Affordable Homes Through Software and Design: The Rising Barn Story

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of the design. One of the open-sourced designs he was using to construct a small home was missing pertinent details. Although it was frustrating, it solidified Elmendorf’s decision to focus on homebuilding. The propensity for human error in architectural design and construction reminded him of software development in the days before he discovered Agile development, which improved the speed of his work at Rackspace.

“That’s how we built software 20 years ago,” Elmendorf says.

That meant there was room for improvement in architecture. But he still needed someone to do the design work—and do it well.

Fortunately, that’s when he and Brimhall met. She had created a few different designs of sleek, seamless homes that could easily be constructed with inexpensive products—specifically, she also planned to use a version of the oriented strand board, which would sandwich additional insulation.

Soon enough, Elmendorf was incorporating Brimhall’s design into his SketchUp API. With SketchUp, which Google sold to Trimble Navigation in 2012, Elmendorf can translate Brimhall’s designs into cut pieces of lumber, which can then be constructed as Rising Barn homes.

“What’s happening is that Brett is downloading my brain, basically,” Brimhall says.

The entrepreneurs can also use Elmendorf’s code to adjust the specifications of Brimhall’s sketches—such as creating a slanted roof with skylights that would let a landowner see a tall tree from the new home, for example. With prospective buyers, Brimhall offers a $99 consultation, where she and Elmendorf can create potential designs according to the customer’s wishes.

Besides selling to individuals, Rising Barn is also working on larger community developments, including one that may focus on veterans in need of housing. Brimhall says the company currently has three potential deals with local real estate developers.

Now, Elmendorf and Brimhall are developing methods of using the software to improve the business even further, lowering manufacturing costs and improving output, they say.

The founders first met on a late-October day last year, a meeting that had a hint of fate. Throughout Elmendorf’s San Antonio workshop, Brimhall noticed piles of oriented strand board, which she noted had been expertly cut. Brimhall saw that Elmendorf had figured out—on his own—ways to cut the wood so the lumber was naturally stable when pieced together, something she had learned in architecture school.

She was also impressed by the type of lumber he decided to use. Oriented strand board is weaved and compressed together like particle board, but is still inexpensive and strong—one of the most stable products for building, Brimhall says. That she planned to use a variation of the same oriented strand board was the icing on the cake.

“It was kismet,” she says. “I had sketches of what I knew had to come next; he was making stuff that had to come next.”

Oddly enough, that they both decided to use oriented strand board is interesting for another reason: The man who invented that type of lumber in the 1960s was born in San Antonio in 1890, Elmendorf says. The inventor’s name was Armin Elmendorf. Brett Elmendorf is checking to see if they’re related.

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David Holley is Xconomy's national correspondent based in Austin, TX. You can reach him at dholley@xconomy.com Follow @xconholley

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