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House of Foam

December 8, 2008

I refer to this house project as a house of steel, but recently it has seemed more like a house of foam.  This is not a bad thing, since foam gives us the insulation and weather proofing performance we seek, but I do look forward to the time when all the foam is properly hidden away behind the steel trim.

In the sketchup (www.sketchup.google.com/) model I built of this house, there was a view that looked like this:

The Model

The Model

I have been working in imaginary computer space for years, but suddenly, the other day, the real world reached out to meet my imagination:

Real World Steel House

Real World Steel House

In this picture, the roof and most of the windows are missing, but it looks so very close to what I wanted.  I love it.

The panel attachment process has taken longer than I thought, but there have also been days when the advantages of prefab construction really are impressive.  The theory behind much of this design was site specific design using elements manufactured in factories and assembled on site.  The best discussion of the advantages of this approach was in a book written by two very charming brothers who share an architectural practice, a house and book-writing tasks, the Andersen brothers .  I met them when I was visiting EcoSteel in Utah, and had a great time later talking with the two Andersons in San Francisco.  They had just written a book that I thoroughly enjoyed called “Prefab Prototypes” .  The short story is that there has been a continuing trend from making all the building components on site, such as the windows and doors, to buying the parts pre-made and assembling them on site instead.   My goal here was to take this a little further than most house building but not so far as the prefabricated house builders who build the whole home offsite and drop it on the land nearly complete.

For us the walls and roof came on trucks in plastic wrapped bundles:

Panels Come in Bundles

Panels Come in Bundles

They are labeled (one of my jobs) and unbundled and laid on the ground:

Chris looks up at the house

Chris looks up at the house

The walls mostly go up first, but the roof panels are a very exciting part of the enclosure process, especially when the weather forecast is for snow.  The first roofing day, we got only one panel up, mostly due to some logistic issues with fasteners.  But on last Saturday, they got fourteen roof panels up in one day – a great accomplishment.

Crane Lifts Roof Panel Up

Crane Lifts Roof Panel Up

These panels are five inches thick and provide a waterproof R-41 insulating roof system.  They are a mixture of tongue in groove connection with a standing seam metal roof top.

Roof Panel Profile

Roof Panel Profile

They have to be trimmed at the tops to fit around the columns, and the plastic wrapping is removed after the seaming maching crimps the overlapping joints.

Roof Panels are notched around walls and columns

Roof Panels are notched around walls and columns

Some of these past few days have been a little cold, and no one wants to walk along icy steel beams, but luckily, each day the sun came out enough for the workers to get up on the roof and fasten these great panels into place.

Steve, Chris and Romolo work on the roof panels

Steve, Chris and Romolo work on the roof panels

Romolo on the first roof panel up

Romolo on the first roof panel up

Steve Working in the morning sun

Steve Working in the morning sun

There are still some little wall panels that fit in between the lower and upper roofs, and some of the windows still need to be inserted into their frames and into the openings in the steel walls, but we are getting so very close to being able to foam the joints and seal the building up.  That will make it possible to get going on the electrical, the heat and the plumbing.

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