News + Updates
We are excited to have started building the SURE HOUSE in a parking lot on the campus of Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken New Jersey. “SURE Construction” is a subset of our PopSci blog that we’ll use to chronicle our construction process. Check back often if you want to follow our progress and get a first hand view of how a sustainable and resilient house takes shape.
Are you familiar with what a ‘light table’ is? No trick question here, it is simply a backlit surface, commonly used to overlay drawings. Now imagine you have architects, engineers and builders all huddled around one. They are standing there with a stack of drawings trying to find ‘clashes’, aka places where objects are intersecting and shouldn’t be.
This scenario is unfortunately an all too common headache brought on by the intricate systems that go into our buildings. This process has historically been a limitation for construction projects, but the days of rustling with multiple drawing and spending hours of coordination over a light table are now over. We are at the brink of a time in which an entire project can be designed, managed and executed all in one location, on a single file. This process is called Building Information Modeling (BIM) and it is bringing the construction industry into the 21st century.
If you are to look at the traditional design process you will notice it resembles a linear work flow; a series of tasks in which one trade tends to pass their portion of a project along down the line with minimal coordination amongst each other. The client & designer will generate the overarching ‘big picture idea’, and hand it off to the designers, engineers and other various trades who then implement their idea of the ‘best fitting system’ for the project. As a result of this, you are left with an arrangement of systems designed in isolation with no relationship or integration with each other.
The biggest flaw in this process is the lack of initial communication amongst all participants that will be contributing to the project. The result of this is the generation of more conflicts and problems later in the design process; and as we all know, time = money.
However, there is a solution to end some of this madness. By adopting an integrated design approach, all the coordination is started at the initial phase of the design process. This is achieved by essentially front loading the process and bringing all the various parties to the ‘table’ from the very beginning. This provides opportunities to be much more efficient with time, create coupled systems that work together and ultimately reduce the need for costly changes later down the road.
All this can be achieved through a building information model, which is essentially a comprehensive 3D file that incorporates all the components that make up a building. Much similar to a cloud-stored text document that allows for multiple people to make and view edits, a building information model does the same thing with 3D objects instead of words. This really allows for what is called the integrative design process, which when compared to the traditional design process, is more cyclical; allowing everyone to contribute to the project from inception.
A BIM Model has the ability to be embedded with data, much like a database or spreadsheet. This data can be generated as you design, like the dimensions of your walls, or inputted by a user, like the price of a specific material. Now that these objects have this associated data, previously daunting tasks (like recalculating your project costs or how many beams you’re using) are now done automatically as updates to the design are being made. For example, as walls are drawn within the model you are able to extract all the associated information, like area, length and even cost.
Over here at SURE HOUSE, we have adopted an integrated design approach early on in our design process and our team is constantly developing our Building Information Model. Our BIM model serves as the primary place to go to keep all our team members up-to-date and allows our team to coordinate live within all the various disciplines associated with the project.
For us, storm resistance is not just an afterthought. It is not something added to our building and called “resilient”. Storm proofing is not adding plywood over windows and hoping a quick fix can save your home. SURE HOUSE’s notion of storm proofing begins as an overall contemporary idea, which works its way down to the smaller details. We’re looking at prior coastal construction methods as precedents in order to build toward the future by identifying what has been successful, and what is prone to storm damage.
There are a few categories that SURE HOUSE has broken a typical coastal home’s construction methods into: Exterior Envelope, Floor/Structural Systems, Finished Interior, Thermal Barriers, and Electrical.
Looking at the Exterior Envelope of a typical coastal home, we realized there were many issues with water proofing. Typical methods consist of using plywood sheathing, felt paper, and an exterior siding. This allows for water to penetrate the envelope and cause damage to the home. SURE HOUSE uses an innovative composite sheathing which wraps on the underside of the home up to the designated FEMA Flood elevation level. In the case of SURE HOUSE, this house is rated to withstand up to a FEMA 6/7 Zone (+/- 6 feet of water). SURE HOUSE also uses a rainscreen system on its façade. A rainscreen is where the siding stands off from the moisture-resistant surface of an air barrier applied to the sheathing to allow drainage and evaporation
The structural system floor system of a typical coastal home is also prone to damage. For example, you are a home owner of a small bungalow on the Jersey Shore. A storm hits, and you have received a substantial amount of water in your home. You decide to pump the water out of your home. Problem solved, right? Wrong…A typical floor structure of either TGI Wood Joists or Standard Dimensional Lumber wood beams are solid. Therefore, water and moisture does not air out, leading to mold, or even worse structural damage. SURE HOUSE’s solution for this is to use an open web wooden truss floor system. If there is any sort of water penetration into the home, the floor system has the ability to allow for airflow which minimizes the chance of long term rotting, mold damage, and issues to the structural integrity of the home.
The finished interior of a typical coastal home would consist of carpet/wood flooring, and sheetrock walls. If these become wet, they have the potential to hold moisture and create mold. Two unique floor finishes are incorporated into SURE HOUSE to allow for water contact. The primary flooring in the living room is a panelized cork board, which is extremely durable and water resistant, and the second is a vinyl tile system, which is also extremely water resistant, as well as made from recycled materials. Both of these, along with SURE HOUSE’s “beachy wooden box interior” allow for minimal water/moisture damage.
Thermal barriers are extremely important when it comes to energy efficiency of a home. A typically coastal home is most likely using a fiberglass insulation as its primary thermal barrier. If these barriers become compromised due to flooding, they might not only need to be replaced, but you will have to gut your interior walls in the process. SURE HOUSE’s Passive House Standard is quite simple, keep air leaks out. The benefit of this is we are able to tape all exposed joints, gaps, and any other area susceptible to air infiltration, and in the process we automatically are able to reduce the smaller nooks water can leak into. SURE HOUSE also uses a rigid insulation on the interior and exterior of the house to optimize R-Values, as well as use an insulation that does not absorb or degrade when in contact with water.
The electrical in a typical coastal home can be all over the place. Wires and receptacles running along the floor. HVAC, water tanks, and breaker boxes running at levels that may be susceptible to water damage. SURE HOUSE takes this into account by acknowledging our FEMA AE Flood Zone. No Receptacle, or wire is below the AE Zone. All electrical devices use this flood zone as a marker, so if there is water infiltration into the home it is definitely out of harm’s way.
By looking at these prior construction methods we have been able to identify what storm resistant techniques have been successful and which are prone to damage. By coming up with innovative storm resistant solutions to the construction methods of a contemporary coastal home, we hope SURE HOUSE can be used as a learning tool for future designers and builders in flood prone areas.