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Ryan Johnson, Published May 03 2014

Post-frame construction home in south Fargo showcases possibilities

FARGO - The blue house with brick accents and a three-stall garage at 4328 58th St. S. doesn’t stand out from the other houses surrounding it in Osgood.

And that was precisely the point, according to Tom Janke.

The construction center manager for Illinois-based Morton Buildings’ office in Moorhead said he’s noticed rapidly changing customer demands since joining the company 13 years ago.

At first, people would ask about adding more living space to lake or hunting property. They might request a small outbuilding with a bathroom, laundry room and maybe a bedroom or two to use as guest lodging or a place for their kids to stay, he said.

Eventually, as the requests became more elaborate and customers started to realize the once relatively simple structures were becoming full houses, Morton Buildings’ structures became primary residences, Janke said.

In 2006, he took it a step further – and built a house for himself in Fargo to show Morton Buildings can do a lot more than pole sheds and farm shops.

“That’s half the reason that we decided to do it is that I sell so many of them, we’re like, ‘Why don’t we just build one?’ ” he said.

Another option

The outside of the house is as traditional as they come, with regular siding, windows and shingles.

The inside, too, looks like it could be in any modern home, with a large kitchen that flows into living space on the 2,400-square-foot main floor, a breakfast room, a formal dining room, an office, four bedrooms and three bathrooms spread throughout the main floor and 2,400-square-foot basement.

But there are some clues that suggest the house Janke shares with his wife, Kim Wold Janke, and their two daughters isn’t like the other homes on the block.

If an open concept is a much-desired trait these days, the Jankes have something better – a 30-by-70 main floor with the kind of clear span that would make many open concept houses feel confined.

None of the interior walls are load bearing, he said, and during the construction process, the Jankes shifted walls that separate bedrooms, bathrooms and other rooms a few times until they found a layout they liked.

Most houses are “stick built,” Janke said, meaning wood studs are spaced out every 16 inches to form the frame that’s then covered up with siding, sheetrock and finishing touches.

But Morton Buildings instead practices “post-frame construction,” which uses much larger pillars instead of studs to come up with the vertical support needed to keep the structures sturdy.

There are many benefits of this construction method in the house, Janke said, including the fact that the stronger pillars can be spaced apart 6 feet – making it easy to put in doorways and windows almost anywhere the customer wants.

Post-frame construction also makes it possible to not need supporting walls or beams in structures of this size, he said, which is why the interior walls could be taken out with no stability concerns.

Because the pillars can be spaced apart, Janke said it’s also possible to better insulate these structures in many cases. Rather than having an “inefficient spot” on every stud, these structures have fewer wooden columns.

The pillars are thicker than the normal wood studs, he said, which means the walls are thicker – and have room for more insulation.

Added up, he said his house is a breeze to heat and cool throughout the year. The boost in efficiency also makes it quiet as a library on the inside, no matter how many cars are passing by or what nasty weather is raging outside.

“Besides the windows, you hear nothing,” he said. “When we had those big windstorms, if we hear the wind, it’s got to be tremendous.”

The Jankes saved quite a bit on the house, and were able to put the savings toward more upscale appliances and finishes, he said, because they were able to build their own frame instead of hiring a general contractor.

“We walked into it with a lot of sweat equity,” he said.

The Janke house is unique from many of the residences that Morton Buildings makes these days, he said. He decided to use traditional shingles to prove to potential customers that the company’s buildings don’t need steel roofs – though he said many do appreciate the low maintenance and long lifespan of steel roofing.

It also has a full basement, he said, while many customers – especially those who live on larger rural properties – instead keep their structures to one bigger floor built on top of a concrete slab.

People across the country are starting to realize that Morton Buildings can make a home anywhere, in the middle of a city or on a remote acre of land, Janke said.

The company does 6,000 or more buildings each year, he said, and still is hired to do a lot of farm buildings. But in recent years, Janke said more than half of the leads from potential customers are inquiring about residential buildings – and they’re looking for other options than the stick-built structures that fill most neighborhoods.

“What is a traditional house anymore?” he said. “There are so many different ways of building it. This is just one more way of doing it.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Ryan Johnson at (701) 241-5587