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Meet Me on the Porch

The Myers’ Home team has been busy preparing the porch structure on the Western face of the home. This porch is unique among previous Rural Studio projects for a few reasons: It’s fabricated from steel, has its own slab, and barely touches the rest of Myers’ Home.

Mildew, Mil-don’t

Looking back, the home was designed for longevity and flexibility through generations. In previous Rural Studio homes with front porches, the space is most often subtractive. This means that the open porch is carved from the main volume of the house and its structural system. In doing so, the rafters are exposed and gaps between trusses are exposed. These must be filled in some way, usually bird blocking. The other solution is a soffit under the eaves.

In both cases, the exposed undersides of the rafters or soffit are nearly always in shade and tend to mildew. Over time the uncovered portion of the truss or rafter can degrade faster than the interiorized segment. In these cases the whole member is still compromised.

The team addresses this problem by eliminating the condition entirely. Myers’ Home has no true eaves, only a slight overhang of the corrugated roofing material. Flashing details are tight and the long Western porch is entirely removed from the structure of the house.

Finding Your Footing

But how’s that little gap mitigated? A separate foundation for the porch is planned. Ideally, this job could be completed with just the team and some extra hands in one morning. This settled into five separate pavers, with two inches of gravel between and roughly a foot of separation from the main house slab.

Before the pavers can be placed though, footings for the metal columns of the porch must be set. This system shook out to be a trench footing, with ten-inch-deep reinforced footings at the columns and a six-inch-deep trench spanning each bay.

Couldn’t do it without a little help from our friends!

With the help of a handful of 5th-year students and professors Andrew Freear and Steve Long, the pour was complete in just about an hour with all levels squared away. The team can look on to the next pour the following week of the pavers.

Prep for the latter involves formwork once again, this time with removable dividers between eight by eight-foot segments. These folks took a leaf out of Horseshoe Courtyard‘s book and used a system of stakes and plywood strips for this maneuver. They then mound backfill dirt around to keep concrete from spilling out beneath the forms. The last step before the concrete arrives is reinforcement with metal mesh and grade pins. The mesh strengthens the concrete as it settles over time and grade pins are fluorescent marked stakes driven to signal the correct level of concrete in the forms.

Finally, the team can tackle their third and last concrete pour of the project. The truck arrived and they were soon in the groove of a process with aid of Patrice’s Home team and Steve. Riley manned the chute; Judith, Daniel, Adam, and Lauren shoveled and screeded; Madeline and Lauren troweled and floated away; and Steve edged each one.

These pavers, being on the porch, are also exposed aggregate which necessitates an additional step after the concrete is finished but still wet. Following a half hour’s wait, Judith misted a specialized concrete retarder atop the fresh pavers, bright ectoplasm green. This allows the majority of the concrete to cure normally while the topmost layer of cement is kept a slurry.

After roughly eight hours, Madeline and Judith return in the evening to hose and scrub the surface of the pavers and wash away the cement. This reveals a texture of the aggregate, in this case pea gravel specially ordered for this type of slab. The team is aiming for a change in surface material between the concrete of the porch and that of the interior as well as a more rugged finish for the home’s entrance.

Weld, Weld, Weld

These three can now focus on the porch structure itself, made entirely of metal with a corrugated roof to match that of the main home. Thanks to the generosity of Studio friend, Jim Turnipseed, the team was able to spend about a week in Columbiana, Alabama at Turnipseed International’s metal shop. There they built jigs, practiced welds, fabricated purlins, and built bents.

With the oversight of teachers Flo and Luis, they quickly learn the equipment, cut pieces to length, and weld up a storm.

Purlins are up first, a good practice run as most welds will be hidden from sight. For east of installation and transport, purlins are designed as mats. These mats are welded in a line and installed as a single unit in each bay. Tables are placed a specified width apart and a simple rectangular jig is made with four ninety-degree angles to catch the mat’s corners.

The bents are pitched with a solid four-inch-wide plate welded atop to catch the purlin mats and provide more tolerance. These take more complex jig-work. The needed angle cannot be achieved in the range of the band saw’s angle. So the extra distance is made up by welding a separate tray to make up the difference.

Following this, the angle for the bents’ top and bottom knee-joint are welded to the tables similarly to the purlin jig. Once the pieces are arranged, baseplates with holes drilled are attached to the bottom of the columns. These baseplates are what will anchor the porch structure to the footings poured earlier.

