C.E. House

All in Good Form

As Summer winds down, the C.H.O.I.C.E. House team is heading into Fall with a shiny new slab, but how’d we get here?

finished slab pour

Picking up from our last post, we trenched for plumbing and put a pipe puzzle together, making sure that all of our pieces were properly placed before pouring concrete. A big thank you to this week’s guest stars on site, our friends Elisia and Caitlyn.

In the past couple of weeks, twenty new faces arrived in Newbern signaling the start of a brand new academic year. With the new year comes “Neckdowns,” and our team was lucky enough to have a whole crew of helpers throughout the week. Continuing with our prep for “The Big Pour,” our new 3rd and 5th-year friends showed up to place rebar and grout our CMU cells to further strengthen the foundation.

After the pipes were buried, we brought in gravel as the next ingredient in our slab sandwich.

Vapor barrier and mesh then followed, as well as formwork for the showers. Because the shower needs to slope to drain water, we built formwork that will allow us to do the showers as their own pour. The maintenance closet also gets its own pour, so we prepped for that too.

Once we got everything placed, plumbed, and tied, we were ready for the main event: “The Big Pour.” Once again, thanks to the crew from Crosby Carmichael for the concrete. With the help of our concrete finishers, we got the whole pour done in a morning, and we were able to use the extra concrete to set anchor bolts for the porch.

Who knows what these next few weeks hold? We do, actually.

Our trusses are ready for delivery, and by the time this is posted, our lumber package will be on site. We’re also taking some time in studio to explore new details for the windows and the porch, so we’ve got plenty to nail down before our next post, literally and metaphorically. 

girls in matching coveralls
In honor of New York Fashion Week, the ladies wore their matching coveralls, an homage to the SS20 boiler suit trend.

My Month of Work and Anticipation

This Summer has flown by for the C.H.O.I.C.E. House team. Good news! We’re officially up and out of the ground! A few rainy weeks put block laying on the back burner, but thanks to local mason James Harris, we’ve raised the slab (and the roof will soon follow)!

While block laying was in progress, we continued working on the third volume. The main house units are built on an elevated slab foundation, but the third volume is designed to be on a slab-on-grade foundation, so no need for any concrete blocks. With the help of a few of our fellow “leftover” students, we knocked out the small slab pour in under an hour and got it finished up and ready to frame.

Building the small walls of the third volume was a great way to knock the dust off of our framing skills before we tackle the main units. With the help of professor Steve Long, and a much appreciated guest appearance from our colleague Caitlyn, the walls were up and braced in a morning. Framing the third volume first was also a great way to test our strategy for connecting the porch header to the wall. It looks like the “notch” in the framing was successful! Soon, we’ll assemble the third volume’s column and header to test the entire detail assembly, almost like a second mockup!

steve and ac frame a wall

Now that the CMU walls are up, we also backfilled the footprint of the units with dirt. Next up is setting up plumbing, adding a layer of gravel, building some formwork, and then we’re off to the races for our final concrete pour!

Until next time, we’ll be keeping our hopes high and our trenches dry.

Doing Things!

Man oh man what a month it’s been. Last post, our team was preparing for a fast approaching dig day, and dig we did! After many batter boards and much anticipation, we were happy to have Tyler from T & C Excavating come out and help us officially break ground! Over the course of one morning, Tyler and crew managed to dig up a literal mountain of dirt to make way for our driveway and footings.

After a couple days of placing and tying rebar we followed fast behind with an early morning concrete pour. All of our fellow leftovers showed up to help us out, and we even had a special guest star all the way from Project Horseshoe Farm! A couple truck loads (from the generous Crosby-Carmichael Inc.) later, and we found our footing(s). Nothing says “no stopping us now” like a few thousand pounds of concrete. As the concrete set, we also placed vertical pieces of rebar for the block mason to tie into as he builds our block wall. (Thanks again to Crosy-Carmichael Inc. for their donation of concrete!)

students watch concrete pour
freshly poured concrete footings

Since then, we’ve turned our attention to the driveway and third volume. Steve stopped by to give us a quick Bobcat tutorial and Toews Brothers brought in new red dirt to replace the old topsoil. This allowed us to start building our driveway. For now, the goal is to get a gravel surface suitable for delivery trucks. Keeping the gravel just below our desired grade will allow us to come back later and either pave or add a finer layer of gravel. Over at the third volume, we hand dug our trenches and prepped the area for plumbing and formwork. All in a month’s work!

heavily edited picture of student digging
We let Davis edit this one all by himself!

Spirits are high here in Hale. Next time you hear from us, we might even be raising the roof!

cat leans over phone

Can You Dig It?

Last time we talked, the team was preparing to get into the ground, so let’s dig in!

As soon as the team returned from graduation, we wrapped up our mock-up construction. We then stepped back and reflected on our details, figuring out what worked and what needs improvement. It was exciting to get a sneak peek at what’s to come for the actual units. Simultaneously, we started site prep!

First up on site, batter boards! (The drawing doesn’t stop in studio people!) Batter boards are a way for us to draw in real life. Each colorful string pulled across our site represents a line in one of our CAD drawings. Using a combination of strings and wooden stakes, we’re able to create a very precise footprint of the units on the ground. This helps us know exactly where to excavate the trenches for our footings as well as the final height of the CMU block wall.

Speaking of footings, we determined the appropriate footing size for the porch’s 14’ overhang. Pouring a really robust footing allows us to expose the thin “spaghetti” trusses marching along the porch header while still taking into account the uplift that may occur at the columns.

With all of our site prep up and going, we’re ready to dig. Cross your fingers and toes, and with any luck, we’ll be up and out of the ground in no time. Until then, over and out.

very cute kittens
The team also gained a few helping paws on site. Meet Okra, Duo, and Mouse!

Next Time You See Me, It’ll Be On Site

Since our last update, the team has been digging, chopping, drilling, and sawing our way through the project, so let’s catch up!

First up, mock-ups. To better understand the details of the project in three dimensions, the team jumped into a 1:1 mock-up of crucial project details and so far, we’re learning a lot. More than just dusting off our chop saw skills, building several details at full scale is a way for us to reflect and improve upon some of the decisions we made on paper. For example, we learned from testing the window framing that making the rough opening stud continuous not only creates fewer pieces, but allows a direct load path from header to foundation. We’re also testing the character of the porch assembly and how we can marry our desired aesthetic with required bracing for wind uplift.

To prepare to break ground, we called in a local contractor to do some serious tree removal that was beyond our capabilities, and simultaneously ripped up the existing chain link fence to create equipment access and give us a chance to fully assess its condition and salvageability. The site has never looked spiffier.

site before clearing
cleared site

And how could we not give a toast to Pig Roast?! The first ever two-day Pig Roast went swimmingly, minus the part where our team ran into a rain shower and came out looking like we’d gone for a swim. It was the first time many members of the Uniontown community were able to see the project, along with our parents, friends, and many Rural Studio alumni.

team at pig roast
pig roast fireworks

The following week stayed just as busy as teams prepped for our second Executive Review. This was a make or break moment for the future of the project, but after an intense two-hour review, all three teams were given the green light! This means it’s full steam ahead for construction.

team meets for stress test

Oh yeah, and all twelve 5th-years graduated college three days later! What a week! Diplomas might be in the mail, but things are just getting started in West Alabama. The team is taking a few days off to relax and be with family, but y’all better believe the next time you see us, it’ll be on site!

Also, a big thank you to our parents for letting us stick around West Alabama for this next phase: building the C.H.O.I.C.E. House. And to our 3rd-year friends returning to campus this fall, we’ll see you next time in Hale!