Rural Studio Blog

Music City “Micro Homes” Complete!

Four Rural Studio-designed homes were the star of the show in Nashville, TN on June 29, 2021. The Music City was celebrating a successful partnership between local housing provider and CDFI Affordable Housing Resources (AHR); efficiency-minded contractor Honeybee Builders; and Rural Studio’s Front Porch Initiative. Based on Dave’s House, MacArthur’s House, and Joanne’s House, each one-bedroom house is between 510 and 540 square feet. Situated on two side-by-side parcels in the Wedgewood Houston neighborhood, Nashville’s R6 zoning allows for two detached homes per lot. The completed homes are now for sale. With an estimated total monthly mortgage cost of $900, the homes are less than the average monthly rent cost in Nashville which, in 2020, was $1390 per month!

L-R: PJ McCarthy, Fannie Mae; Zulfat Suara, Metropolitan Council At-Large Member; Chris Ferrell, The Barnes Fund Commissioner; Rusty Smith, Rural Studio Associate Director; Eddie Latimer, Affordable Housing Resources CEO, Alfred Degrafinreid, AHR Board Chairman; Latrisha Jemison, Regions Bank Sr. VP/Regional Community Development Manager; Bill Herbert, Nashville Codes Administration Director; Bob Mendes, Metropolitan Council At-Large Member

Early in the day, a dedication and press event was held to showcase the affordable, energy efficient homes. Speakers included representatives from AHR, Rural Studio, Nashville Codes Administration, Regions Bank, Fannie Mae, the Barnes Fund, and city council representatives. Local city councilwoman, Zulfat Suara, lauded the innovative use of land and construction that make these homes affordable in a Nashville housing market where mortgage costs have skyrocketed, leaving many would-be homeowners priced out. The event gained citywide attention through multiple press stories (linked at the bottom of this blog).

Later in the day, around 80 members of the Greater Nashville Auburn Club and other Auburn friends, including former Rural Studio students, attended an open house at the site. Alumni were invited to tour the homes and learn about their energy-efficient design, durable construction, and economical use of land. Our own Rusty Smith spoke to the crowd about how Rural Studio found itself in Nashville: “…we met Eddie Latimer and Affordable Housing Resources. He shared the challenges you all face here in Nashville, and while Nashville might seem a little different than our hometown of Newbern in West Alabama, some of the challenges sounded similar, something we wanted to be part of, and to learn from.”

The Nashville homes mark a significant milestone for the Front Porch Initiative: they are the first mortgage-bearing Rural Studio houses to be built outside of Alabama. The Initiative continues to scale up the research and housing accessibility work of Rural Studio throughout the Southeast. But, there is still much to learn about innovative approaches to zoning, mortgage financing, insurance, and home performance. These four modest homes are a big step forward in our research and ability to share information with a broader constituency of housing providers.

Press links:

The TennesseanHow ‘micro homes’ could be part of Nashville’s affordable housing solution

Fox17 WZTV NashvilleMicro-home development opens in Nashville in aims to help affordable housing crisis

WKRNNew micro homes in Wedgewood-Houston small step toward more affordable housing in Nashville

Photo credits:

AHR Wharf Ave Dedication and Greater Nashville Auburn Alumni Open House events photographed by Tausha Dickinson, provided by AHR.

Completed project photos by Ford Photographs, provided by AHR.

Digitally staged interiors by Brighteous Media, provided by AURS.

Beginning the Enclosure

Rendering of Reverend Walkers Home from the Street
Rev Walkers Home

My my, dear reader, it has been some time hasn’t it? Welcome to my latest journal recounting the design and progress of Reverend Walker’s Home. I can assure you the silence has not been due to any lack of activity, rather the opposite. Upon completion of the large pavilion structure, my crew has moved underneath to begin constructing the enclosed volumes that inhabit the space between slab and roof. You can be sure that they are grateful for the sheltered workspace that defends them from rain and sun. They have no excuse to not be working. Myself, I have found it a most suitable location for napping. There’s much to catch you up on, dear reader, so let’s begin with a recap of the design of the Reverend’s Home.

The Home

Batter board plan

Reverend Walker’s Home is a response to the rural phenomena of home addition, which you can read about in an earlier journal. It aims to provide a forgiving space on a strong foundation to facilitate successful addition. The home is a kit of three parts: a slab, a roof, and two enclosed volumes. One volume is the main living block with all necessary program. The smaller volume is a partially unfinished space furnished with utility stub-outs.

The intentionally disparate items are intended to imply a process of addition… first the slab, second the roof, third the enclosure, and so on and so forth. Although the home encourages clients to design and extend the enclosure according to their lifestyle, it is completely livable as-built. Crew member Paul likens the Reverend’s Home to a “hook to hang one’s hat on”. Ultimately, it is built as a minimal enclosure with a luxury of porch space. The porch could exist as outdoor living, or be infilled.

