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.
Welcome back, dear reader, to my captain’s log! This is where the story of Reverend Walker’s Home will be kept for posterity. My hope for this journal is to provide an accurate account of my crew’s efforts to design and build a rather unique home. It should gladden you, dear reader, to learn that since my last entry, the team has been able to pour both the slab and the column footings, allowing us to be free of the famous West Alabama mud for some time. The next step will be to raise the pavilion roof which will provide us with protection from the summer sun and afternoon showers while we work on the volumes underneath.
Reverend Walker’s Home invests heavily in the initial infrastructure. By providing a large, continuous slab foundation, a homeowner can rapidly build an addition, if desired. After earthwork and plumbing, the crew began setting the slab perimeter formwork. With our teams’ expert board physicists, we pushed, pulled, and leveled the boards until we had a square and level rectangle to hold the concrete.
While we finished up formwork, our modest order of 88,000 pounds of gravel was delivered to the site. Upon completion of our forms, the gravel was spread within the formwork with the help of the Myers’ Home Team! We were rather fond of the gravel mounds and found it bittersweet to move them. We also owe the Myers’ Home team our gratitude and more than a few milkshakes. After the gravel was in place we stretched out the vapor barrier which will prevent ground moisture from infiltrating the slab.
With the end in sight and spirits high, we made quick work of setting perimeter rebar and laying steel mesh. The slab is extra-enforced which will hopefully work to prevent any major cracking in the future. The last step was to pour concrete! On a particularly dry Tuesday, and with the help of Clyde and Jimmy from Toews Bros. Inc., we poured and finished 27.5 cubic yards of concrete to form the slab. But we couldn’t rest yet, dear reader, with the wind at our backs we aimed to have the column brackets cast in footings by the end of the week.
The grand feature of Reverend Walker’s Home, the large pavilion roof, is supported by twelve 8″ x 8″ solid sawn columns that are set into Sturdi-Wall® wet set anchor brackets. The greatest challenge in making these footings was the very low tolerance of the column to truss connection. Our goal was to create a system where the brackets could be set and held in place by formwork prior to pouring concrete, which would allow for very precise alignment and measuring. My team did mock-ups of three versions of the bracket jig, each one getting progressively more simple and effective. After our final test, we decided we were ready to move on to the real thing. Rebar ties were added to the brackets, 18″ diameter holes were augured, the formwork was built and reinforced, and the brackets were placed and secured. We were then ready to pour.
Alongside sitework, we have been developing interior finishes for Reverend Walker’s Home. In such a small home, we want to reduce the amount of clutter on the interior design. We also are committed to creating an environment which does not dictate or imply a certain type of lifestyle. Like the exterior of the home, the interior should be a springboard for the creativity of the client, and encourage many lifestyles. For now, the interior is made of cork flooring, plywood and drywall for the core area, and drywall for the overarching enclosure shell. This design work is still in progress and will continue to develop as we begin to build the space.
As you might have gathered, dear reader, our journey is fraught with exciting challenges, and each day brings a new opportunity to push my crew and the design of Reverend Walker’s Home to heights yet unobserved. After all that I’ve found in my travels around I can scant recall a home so lovely. Alas, this is where I must leave you, for naptime beckons me, and I believe I will choose my favorite sun spot for this day’s occasion. As always, I will continue to act strictly yet thoughtfully as I lead my crew to success.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.