ruralstudio

An Earnest Account of Plumbing & Piping

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:

Student hammers in stake
set batter-boards & strings
students dig plumbing trench
dig and grade trenches
prime and glue
student checking slope of a pipe
check your work
completed plumbing on site
revel in a job well done

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.

student operates trencher
trenching for water main
student laying pex
laying water main

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.

diagram of bonus room
supplying the bonus room with utilities gives it many possible futures

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.

With affection

Taterhead

The site cat Taterhead
Your orator, Taterhead

On Recent Occurrence and Activity

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.

View to Field by Reverend Walkers Home

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.

Batter board plan
batter-boards documentation
Jig for footings drawing
pier bracket jig

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.

Students doing batterboards
distant students set a batter board
Addie through the site level
a site-level’s view of Addie
Paul through the site level
a site-level’s view of Paul

Milling

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.

becca mills wood
Becca operating the mill
pecan slabs
pecan slabs
cedar boards
cedar boards

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.

single hung window
typical single hung window

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.

Reverend Walkers Window Unit
Reverend Walker’s Home unit
section drawings of unit
current iteration: sections through window and hatch
window unit plan
current iteration: plan of unit

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!

Taterhead the cat
Taterhead

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.

Respectfully yours,

Taterhead

Week 4: When Hale Froze Over

Hello Again from the 3rd-Year students at Rural Studio!

This year, instead of a Spring Break, Auburn University included “Wellness Days” over the course of the semester. These Wellness Days give students a mental break in the middle of the week. Coincidentally, this weeks’ Wellness Day number brought snow! Although it was only a dusting, the students were able to bear the frigid temperatures to enjoy the rarity of deep south snow. Enjoy these pictures from around Newbern!

Ophelia’s Home

After an enjoyed Wellness Day, the 3rd-Year students kicked it into high gear on site. The interiors team stud framed and prepped most of the interior walls.

Picture showing the interior progress of Ophelia's home
The Interior Walls Framed and in Place

The only thing left to frame is the soffit, which will divide the public and private spaces within the home. The soffit is basically an extended door header. It will span the length of the house, creating enough separation in the nook from the living space, while also separating the utility room from the entry.

History Class

Due to rainy weather, the 3rd-Year students worked in-house on a design problem for history class. These problems encourage critical thinking and designing in a way that matches the era of the structures the class regularly tours. Recently, the students were tasked with illustrating the process of constructing a homestead.

Firstly, they imagined picking a site. This took into consideration water sources, sun, prevailing winds, available building materials, and site conditions that will help keep the home warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Next, plans, sections, and perspectives were composed in a storyboard format to tell the story of an imagined family and their homestead. We were limited to the tools and construction techniques that were used through 1810 to 1819.

Shop Class

The 3rd-Years are in the beginning stages of designing all of the millwork for Ophelia’s home. They researched and studied the designs from previous semesters. This provided a great starting point, but they have added accessibility to the cabinet design. The 3rd-Years have been challenged to think critically about the design so far and also to place household objects in the cabinets to truly understand the sizes and placement.

Third-Year Sign-off

Thanks again for reading Ophelia’s Home Project team blog! We hope you enjoy the update. Keep it real and stay healthy.

-Wendy, Sadie, Logan, Drew Haley, Austin, James, Juyeon, Ashley, and Kirby

Reverend Walker’s Home

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.

components of a pole barn

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.

Diagram of house connections
points where additions tend to fail

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.

weather cant keep us off site

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.

Sketch of interior loft space
View of the loft from below

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.

Rendering of Reverend Walker's Home on site
Rendering of the home on its site

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.

Image of Taterhead the site cat

Until next time – Taterhead the Cat

Week 1: All Hands on Deck!

Group of students eats lunch
3rd-Years enjoying lunch on the Great Hall!

Neck-Down Week

The 2021 Spring Semester 3rd-Year’s Rural Studio experience began with Neck-down Week. Neck-down Week is a tradition where Rural Studio students and faculty mend, clean, or maintain local parks, past and ongoing projects, and Morrisette Campus. Neck-Down is a week that requires less brain and more brawn. This week, the 3rd-year group painted, dug holes, completed farm work, laid bricks and much, much more. Neck-down is a great way to be introduced to the spirit of Rural Studio and the tradition of hard work ingrained in the Auburn University Creed.

Welcome to our Studio

Spencer House is where most of the 3rd-Year students live. It also serves as the 3rd-Year Studio, dining hall, and hangout space. Spencer is where all of the design magic happens. During this first week, the 3rd-years divided themselves into three design teams: The Interiors team, Enclosures Team, and “MEP” (Mechanical, Electrical, and Plumbing) Team. Each team has its own studio room in Spencer House. Here’s the team breakdown:

Interiors team – Drew Haley, Austin, and Sadie

Enclosures team – Logan, Juyeon, and Ashley

Mechanical, Electrical, and Plumbing team – Wendy, Kirby, and James

Thanks for following along with the 3rd-year experiences here at Rural Studio! Keep on the lookout for updates from our first week on site.