Tiny Houses: Teaching Students How To Build A House From A To Z

Feb 7, 2020

(L-R) Sophomore Christopher McKay, Senior Zane Hitz, Freshman Tayton Hodges sit on the loft in the tiny house.
Credit Kamila Kudelska

Vocational classes that teach high school students trade skills are common in our state. One school is taking its vocational skills to the next level. Lovell High School is now in the tiny house business.

On a recent chilly morning, a class of Lovell High School students are outside working. Sophomore Christopher McKay is giving me a tour of a 208 square foot trailer that's starting to look like a a small home.

"We're standing right now [in what] will be the living room so pretty much from the fender to the back will be a living room. By this big picture window will be a nice couch. Stairs on the passenger side will be right over the fender going up to your loft," McKay shows me.

This is the second tiny house McKay has worked on during high school. While it's not quite tiny, it appears to be the size of a big truck. The idea has picked up steam nationally, appealing to people who prefer simple living. The owner of the first house built by these students, though, has a couple of big dogs.

McKay is surprised to find himself involved in this.

"At first I wasn't really into construction. I came in, you know, late so I kind of just helped wherever. Some was helping putting shelves in the bathroom next to the washer, dryer," he said.

But McKay is into it, especially after the first one sold to an actual person.

"It was also kind of amazing because like buying something from a high school student, it just seems, you know, sort of risky in some cases," he said. "But it's also kind of sad watching it go because it was fun working on it."

It was sold last fall for just $34,000.

"We sold it for what we had [invested] into it. We didn't make any money on it but being our first project we were ecstatic that we were able to do this from the very beginning to the very end," said Brett George, a vocational teacher at Lovell High School and the mastermind behind the project.

"I've always wanted to build a house with students. It's been a goal of mine my whole entire career. And how do you actually take students to a job site when you have a 59 minute window of time?"
 

Tiny house in production.
Credit Kamila Kudelska

George and his colleague, Cindy Asay, only have the students three days a week for less than an hour. George said that makes it difficult to get things done efficiently or quickly. In order to get anything done, they needed a lot of students. About 100 students ended up getting involved.

"It wasn't just one class that was involved. I'll tell you the classes that were all involved was Computer Aided drafting. We designed it in class. We drew it up. Then woodworking," George said.

Nearly all the vocational classes at the school came in at different stages to help with the entire process including marketing and business. George said the smaller scale inherent to tiny houses allowed the building to take place at the school but there were still challenges.

"It was so much smaller scale, whereas building a normal house, you could mess up here and there a little bit. It's not like you're building a piano," said George. "Not in this house, it was so much more intricate."

Fellow teacher Cindy Asay said there a lot of little details that go into building a home - that meant the students really had to know the skills well.

"When we had to redo things, they learned to understand, that's okay. That's part of the process. But the end result is it has to always be done right because someone will be buying this," she said.

This was their ultimate goal, to have kids experience finishing something that went into the real world.

"They understood. It gave them a different reality of it's not just school and it's not just an assignment. So, a lot more job related," said Asay.

Sophomore Christopher McKay isn't exactly sure what he wants to do when he grows up, "but probably something [to do with] construction to just woodworking sort of thing. So, it's definitely something that would probably help."

The school hopes to finish and sell the second tiny house in two years.

Have a question about this story? Contact the reporter, Kamila Kudelska, at kkudelsk@uwyo.edu.