School Project Tiny House

by Kent Griswold on April 30th, 2009. 23 Comments
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Ted Fort in Salvo, NC on the Outer banks and a group of students are building a 96 square foot house using completely found materials. The goal, and so far it’s working, is for the total cost to be nothing. I’ll let Ted tell you about it below.

Well, essentially, a group of three other students and myself in our Drafting III class at Cape Hatteras Secondary were sitting around one day and trying to design the smallest possible “livable” house on a drafting program we have. Well, we played around with some ideas, and we eventually decided that it really couldn’t be that hard to build.

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Unfortunately, our drafting teacher’s supply budget was recently cut to nothing. So he had litteraly $0 to buy supplies for, well, anything. So we thought we could try and build it for free.

Since then, I’ve been spending a lot of time in dumpsters at job sites, at the dump, and generally scavenging. Luckily dumpster diving is one of my favorite things to do. We’ve had amazing luck getting materials.

***Update: Ted just put up a blog to keep everyone updated, visit The Scrap House.

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We’re not trying to make an environmental, sociological, or materialistic statement, but I will say, the waste one finds is pretty incredible. In one dumpster I found 26 perfect 8 foot 2×6′s. I suppose when someone is building a two million dollar house, they don’t really care. I’ve even found several 4×8 sheets of plywood. That’s literally buying something just to throw it out!

We’ve only been working on it for about a week and a half total. We have most of the framing done, only one wall and the roof left. We have the front door, two windows, tons of plywood, a shower, a stove, a sink, cabinet doors, and a lot more… all found for free. It’s kind of a dumb experiment, but a fun one nonetheless. Theoretically we’ll eventually have a complete house with no investment but time a labor… and what’s a high school student’s time worth anyway?

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The plan is pretty standard… essentially a WeeBee without the nook. The door to the bathroom is kind of cool, however. The door can close where it’s indicated on the plans, so it shuts off just the bathroom. However, the opening into the kitchen is the same size as the opening to the bathroom, so there are two striker plates. This allows the door to be locked in either position. As the bathroom doesn’t have a sink, this gives a room to get dressed in, but also allows the option for privacy if someone is in the kitchen.

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We’re not sure about siding yet. Probably just going to use scraps to make clap-board. For the inside, of course we can’t find paneling or drywall for free, so our plan is to use old drop-cloths, which we will then stretch over the walls, paint, and sandwhich against the studs with some trim. That’s how the old theatres did it to reduce noice, so it should turn out well.

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It’s been a cool project so far.. we hope to be done within a month.

When Ted and his group have completed the project I will post an update so that you can see the finished house.

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23 Responses to “School Project Tiny House”

  1. masukomi says:

    I’m thinking that if they offered to give the end product away to some needy person it wouldn’t be too hard to get a local home depot to donate the sheetrock and insulation since (it needs so little) they could easily get a local newspaper article out of that.

  2. Kent says:

    Good point, I’ll shoot an email to Ted and suggest it…Kent

  3. Matt C says:

    Kudos to these guys! Really inspiring.

  4. Bugler says:

    Outstanding! Way to go, guys!

  5. Another free house!

    Who knows maybe we can start a free house mortgage free revolution… ok that might be a little crazy… but I still like it!

    Great find Kent! Can you encourage them to start a little free wordpress blog to capture their progress. It would be great to see this get some serious media attention.

    -Michael

  6. Kent says:

    Hi Michael – I’ll see what I can do about the blog, surely someone in their group could pull that off…Kent

  7. C says:

    Please pass this on to the teacher if you can. In the strawbale/cob community people have experimented with, and been very successful at using old carpet remnants stapled, nailed, or sandwiched between the trim strip of wood and the 2×4 to hold hte carpet in place. This is the “wall” material or the replacement for the sheetrock. The fuzzy side should go towards the wall space and the jute backing towards the room. Then a few coats of earthen plaster and you have insulation, sound proofing and a bit of mass which will help with the comfort level of the room.

    Good luck!

  8. Ted says:

    I spelled dumb wrong. That’s just a fit of irony. Oh well. We decided to put the toilet in at an angle to maximize space. Also, the mid wall is going to be slightly offset. However, it’s pretty much the same. Thanks for the publicity Kent!

  9. Tim R says:

    That’s awesome! I love the dual function bathroom door idea and that high school kids thought that up. Most adults and even professional architects would never think of something like that which requires thinking “outside the box”.

    Where was something like this when I was in high school? Oh, that’s right, we couldn’t do something like this because of the roaming dinosauars when I was in school. :-)

  10. seth says:

    Great layout. Cant wait to see the finished product.

    More schools should be doing this.

  11. Diane says:

    He writes that he thinks it’s kind of a dumb project, but I can’t think of anything smarter than teaching a bunch of kids that they are perfectly capable of building a functional, if small, home.

    I once met a man who was very confident in his ability to fix or build just about anything. He told me that his high school shop class, for their year-long project, built a house and then sold it to raise funds for their school.

    I guess after doing something like that, fixing small things around the home doesn’t seem so terribly daunting.