A big ol’ stack of purlins

The final step in fabrication is to prepare the members for galvanization. A series of half-inch holes must be drilled in all pieces to allow them to drain. This is relevant when components are dipped in the zinc bath stage. Results can be…explosive, otherwise.

Let’s Taco ’bout Halloween

The welded component are shipped off to Mississippi for galvanization! The team is on their merry way back to Newbern to continue site work. But several days earlier the team returned to Hale briefly for the annual Halloween Reviews! Those who may have spent a few days in this neck of the woods may recognize the wall murals from Greensboro’s own Mi Tenampa Mexican restaurant. As leftover students from the previous year, these three spend review day listening in on new thesis and 3rd-year work, attending the costume contest, and eating quite a few Reese’s peanut butter cups.

a red pepper and two human-sized cactus cardboard cutouts stand in front of three people

Bringing Down the Hammer(drill)

While waiting on the return of the porch structure, Madeline, Judith, and Riley move back into finishes and porch groundwork.

Judith and Riley borrow the Studio’s hammer drill and a masonry bit and spend a morning drilling four six-inch-deep holes in each footing. Riley has a specialized jig that expedites the process. After snagging only a bit of rebar, they’re ready for the next stage. Threaded rods are anchored into the holes with epoxy, these will catch those baseplates on the porch columns. With a system of threaded rods and nuts, the team can micro-adjust the levels of the bents upon installation.

That’s what’s going on around town, catch the final stages of finishes soon. Myers’ Home is getting fitted out with cabinetry, sinks, stair treads, and more!

Surface Level Thinking

The Myers’ Home team has made it to the top layer of finishes. Almost every material and layer they apply at this point is completely visible and the finish surface in the home. So they’re watching their step with the mud and taking some extra care in details.

Painting the Day Away

After sheetrock is complete, the team and their helpers scrub up the drywall mud and prepare to begin painting. While the home’s core, outer walls, and to-be-built flex walls are designed using different materials, they’ll all be painted white to reduce noise. It also provides a clean surface, should the homeowner want to paint it to personal preference.

The sheetrock is the cleanest surface on the outer edges of the home. It contains most electrical for the possible rooms and is more workable for openings like windows and doors. The board surface on the home’s core—the kitchen, bath, and stair—is a durable tongue-and-groove board. These surfaces are interacted with more often and need added durability. The flex walls that partition bed and living space will be plywood, and primed white. These walls will be anchored in only a few points should the home configuration need to change years down the road.

Just a Trim, Please

Once the walls have their first coat, trim can be installed around the whole house. As materials change, so does trim design strategy. The baseboards run along sheetrock surfaces, and where board material begins, the trim moves to the top edge of the ceiling. Windows are trimmed out on their edges.

Last Call on Windows

Speaking of windows, all of the custom window units are installed and Riley is adding the last few components post-install. Each of the operable and fixed windows get their own trim box, also constructed of cypress. These are taped off and kept natural as the last coat of paint is applied to the surrounding wall.

Steel-Clad Sensibility

Meanwhile, the exterior of the house is getting the full treatment. Siding is starting to be installed on the two gable ends and back of the house. The lower twelve feet of front face will be clad after construction of the porch slab. This prevents siding from being dinged and damaged during concrete pours and metalwork. The porch structure will then be used as a platform to finish the top few feet of siding.

However, the installation process is straightforward for the other three sides. Panels are pre-drilled with screw holes, openings for windows and vents are cut, if necessary. Then the panels are moved into place, overlap length checked, and screwed in from overlap edge over. This prevents most bubbling in the panel as the lines of screws progress over.

The Thermal Mass & Buoyancy Ventilation team has also kindly lent their rental boom lift. The Myers’ Home team is using this lift to install siding high on the gable ends. It’s certainly a much smoother route than multi-story scaffolding! They also used it to install the last few pieces of flashing around windows. The flashing details on this house are in the same family as those used on the roof. To maintain the tight shell, window openings are designed to be sharp and clean.

On Deck

The team is now on their last big push for the interior. They’re building flex walls, preparing for stair treads, painting cabinets, and making the rounds on finish electrical and plumbing. Soon, all lights will be on and water will be flowing!