As of now, the roof and slab are done. The only piece of the kit left is the enclosure.

what’s next?

Slab Seal

As a part of our vapor barrier system, we used a DOT approved slab seal to ensure that moisture can neither seep into the slab or move up through it into the home. Before sealing, the slab was pressure washed and left to dry for 48 hours. This stuff is very hydrophobic and water now squeegees right off.

Addie – Ghostbuster

Mock-up

Before diving into framing the units underneath the roof, we needed to ensure that our details were going to work. We do this by building 1:1 mockups. In ours, we tested framing and flashing details, as well as a full-scale mockup of our custom window design. You might recall that our team has designed a window system made of a fixed glass pane and an operable ventilation hatch. By doing the mock-up we were able to refine details and systems which will make a better final product.

Floor

Satisfied with our details, we’ve moved on. To make things easier in the future, we decided to go ahead and attach our treated sill-plates to the slab and build the sub-floor. We used powder-actuated and pneumatic tools for the plates. The sub-floor is r-7.5 rigid insulation between sleepers with plywood on top. Following the installation of the floor, we were ready to frame.

sub-floor tetris
clean floor

Framing

Becca – stud cutter
make some walls
framing double wall
lifting double wall
rafters
framed

There you have it, dear reader, the current state of Reverend Walker’s Home. It’s certainly beginning to take shape. With my thoughtful leadership, I have brought us to this point and will continue to ask my crew to go above and beyond. I am confident they will not disappoint me. My next order will be for them to put up sheathing and wrap the house, after which I will banish them to the woodshop to build all the windows and doors. Alas, I could go on forever, dear reader, if only it wasn’t my nap hour. For now, I must retire to the captain’s table and rest my weary paws.

Fondly,

Taterhead

The Great Walls of Newbern

Live from within the newly completed Cooling Porch retaining walls, it’s the Thermal Mass & Buoyancy Ventilation Research project team! We’ll take you through the evolution of both north and south wall and all the earthwork in between. If you stay tuned ’till the end you’ll see Cory’s latest artistic venture; a short film titled, “Le Grevier.”

Backfilling and adding the final course to the north wall

North Wall: Complete!

After laying and leveling the dry-stacked concrete highway barriers, the team backfilled gravel and earth against the wall. Directly behind the walls are drains that are wrapped in landscape fabric and covered with gravel. This protects the drains from getting clogged with Hale County Clay. Behind the gravel, the team piled and compacted earth. They are reusing the dirt excavated for the building foundations. This process repeats for each course, refilling the initial dig. The Cooling Porch is still a hole in the ground, but it’s becoming a far more precise hole in the ground.

Tamping over damp dirt and clay is a struggle

Voila! The joints, pattern, color, and textures of the north wall turned out fantastic. The team was astonished by the uniformity of the wall and the blending of the different blocks despite using reclaimed materials. On to the south wall!

South Wall: Complete!

Beginning the 1st course of the south wall and taking down the batter boards!

The process of constructing the south wall was essentially the same as the north wall. Small concrete footings were poured wherever the retaining wall went off the building foundations. The team also completed the installation of the drainage. The space began to form right in front of their eyes!

Fully Blocked

The team feels the space looks exactly as they drew it–which is both slightly surprising and super satisfying. All the measuring, drafting, and double-checking produced a beautiful pit. And, bonus, the reuse of materials is a surefire way to build with the environment in mind and luckily these concrete highway barriers turned out to be the perfect durable, stackable material. The backfill and dug-out stairs makes getting around site a whole lot easier. It’s all coming together!

Thanks for following the progress of the soon-to-be chilly demonstration space! Stay tuned for SIPs construction and laying the ground surface in the Cooling Porch. Now, for your enjoyment, follow the life of a scoop of gravel in Cory’s feature film, “Le Grevier.”

Le Gravier

Le Grevier: Directed by Cory Subasic starring Wheelbarrow, Shovel, Bobcat, and Gravel with a special appearance by Livia Barrett as “Gravel Girl.”

Gimme Shelter

Myers’ Home team is flying high as they install the roof on this generational home. Goodbye errant raindrops, so long harsh sunbeams. Say hello to a cool and shady workspace!

After nailing the sheathing and taping the seams, the team can’t get straight into roof metal installation. The edges of the corrugated metal sheets must be finessed. This is all accomplished with honed and tight flashing details. Way back when this team reviewed such details with Jake Labarre and Dan Wheeler. They tested them in a mockup and it’s finally time for the real deal.

Sneak peek of that roof on a shady morn!

Done in a flash

The flashing is ordered custom and is produced from sheet metal with folds and smash joints as specified. It provides a clean edge for roofing and siding panels to run into and weatherproofs by serving as a drip edge from openings. Later down the line door and window flashing will also be applied before siding to protect the home’s openings.