  12. Ted says:

    @ masukomi,

    I agree that Home Depot would likely be willing to donate. Businesses have been very generous in making offers to us. However, the point of this is not to build a house once and give it away. Our goal is to do it for free, using discarded and unneeded materials. While accepting donations would still technically be free, it would not be as repeatable, and not “free” in the global sense. The house is meant to be more than the sum of it’s parts. Our message is to show that if one is industrious, they can build a house for nothing. And throwing around the “charity” and “school project” weight takes away from that in my opinion.

    @ Michael Janzen

    Thanks. I’ll try and see what I can do about setting up a little website for it. I might just post updates to my youtube account. It’s youtube.com/telltheworldastory
    I’ll see what I can do.

    @ C,

    Clever idea for the walls. That basically what we’re going for with the canvas idea, but maybe a little less insulatory. The first coat will be along the lines of jessoing a canvas, and then we’ll work from there. I’m worried something earthen would crack over time, especially when we try and move the house. In addition, being on an island, it’s VERY humid, which doesn’t get along with clay.

    @ Diane,

    I only call it dumb as I am not trying to pretend I am making some form of earth-shaking message. It was me and a friend’s idea originally, it has nothing to do with the curriculum. We’re in Drafting III, which would normally focus on site planning. However, we(There is 4 of us) wanted to try this, and our teacher gave us the go-ahead. So we’re largely independent. I do wish that high-schools would encourage more independence though. We’re very lucky in that regard. Schools are so focused on forcing you to pick a career the second you hit middle school and straight-lining you through to college. There is not time to reflect and experiment. I’m pretty grateful for this opportunity.

  13. Kerr says:

    This is a really right-on project, Ted. You don’t need an earth-shaking message to be doing something worthwhile with your time, which the vast majority of high school students (I remember!) don’t. You can figure out the earth-shaking message, if you want one, as you go.

    I hope this becomes a tradition at your school and spreads to others. I think a lot of people could gain great experience this way. I wish I’d done a project like this.

  14. Ted says:

    @ Kerr,

    I would be nice for it to become a tradition, but I’m not hopeful. Unfortunately, the free aspect of it is time consuming. The rest of the group and I probably spend two or so hours after school every day to find materials. And most people just don’t feel like committing to that. It would be immensely easier to use bought materials, which the school could theoretically fund. The thing is, we have a carpentry class. They have a huge budget, unlimited materials to use, and they build next to nothing. For the most part they sit on the top of that hill and watch us. They even stole some of our lumber to make stilts even though they can BUY whatever they need. My point is, The students who could do it won’t, and the students who would do it can’t. While the free aspect is a neat experiment, it’s also out of necessity. As I said, our drafting teacher’s budget is nothing. And something tells me it was cut to fund the carpentry class antics. Oh well. Sorry for the rant. Thanks. -Ted

  15. XsTatiC says:

    Good stuff. I took a brief look at this earlier and thought it was a great project as far as creating something for nothing. I didn’t take a long enough look at the design. I looked at it and though, yeah, that’s pretty typical for this size (I know, I’m going to be building a 108 square foot one in June and have done a TONNE of research on plans). However after now just reading through thoroughly, that dual-door idea is a pretty substantial evolution for this size of foot print. Kudos to that aspect of the design. That small bit of ingenuity puts this far above all plans this size. Make no doubt, this feature will be copied and incorporated into other small plans in a hurry… including my own. My original plan had called for, and still may use in combiation with this new idea, a product such as this: http://www.toystoreinc.com/servlet/the-3919/Toilet-Lid-Sink-Combo/Detail

  16. Ted says:

    @ XsTatiC,

    Thanks for the kind words. Yeah, we were pretty excited when we thought of that door design. We’re going to have to modify the striker a bit so it is contoured on both sides, but other than that, it’s pretty straight forward.

    I’ve seen those toilet lids, and think they’re pretty neat. Ironically the toilet we found didn’t have a lid, so one of those would be perfect. Of course you can’t really get one for free, but it’s a good idea. I would still probably use the dual door idea though in addition to the toilet sink, and while that sink is great for washing one’s hands, you couldn’t really wash your face, and its only faucet is the flushing of the toilet, so it would actually require a gallon of water to brush your teeth if you weren’t already using the toilet. You could probably set it up with a separate drain and faucet(like an overflow off the side of the tank), but that is a current issue as I see it.

  17. Tim R says:

    Hi Ted,
    I found this web page that shows how to build your own toilet sink lid out of common materials which would better fit in with how you are finding your building materials. It looks like a cool idea.

    http://www.instructables.com/id/Hack-a-Toilet-for-free-water./

    Great job on what you are doing and how you are finding the materials!

  18. Ted says:

    @ Tim R

    I’ve seen that before. While the concept is there, I’m just too much of an aesthetic snob for it. I’m sure we’ll find something that works and looks good. I honestly think the kitchen sink is enough. Thanks though! -Ted

  19. Hope Henry says:

    For future “free” house builders, check Craig’s List. I found about 60 sheets of drywall for free if I’d just had a truck to pick it up. I’ve also found beadboard paneling, as well as other building materials.

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