On the outside, these folks are on standby for porch plans. Imminently, they’re headed up the road to Birmingham for some porch fabrication. This means steel cutting, drilling, and welding! Before that they’ll be boots in the mud again digging for the footings and pavers of the porch. More on that soon, thanks for keeping up!

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)!

Handmade Windows

Madeline and Judith have been working away on site, but where’s Riley been? What’s this mystery man’s secret? Alright…he’s been out shopping. Woodshop-ing, that is. He’s been crafting the window systems for Myers’ Home with his own two hands!

What, Where, Why?

The team hasn’t just picked up this big task for the fun of it though. Designing and building the window system introduces a slew of advantages into the Studio’s home-building philosophy.

In rural areas like those studied by Myers’ Home team, the most common windows are not durable. The cheap vinyl and plastic warps over time and the window becomes useless for ventilation. They also are often filled with window AC units that reduce interior light and make passive ventilation near nonexistent.

The ventilation and lighting strategy of Myers’ Home

The Studio decided to tackle this challenge of durability and home efficiency so the team first studied the essential functions of a window in this context and boiled it down to: light, passive ventilation, and active ventilation. They decided the best tools for each of these elements and worked to fit them together into one window unit. By separating each component, particularly active ventilation from the others, light and passive ventilation are preserved.

The three components of the window unit

Windows are also typically installed in the rough openings of the home. In this case, installing three separate components makes the process more difficult. The team designed a dimensioned box that holds all three pieces precisely. This unit is then moved into the opening and leveled as one piece.

Riley Makes a Jig

First, Riley had to find a way to streamline the process. A “jig” is the most effective way to move forward here. Jigs are tools of a sort, they hold other tools, or pieces, in place so that they can be worked. Often they are a negative of a piece one is trying to build.

In the case of Myers’ Home windows, Riley set up a system in this line of thinking. He built low tables, drafted the window frames on the tops, routed holds for clamps, and assembled each window section atop them.

Riley assembling a section of the windows on a jig table

A Mill-ion to One

Once the jigs are complete and workstations ready to go, Riley can begin the first step before assembly: milling. The team chose quality pine boards for the base box of the window units. Cypress trim will make up the interior and exterior trim and the exterior lid to the box. The pine arrived slightly larger than necessary dimensions, so to the planer it goes. After a few passes the boards are ready to be assembled into the dimensionally stable frame for the three components.

Boxes and Squares

With all this freshly milled wood, Riley began scribing his dimensions and cutting the pine pieces to length. He moved these to his assembly space in the Red Barn where he begins laminating and screwing them into a solid unit.

Put a Lid On It!

The team designed the window unit as three pieces: the core box, the lid the shuts it, and the trim that covers seams. Once the box is complete, Riley uses the same jigs to assemble those lids. They are made of cypress, which is more weather-resistant for the lid on the window exterior.

The milling process is much the same, he continued to scribe and cut to size, this time on the chop saw rather than a sled on the table saw. After this though, some changes happen in the process. He used the table router to route small drip edges on each sill, another level of weather protection. And, as the pieces are so thing and would be prone to splitting, Riley employed pocket screws in the assembly of the window lids. This requires another jig and predrilling of each component.

These pieces all move to the jigs and are ready for assembly. Once lined up and in place, the glue is placed, the whole things is clamped, and pocket screws are driven. It sits to dry for a day.

How About a Trim?

The last piece of the layered window system is the trim. Riley lays these pieces out much the same as the lid and assembles with screws and lamination. The difference in this piece of the window unit is its future-proofing. The box is independent and the lid and trim are tightly attached to one another. Then these two pieces are simply screwed together, sturdily.

When Riley attaches the lid, the screws are left visible and unpainted. This means that over time, when the trim of the window weathers or rots, the piece can be replaced with something else by the owner, keeping the rest of the window secure.

Steps to Site

Riley had a few finishing steps before the units move to site are installing operable windows, weather sealed taping, and priming and painting. All of was is done in the shop and Red Barn as well. The team’s plan was the finish just about everything that could be done in-shop. Designating the majority of window production as pre-fabrication allows the entire unit to be transported in nearly its final state.

On-site, the box is popped into the rough opening and leveled with shims. Then the team lined up the lid and screwed it on tightly. This leaves installing the fixed glass and wall-in conditioning unit, both simple and straightforward tasks.