The team also installed what’s called a “vapor diffusion port.” This consists of a strip of Tyvek paper taped across the gap in the peak of the sheathed roof. Once open-cell spray-in insulation is installed it will serve to diffuse moisture from the home through the attic space.

Up and at ’em

With flashing up, it’s about time to start slinging metal up of Myers’ Home’s 10/12 pitch roof. The team went with a larger corrugation width, 1-1/4″, than that of the siding, 3/4″. This creates distinct planes with similar textures.

Thanks to extra hands Andrew, Steve, and Chelsea, the process was about as smooth as can be. The roofing began with Andrew at the peak and Judith on the roofing ladder at the eave manned with drivers and screws, Madeline and Steve manning the scaffold positions, and Riley and Chelsea pre-drilling and hoisting sheets up.

The front slope of the roof, shortened because of the heeled truss, was completed with just one row of 12′ panels. The back of the house however has a slope length of nearly 20ft. To roof this with a single run of panels is slightly more unwieldy to install with the small crew on this project. The team split the back into two portions; an upper 8′ run and a lower 11′ 6″ segment.

In the home stretch!

The final upper portion proved trickier to maneuver with a lower row already installed. The previously designed rope system continued to prove its worth in this area. Down on the scaffold, a string is pulled across the bottom edge to mark where the roof overhang ends. The scaffold hands push the panel into place and align corrugation to the sheet adjacent before those further up secure the metal.

These folks completed the whole job in two mornings of sunrise starts. All that remains is installing the ridge cap once the team gets their hands on the elusive closure strips. These corrugated foam strips seal large gaps in between the roof and ridge cap across the house’s peak. A complete roof is well in sight!

The Great Indoors

With the roof and sheathing complete, Myers’ Home team finally has that shaded interior workspace. They’re jumping into the first steps of interior wall framing, which will be the core unit of the bathroom, laundry, and staircase. The team has also hit the shop with the first pre-fabricated cypress window unit well underway.

Soon to be released, the woodshop tell-all and the beginnings of plumbing and electrical!

Structural Delivery: the SIPs have arrived!

Live from behind one of the largest deliveries in Rural Studio history, it’s the Thermal Mass and Buoyancy Ventilation (TMBV) Research project team. For months the research team has been working closely with Insulspan, a company that manufactures custom Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs). Together they finalized the design of the SIPs which will make up the entirety of the TMBV Test Building structure and enclosure—while providing experimentally valid insulation. This week, the team received the SIPs and organized them under Rural Studio’s Fabrication Pavilion to prepare for construction. In a couple of weeks’ time the panels will be assembled atop the steel columns like a giant 3D puzzle.

SIP, SIP, Hooray!

SIPs Assembly

The TMBV team originally sent the drawings seen below to Insulspan; breaking up the Test Buildings’ design into panelized pieces. The team will assemble all the pieces that make up each wall, the floor, and the ceiling. Then, Shane of Stillwater Machine LLC will crane the structure into place.

Thankfully, that same Shane with a crane was in the neighborhood when an 18-wheeler full of SIPs showed up a day earlier than expected. To get the panels off the truck Shane, his two young assistants, the TMBV team, Steve Long, and Andrew Freear got to work screwing in blocking and threading the straps. The team and helpers attached small lumber pieces (blocking) to prevent damage to the SIPs as the straps cradled the panels and lifted them off the truck.

How to Move a Building; in Pieces!

This delivery happened to take place right before a classic summer deluge. So, the SIPs were tarped and left outside the Fabrication Pavilion for the weekend. After the passing of the storm, it was time for the team to figure out how to get the panels under the Fabrication Pavilion for better protection. The Fabrication Pavilion roof is actually made of Insulspan SIPs as well. SIPs covering SIPs!

To move the panels, the team attached the lifting brackets provided by Insulspan. Then, to get the largest panels under the Fab Pav, the team used straps and the Bobcat custom, “Bob Crane.”

As the team transported the panels they also organized them. The vertical stacks group the panels by building, remember there are two, and by structure i.e. floor, ceiling, wall, or chimney. It is far easier to find the panel you need and access it when the panels are stacked this way. Also, the order of assembly was taken into consideration when sorting the panels. The floors will be assembled first on the 24′ trailer with the gooseneck attachment and then transported to the site. Next, the team will do the same thing for walls and ceilings. As far as moving the panels around under the pavilion, the students managed to do a lot by hand. With the help of an old, sturdy cart, they found in a storage barn they got everything into place and braced up.

In order to construct the floors, walls, and ceilings on the gooseneck trailer, the team had to extend the platform using TJIs donated to the Studio long ago. TJI stands for Trus Joist® TJI® Joists, they are essentially an I-beam manufactured out of engineered lumber. The TJI platform also allows the student to get underneath the panels during assembly.

With a whole lot of willpower and cart strategy, the Thermal Mass & Buoyancy Ventilation Research Team shuffled all the SIPs into place. Stay tuned for the Test Building assembly—those panels will be going up in the sky!