Tiny house, huge experience

Published 5:20 pm Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Instructors Roger Gill and Tom Edwards at the Shelby County Tech School wasted little time getting their Construction Academy students working this past semester.

Just two weeks into the school year, students put hammer to nail on the base of a tiny 192-square-foot house on wheels. Gill said its imperative the students get this type of hands on work.

“It’s different when you get out there,” Gill said. “It’s hard for them to translate what they do in the classroom to real life unless they have this experience.”

Students put their skills to use in the classroom every day. To allow them access to big projects, however, instructors have to seek out partners and funds.

Gill’s wife came across the idea for building a tiny house while scanning the Internet for homes. Tumbleweed Tiny Homes, the original inspiration for the project, were created by a man named Jay Shafer. According to his Web site, Shafer’s idea was that a tiny home would reduce his impact on the environment and afford him a slower-paced and more simple lifestyle.

Gill and Edwards searched for plans. With limited funds though, the instructors said blueprints for the Tumbleweed Tiny Homes were too expensive. So, they’ve winged it creating their own drawings and using their combined knowledge to bring the project together.

“We’ve really tried to just act as foreman though and allow the kids to do the work,” Edwards said.

Students working on the home make up the school’s Construction Academy, which includes students in drafting, welding, carpentry and electrical. About 45 students have pitched in.

The students said working without blueprints has proved challenging.

Senior Codey Foster said he’s learned a great deal about cooperation.

“It’s different — you’ve got to wait on them (carpentry students) and really help each other out,” Foster said.

Edwards said its good for students to get cross-training and learn about new industry standards. The home, for example, is equipped with Energy Star appliances and energy-efficient windows. The practical skills the students learn can come in handy regardless of what career they pursue, Edwards said.

“If they never go into the field at least they will know how to work on their own house,” Edwards said.

The instructors aim to put the roof in place and complete finishing touches by the end of next month.

Senior Jeremy Cantrell said he’s been proud to work on the project.

“This is probably the last time we’ll get to do something like this unless we get another grant,” Cantrell said. “That’s why it’s so special to a lot of us. It’s something we can be proud of doing.”

ALFA made the project possible through a grant covering almost $20,000 worth of building materials. That’s thousands in cedar, nails, electrical wiring and more.

Edwards and Gill hope to use the home as a recruiting tool as well as entering it into the Team Building category of the state SKILLS competition April 27-28.