Rural Studio Blog

At long last; a mock-up, a Pig Roast & 4 master’s degrees!

Live from inside the mock-up that spanned seasons, it’s the Thermal Mass and Buoyancy Ventilation Research Project team! You may remember the mention and drawings of a mock-up back in January. Many things interrupted steady work on this mock-up including breaking ground, pouring foundations, steel design, steel fabrication, writing papers, installing drainage, designing the cooling porch, and testing concrete panel joinery types. However, after all this time, the mock-up is complete! In the two weeks before Pig Roast and graduation from the master’s program, the TMBV student team not only hoisted the test building columns and submitted a paper detailing their experiments, they also completed two mock-ups. That’s right, two–we’ve got a bonus!

Faux SIPs and Small Columns

Axon and Axon section drawings of the pod mock ups

This mock-up set out to test the ventilated roofing and cladding system while also allowing practice for some of the atypical waterproofing details caused by the chimneys. All elements of the mock-up are at full scale, however, these elements are taken from different sections of the Test Buildings and condensed. Therefore the real Test Buildings are not proportionally larger than the mock-up. Another disclaimer; the team only built one mock-up because the two Test Buildings are exactly mirrored.

The team first assembled wall, roof, floor, and chimney stud formed panels with exterior OSB sheathing on both sides. These acted as stand-in Structurally Insulated Panels (SIPs) which make up the enclosure, structure, and insulation of the Test Buildings. Next, they assembled these faux SIPs atop three shortened columns which have the same thickness and base plates as the Test Building columns.

Groovin’ and Waterproofin’

Next up–keep it dry with tar paper and roofing. Tar paper is a heavy-duty construction paper made with asphalt which repels water. The TMBV team wrapped the entire structure in tar paper in a shingling pattern to create a protective layer. After this, the team started roofing.

To minimize heat gain the roofing material is a light-colored, reflective 3/4″ corrugated metal. The metal is attached atop batons which run in parallel with the slope of the roof. This allows the roof to vent heat at the highest point of the structure. If there is one thing this team has learned in two years–hot air rises.

The team installed the flashing along with the roofing. Flashing is a thin piece of impervious material installed to prevent the passage of water into a structure from a joint or as part of a weather-resistant barrier system. The TMBV test buildings use galvanized aluminum as flashing. A large tray prevents water from slipping under the metal roofing while T-shape pieces seal the edges and create the corners.

Finishing Touches

A mini-door frame was fabricated by Brad Schmidt of Superior Metal Works LLC in Newbern, AL. He will also be fabricating the full-size door frames. This was the bit of steel the TMBV team left to a professional–boy does he do nice work! The team painted the door frame with galvanizing paint, as they did the mock-up columns, to see how all the colors of the steel, roofing, flashing, and cladding work together. The door frame installation couldn’t have gone smoother!

Last, but certainly not least, the cypress cladding. 3/4″ 1″x 6″ and 1″ x 8″ cypress boards were sanded and sealed with Kabotz wood bleach. Spaced at 1/4″ the boards created an open joint cladding system, which like the roof, allows for air circulation behind the cladding. Cladding the chimneys and the underside, which will be the cooling porch ceiling, was the trickiest part. Doing the mock-up, however, teaches the students tips and tricks for doing the real thing.

Fin!

Not much more to say, just look at that mock-up!

cmpleted mock-up with cladding and roof
Enscape rendering of Test buildings
How’s it look compared to the real thing?

Suprise: Mini-Wall!

The team also completed ANOTHER concrete wall mock-up testing a shiplap joint in between the thermal mass panels. This wall is a proportionally smaller version allowing the team to visualize the pattern on the wall as well as the screw spacing. The shiplap joint, from both a constructability and scientific validity standpoint, is a crowd favorite. Not to mention that craft and beauty…

Roasting in the Sun

On a bright, early, shiny Tuesday all the Rural Studio 2021 Spring Semester student, faculty, and staff enjoyed an in-house Pig Roast. This included an opening ceremony at the beautiful Horseshoe Courtyard, presentations from each team, a ribbon cutting ceremony at Ophelia’s Home, and lots of good food.

