Being a homeowner who has gutted and rehabbed a number of residences now, I’ve come to learn that materials really do have their place. Asphalt shingles work great on a pitched roof, but place them on a porch’s shed roof with a shallow incline… well, you’re begging for those newly laid floors of reclaimed Douglas fir from your upstairs attic to cup and bend. Wood putty is fine for those nail holes on an interior door. But, try to close the gap on those weathered storm windows — the first spring rain bubbles the paint and makes them look worse than before. Lessons learned.

And, as you can see from the picture above, what worked beautifully as a retaining wall treatment in the Yancey “Tire” Chapel (1995) failed miserably on Tracy Shiles’ house. The stepped approach to the front entry hasn’t borne foot traffic well, and it wasn’t covered either. The flaking stuccoed tires reminds me of something Andrew Freear, the director of Rural Studio, told Krista in our anchor interview for SOF’s upcoming program, “An Architecture of Decency.”

He views sustainability with a small ess. Instead of searching for “green” products with the proper FSC stamp or building structures that are LEED certified, Rural Studio emphasizes vernacular materials that require zero maintenance. The stuff has to be readily available, reusable, and understood by the owners so that it can be easily fixed. Their clients are scratching out a living and extra time, says Freear, needs to be spent making additional income, being with their families, or simply just resting from a hard day’s work.

After all, this isn’t so hard to understand. How many of you have an uncle, grandfather, or dad who gripes every time he opens the hood of his Volkswagen Jetta or Toyota Prius or even a Ford Taurus because he can’t make simple repairs because of all the electronics being used? The same idea applies here. A Dutch-produced prefabricated cementitious fiberboard may be “green” and durable, but if it gets damaged in a storm, the owner can’t replace it. But, use corrugated sheet metal and the owner can find a piece at any scrap yard or vacant, tumbledown building in the tri-county area for the repair.

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