Pre-Fab Pays Off

The team carefully transported all six operable window units to site and have been steadily installing and weatherproofing each one. In help install the high attic units, the TMBV team has lent their boom lift!

In addition to the operable window units, Riley fabricated four fixed window units for the living space, kitchen sink, stair landing, and bathroom.

News of Newbern

The team has already started installing siding on the exterior and working through finishes inside. It’s been exciting to see so much visible progress lately! They’ve also been getting some extra helping hands from the new 5th-year teams. Keep those eyes peeled for blogs from them and the 3rd-year students.

Windows and siding together

And a ridiculously loud congratulations to these three teammates over at Rev. Walker’s Home. They finished their project and hosted a housewarming party for Reggie. This team could not be more proud of their hard work and grateful for their friendship. These folks cannot wait to see what they do next, the sky is the limit. Over and out.

How To Fill A Wall

The latest is in from the Myers’ Home project site! The team has squared away interior framing and are close to debuting their windows. This means it’s about time for the house to get its nerve center. The Mechanical, Electrical, Plumbing train is leaving the station in Newbern.

Becoming Plumbers…

With Riley offsite in the woodshop working on the custom window units, Madeline and Judith have been at the helm on site for the past few weeks. Madeline is taking the reins on plumbing the whole house, and ducting it too! Judith has got the power alongside her, running electrical wires, installing outlet and switch boxes, sorting circuits, and labeling everything.

The plumbing contains stub-outs to the attic space allowing a bathroom to be built for future generations. These are beside the water heater, also in the attic to save space in the downstairs. Electrical decisions were also based on rooms that could serve different purposes across generations. Dedicated circuits are in place for AC units and the home is treated in zones of use.

Lighting the Way

This also entails a discussion in lighting the house, helped along by a new consultant to the Studio, Thomas Paterson of Lux Populi in Mexico City.

The flexible nature of Myers’ Home doesn’t stop at the plan, section, or material finishes. The team’s been applying their goal of generational expansion and flexibility to the lights in the house too. The home was studied in zones to determine lighting strategies, and tools (fixtures) were chosen to achieve these. The team is working to balance task lighting and spot lighting with the necessary amount of immediate switched light in a space.

The team mirrored lighting and fan locations in each zone for alignment no matter the scheme of flex walls. They then worked to place lights in the core such that it remains a hearth and can be the main source of immediate light in the home.

As these folks press on with electrical work, they’ll begin to test how to optimize the tools they’ve chosen for each flexible space.

It’s Getting Hot in Here…

Drywall looms and Myers’ Home Team must consider all that the wall must hold before it is sealed up. Wires and pipes have been run, the lights are set in their places. It’s time to stuff if full of foam and fiberglass. The insulation line for Myers’ Home is at the roof. This requires five and a half inches of spray-in, open-cell insulation. It’s one of the few jobs that the Studio hires out. Meanwhile, the team put up blocking framing upstairs and left the premises for a day. Upon return, the attic was cool as a cucumber and ready for windows.

The original intention for the home was to install a flash-and-batt insulation system downstairs. However, foam prices are cost-prohibitive and the team moved forward with Rockwool insulation in downstairs walls. Madeline, Riley, and volunteer Bess from Project Horseshoe Farm knocked out the ground floor in just a couple mornings!

Sheetrock City

The team put some quick blocking in place and documented each wall before making the call for sheetrock. The crew arrived first thing and got to it. By lunchtime, the first layer of finishes were all in place. All that remains for drywall is mudding and sanding to smooth everything over.

Neckdown

Much of this happened over the course of Neckdown weekwhere new students knock out work around Hale County using, arguably, everything but their heads. Myers’ Home played host to a few helpers who helped begin more layers of finish materials in and out of the home. Many thanks to new 5th-year students Jackie, Hailey, Davis, Brenton, and Caitlyn, as well as 3rd-years Peter and Laura!

Window units ready to show their faces soon! In the meantime, the home is being battened down with flashing and prepped for siding as the summer slides on by. Check out Myers’ Home team’s brethren over at Rev. Walker’s Home as they also install windows and siding. Or jump to the Thermal Mass and Buoyancy Ventilation crew for some big moves upward! Best to all, over and out.