After a BBQ lunch, the TMBV team sprang something else heavy on the audience… their project! They had a wonderful discussion with the only outsiders at the celebration; Architects Roy Duvall, of Duvall-Decker in Jackson, MS, and John Forney. It was wonderful to show off all the hard work the students have accomplished since October 2019. From experimentation and coding data to SIPs detailing and steel fabrication these students have continually jumped into waters unknown.

Overall, Pig Roast was wonderful, but the work was not over. Pre-Roast the team installed their columns and finished their mock-ups. Post-Roast they had to complete a paper detailing their TMBV experiments and results for an international building science conference. They worked tightly with Salmaan Craig for the rest of the week. Because, of course, the paper was due that Friday and graduation was also that Friday.

Congrats Grads!

This team just couldn’t function without the variation of personalities and skillsets. No two are alike, and sometimes it’s hard, but they couldn’t be more thankful for ending up on this wild ride together. 4 hours before the paper was due, Cory and Livia scooted to Auburn for graduation. Jeff and Rowe continued working with Salmaan, up until the deadline, for which the other two are eternally grateful. Jeff and Rowe were at graduation in Livia and Cory’s hearts illustrated below. Don’t worry. the whole gang will celebrate together with a classic Cory cook-out. Stay Tuned for the impending construction of the TMBV Test Buildings!

A Test and a Toast

With a slab all squared away and the school year wrapped up, it’s about time for Myers’ Home team to start realizing some of the above-ground details. At the Studio, this means constructing a 1:1 mock-up of the corner with the most complicated detailing.

Rain Day? It’s OK!

What to do on a rainy day? Mock-ups are just the thing! If the site is too mucky, head to the Fabrication Pavilion. Toting their tools from the trailer on site they set up for a few days of dry, covered work. On the business side of things, the team is waiting on an order of dimensionally stable cypress. They will be constructing a separate mock-up of the shop-built window units for the home. Keep those ears open for news of these hooligans hitting the woodshop for a pre-fab frenzy!

First step, framing the faux corner. They build the base of the mock-up using the same methods as a full-sized stud wall. Madeline and Judith assembled some very small headers and Riley cut piece after piece for the scaled-down trusses. Full-sized trusses will be 24 feet wide and roughly 13 feet tall, with Myers’ Home clocking in at just over 23 feet total. What can they say, it’s a two-story!

Zipped and Flashed

They then fasten on the ZIP sheathing system and tape all the seams up. The Studio has moved away from OSB sheathing and home wrap in recent years and adopted ZIP sheathing in turn. The panels themselves are weatherproofed and thick tape that is rolled tight seals the edges. The system covers both walls and roof and is is one of the clearest ways this team has been able to maintain the protected “shell” of Myers’ Home.

Riley and Judith took a jaunt up to Sloan Metal in Warrior, AL, with a pit stop in Tuscaloosa to grab their flashing order at Metro Metals. Trailer in tow, the mock-up roof metal and a few test sheets for siding were clinched and toted back to Hale. The flashing details have been designed in support of the tight shell, unbroken by rafters and durable over time. The low-eave detail has a 2-inch overhang and J-bead corners keep the edges clean.

Pick a Color, Any Color!

Actually, pick one of two colors. The team has narrowed down to Ash Grey and Burnished Slate, two neutrals that both have a lovely degree of reflection. As it goes, and not to brag, but the site is just beautiful. Wide fields to the east and west, high trees surrounding that cast dappled light. It really doesn’t need much more added to its palette. The team began looking at neutrals and complimentary colors and settled on the these two grey tones to test.

Riley going at it

Cutting the corrugated panels to size, they decide to forego fastening the siding so that panels could be changed and tested. With Pig Roast imminent, the mockup was moved out to the site to be able to test both options throughout the day.

Changing the siding to stopwatch and audience eyes at Pig Roast!

Most surprising has been watching them throughout the day, the colors both seem to shift through morning and afternoon between warm, cool, and highly reflective of grass and sky.

Still Reading? Let’s Have a Party!

