When the bottom dropped out of the building market in Tampa, Florida, in 2008, the husband-and-wife architect team of Chris and Jodi Laumer-Giddens got hit hard. In a recent conversation, Chris described how the pair moved to Atlanta in search of work. "I took a job with a high-end restaurant design firm, and that lasted about six months. Jodi was working as an assistant Montessori School teacher."
Eight years later, the Laumer-Giddens family is back in business as the owners of a custom design-build firm, LG Squared, LLC. After the crash, Chris adapted by pursuing an interest in high-performance houses. He worked for a few years with building science expert Allison Bailes of Atlanta-based Energy Vanguard, gaining proficiency in whole-house energy analysis and home performance diagnostics. Chris also built up a capability in hvac system design, working under the tutelage of Arizona-based building systems engineer David Butler. As the Laumer-Giddens couple made connections in the Atlanta area, their architectural practice recovered. Last year, they also obtained a Georgia builder's license. Now, they're busy with custom design-build projects, including an off-grid sustainable custom home in the mountains of western North Carolina.
"We’ve consulted with architects and builders all over the country," says Chris. "I've done a lot of hvac designs. So building science is kind of my big focus in the company, along with on-site construction management and quality control. Jodi is the main architect; she's running the company and managing the projects." For the October JLC this year, Laumer-Giddens contributed an Energy column focusing on the insulated slab detail for a custom cottage the pair built last year.
In between larger projects, Chris and Jodi are working on a small cabin in central Florida, designed to test and showcase the latest building science principles — and to demonstrate high-performance methods for the hot, humid climate of Florida, where state-of-the-art techniques and materials are often neglected. The basic concept is to construct an airtight, vapor-open shell with continuous insulation applied outboard of the structure.
The benefits of the insulated jacket, Chris explains, go beyond energy. "One of the primary goals of any of these jobs is to be durable," he says — "making it durable to make it comfortable, and so it will last for a very long time. To do that, we are trying to protect the structure. To have your control layers continuous around that structure, to protect it from the environment, is the goal. So the idea is sort of building a beer cooler, and then your structure is within that cooler. So we have the insulation go completely under the house, up the exterior, and then up and over the roof structure, containing it within it."
For the small cabin, Chris says, the pair is reaching for the ideal implementation of that idea: "We're taking the wall assembly, turning it 90 degrees, and making it the floor. We're going for a perfect wall and perfect floor assembly, all connected, and super tight." At this point, the cabin is framed, sheathed, and insulated, and a crew is working on the mechanicals. Laumer-Giddens passed JLC a few photos: for a closer look, see the slideshow below.