Best New Home 2017: For the Sake of Simplicity
A skillful execution of building-science principles and the quest for a simple, long-lasting home allow a unique detail to shine: the framing.
Our 2017 Best New Home Award goes to Matt Risinger and Eric Rauser of Risinger & Co. A skillful execution of building-science principles and the quest for a simple, long-lasting home allow a unique detail to shine: the framing.
When Greg Heidel told us that he wanted to “simplify the systems” of his life, he was speaking our language. Greg is a single guy who had recently purchased an empty lot in East Austin, Texas, an up-and-coming neighborhood. He wanted to build a new house that supported his lifestyle. Greg spends his time volunteering and saving money to donate to causes that are important to him, so he didn’t want a house that would be expensive to heat and cool or one that would require a lot of time and money to maintain. We don’t design many homes—we’re building-science geeks, and we typically add our knowledge to other architects’ designs. But Greg offered us the opportunity to both design and build his house, weaving proven building science into the plan from the get-go. We had the perfect approach in mind.
Outsulation is universally smart
Since we first read Joe Lstiburek’s 2007 article, “The Perfect Wall,” which describes an utterly simple yet radically unconventional building envelope, we’ve wanted to put it into practice in one of our projects. In the article, Joe outlines a wall assembly in which four control layers—one each for rain, air, vapor, and temperature—are installed outside the framing. Using this approach, the control layers protect the structure from water, vapor, and temperature swings, creating a more durable building. Though it is certainly still an option to put more insulation on the inside of a perfect wall, one of the main differences between this approach and the way most walls are built is that the primary thermal layer is on the outside. This assembly works in any climate; typically the only necessary adjustment is the thickness of the insulation. Another significant difference is that the purpose of the siding (and perhaps the way we should think of all siding) is only to protect the control layers from UV radiation.
The perfect wall is also the perfect roof and the perfect floor. Only slight tweaks are made when changing planes. Integrating the control layers as they transition from the slab to the walls and the walls to the roof is important. The layers must be continuous.
Nicknamed “the 500-year wall” because it is possibly the most durable way to build a house, the perfect wall approach met Greg’s desire for low maintenance. And once we’d decided that the insulation would be installed outside of the structure, we were able to explore a unique design possibility that this approach offers.
There is no drywall to be found in this house. Everywhere you look, you see structure. Yet designing the home wasn’t as simple as just leaving the structure exposed. There was a lot to consider and research before we even presented this idea to Greg.
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