Pig Roast dawned, a beautiful Tuesday in Hale County. An in-house event, but livelier than ever, the small band made their way from project to project with some delicious pit-stops around town. Congratulations to Horseshoe Courtyard, a fantastic kick off the day’s festivities and a bubbly surprise! With the jessamine blossoming the crew toasted the year, the work, and the people and enjoyed a sweet morning snack from the new local bakeshop, Abadir’s Pastry

Then the gang caravanned to Newbern for the ribbon cutting of third-year project, Ophelia’s Home. Can’t forget a stop at Sweetbriar Tea & Coffee, parked across from Spencer House for the morning! How exciting to see two years of work at its end. What a joy for the teams who’ve had their hands on this project, those who have followed its progress, and of course, Ms. Ophelia!

Four semesters of students have worked on Ophelia’s Home, congrats on completing!

Back to Morrisette House for a barbecue lunch and a trip across the yard to the Thermal Mass & Buoyancy Ventilation team’s site. After a rousing discussion of scientific breakthrough and imminent pods all gathered at the Fabrication Pavilion to marvel at their complete mock-up! A job well done, Myers’ team can’t wait to see more of Morrisette Campus’ newest—and tallest—addition.

Fun for all ages!

With short run up Hwy-61 the group stopped at Rev. Walker’s Home to hear about their progress as of late. These pole barn pals have their slab in-ground and working hard at getting their roof up next! Looking forward to the coming weeks where the big barn will take shape.

Sweet and Sweaty

The final stop of the day was good ol’ Myers’ Home site. All braved the sweltering mid-afternoon rays to offer their feedback and encouragement as the three team members move into framing the home! The team offered a presentation of the “shell” method and a NASCAR-worthy switch of metal siding panels on the mock-up.

With all projects squared away back to the Great Hall it was for a dinner of fried catfish, hushpuppies, and slaw from neighboring Newbern Mercantile! The evening was capped with a few words and annual traditions from fearless leader, Andrew Freear, a lecture from Jackson, MS-based architect, Roy Decker, of Duvall Decker, and a big, big bonfire complete with s’mores!

While certainly not a normal year, the folks on this team are incredibly grateful for the opportunity to spend the year in Hale and work every day with their minds on the run and boots in the mud. Many, many thanks to the Rural Studio family—faculty, staff, friends, parents, and neighbors—for the love and support. After their graduation celebration back in Auburn, these three are running full steam ahead to a summer in sun swinging hammers!

Myers’ Home team, graduates back in action and cruising for a roof!

Columns are up–so there’s no going back!

Live from a fully assembled Test Building structure, it’s the Thermal Mass and Buoyancy Ventilation Research Project team! After welding the structural steel columns that support Newbern’s newest skyscrapers, it was time for the team to put them to action. As usual there is a lot of prep work that goes into any big dance here at Rural Studio. Let’s get into it!

Prepare the slabs!

First, the team re-pulled all their batter board strings and double-checked their placement and relationships to one another. The team used these strings to find the locations of the column base plates and bracket to slab connections. Next, they used templates to mark with spray paint the connection locations. More specifically, these templates helped mark where holes needed to be drilled for the threaded rods to be epoxied into the slab.

After the slab was properly marked using the templates, the team hammer drilled the connection locations. To ensure the holes were properly 9″ deep, all the extra dust and debris created when drilling was blasted out using the air compressor. With clean holes, the team proceeded to pump epoxy in then place the threaded rods. The epoxy binds the threaded rod and concrete slab together to serve as the connection from columns and bracing to the foundation.

Next, the team test fit all their bracing connections. This gave them the idea to test fit the base plate of every single column. To do this Jeff made a template of the base plate of each of the 8 columns and slipped them over the epoxied rods. While the epoxy was still drying the team hammered any rods that needed to be nudged to fit the template of the column baseplate.

Bring out your columns!

Finally! From welding to galvanizing to transporting, this team is ready to see these columns stand on their own!

In order to place the columns, Rowe hoisted them using the Bobcat and its crane attachment. Livia and Steve guided Rowe and walked the columns to place. Once the holes in the base plate aligned with the epoxied rods sticking out of the slab, Rowe lowered the column into place. Jeff and Cory then secured and leveled the columns and attached the bracing.

All the long hours of planning, drawing, and calculating in Red Barn paid off as these babies went up in under an hour! Next up the team leveled, plumbed, and corrected all the distances between the columns. Its important the columns are upright and in the right place so the structure in the SIP floor aligns.

Complete!
Standing tall!
Sitting tall!

In the following days the team grouted the columns bases and bracing to foundation collections. This adds another layer of security into the structure. Stay tuned for the SIPs spaceships landing atop these 8 sturdy columns!

Square Up for Concrete

After weeks of weather-watching, schedule-shifting, and dirt-digging, the day arrived. Slab day! Let’s cut to the chase, she’s a beaut. Would you just look at that big hunk o’ concrete!

Myers’ Home Team after a long pour day

But how’d Myers’ Home team get here? That clean, final slab contains quite a few parts. The layers within the slab are gravel, a vapor barrier, rebar, and wire mesh. These all had to be installed along with plumbing and electrical chases before calling in the concrete order. Not to mention the formwork that holds the whole thing together while it cures!

Peak Form

The batter boards that went up all those weeks ago set the lines for formwork. The form boards are tacked with metal stakes every two feet, leveled, plumbed, and secured with kickers and wooden stakes every four feet. This solid edge allows the team to dig their 8″ wide turndowns with crisp and clear dimensions. The turndown is a small ditch that strengthens the edges of the slab which are taking the brunt of the gravity load of the home.

Riley loading up the wheelbarrow for another round of gravel

The site was a touch too muddy to bring in the big guns (the Bobcat) for gravel moving. So gravel moving was done the good old-fashioned way with wheelbarrows and shovels. Cheers to the Studio’s new Operations Manager, John Allen, for joining the student team on quite the pre-summer scorcher! The old gang and their welcome extra hands then spread the gravel with shovels and rakes, tamped flat and firm, and checked for level with the site level.

A site-sized sheet of thick plastic, the vapor barrier, covers the gravel and sprayed for termite protection. With all this tamped down and taped up it’s time to get into the metal game!

Rebar is skewered throughout the turndown and run lengthwise around the edges. Metal mesh is then carefully moved, it tends to be wiggly, and cut to size to set on chairs across the slab area. These elements reinforce the slab for tensile strength after the pour.

Water Under the Drive

Meanwhile, the team was also trenching for water lines for, long-term, the home’s water supply and, more short term, a spigot to water their new concrete. The Ditch Witch, a walk-behind trencher, is a gem of a machine. Once you get her started, she can dig a line like no other! After completing most of the trench and chiseling through a few unexpected brick foundations by hand, the team finished a long Slab Pour Eve with a complete and working hose.

The Promised Pour

But at last the morn arrived! The first concrete truck pulled up right on time (wow!). With expertise of local concrete masters Clyde and Jimmy, the team had their slab placed in a jiff. The team was able to help float edges and directing the placement of the small excess load. As Clyde continued to finish and polish the surface, the team prepared to pop their markers for control joints. These prevent large-scale cracking in the slab over time.

Clyde returned the following morning to cut control joints with the demolition saw. The team took turns to water the slab morning, noon, and night in the days following.

This means these three students are just about ready to start framing! Stick around to see the mockup they’ve got in the works for all those durable details and some sweet and sweaty Pig Roast moments!

Captain’s Log: Two Concrete Pours & Interior Design

Rendering of Reverend Walkers Home from the Street

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.

Slab

Concrete Slab
finished slab

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.

Students Set Formwork for Concrete
setting formwork

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.

Under-Slab Vapor Barrier
vapor barrier
George set a form box around shower drain
stub-out formwork

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. 

Students Laying rebar mesh
rebar mesh
pour and finish

Footings

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.

students discuss pier jig with professor
discussing the jig with our professor, Steve Long
student bends rebar
making rebar ties
student fastens rebar ties to bracket rods
the ties work to prevent pier blow-out
student augers holes for column piers
Addie the professional augerer
Finished Bracket in place
finished footing
Brackets Set
ducks in a row

Interiors

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.

rendering of kitchen interior
kitchen
render of living interior
living area
Potato Head the site cat
Taterhead: Self Portrait

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.

With regards,

Taterhead