St. Helens Oregon High School Tiny House Project

It started out a neat enough idea. Apply for a Lowes grant for $4000, build a couple (very) tiny homes for the student’s education and experience, and then sell them on Craigslist. I’m smiling (ruefully) thinking about the “if I’d only known then” concept. You see, when you manage a class of 20-30 2nd year high school woodworking students, neatness never really enters the equation? I teach a woodworking/building construction program at St Helens High School in Oregon. The student’s introduction to the tiny house building class is a one semester (half year) class consisting of learning the basics of machine and tool use, measuring, and basic wood vocabulary as they work through 5-6 projects. It is a regimented class and if you fall behind, usually you stay that way unless you have the with-it-ness to come in during lunch or after school. ?So it is only with a half year of introductory woodworking that I launched into building a couple tiny houses. And unlike some really good high school programs building complete houses every year or two, we were going to do everything ourselves instead of subbing out the majority of it.

My dad has this saying “Two people can live just as cheaply as one, for half as long” and it sure played out on this project. Instead of half the class working on each house, my 4 or 5 best students did all the work on both houses, which meant twice as long to complete anything. You see, I was excited about the project, but convincing a 15 year old to take his or her time and do something right translates to them not doing it at all. It was a rough go.

So, after three years of watching the majority of the work be completed by 2-3 students each year, we have two tiny houses up for sale!

Blue Floor Plan

To start with, all of my students were required to bring in at least three pictures of tiny homes that they actually liked the looks of and after throwing those all out the door because of budget we ended up just drawing our own in Google Sketchup. The houses are both 6’x 8’ and roughly 12’ to the peak. Since the houses vary quite a bit I’ll just give you the rundown in a list format.
The blue house: $5000?35 year roofing?Hardiplank Siding – Stucco board and bat finish?Hardwood flooring?Sheep wool insulation!?Custom high density mattress with cover?Custom lockable door with Brink’s Home Security™ Push Pull Rotate™ Door Knob?Sink with venting and 1 ½” drain line to the exterior (hose bib hook up)?Electrical consisting of one GFCI outlet, 4 standard, two 3-way light switches, and 3 lights?Hinged loft that swings down for more room?Custom modifiable table/workbench/2nd bed/bench seat lets you decide what is important to you!?5 Windows and custom trimwork

The Brown house: $3500 ?35 year roofing?Hardiplank Siding – Stucco board and bat finish?Hardwood flooring?Fiberglass insulation?Custom lockable door with Brink’s Home Security™ Push Pull Rotate™ Door Knob?Custom trimwork?Electrical consisting of 3 outlets, 2 interior lights and dual exterior lighting?Open floor plan
No Street of Dreams here, these are high school 2nd year students building homes for experience, so understand that character and education is featured throughout! Gaps, scratches, and bowed sheetrock come free with no extra charge! We guarantee our work until it leaves the school property. =)


Oregon Shepard donated the sheep wool insulation for the blue house which proved to be a good experience for the students. The sheetrock mudding and taping turned out to be my biggest disaster as is evident by the finished product. Since the majority of my students wanted to work on their own products (end tables, step stools, cutting boards, gun racks, etc.) I had considerable less time overseeing the actual work on the houses and it was fairly depressing for a couple specific students to have me come in at the end of the period and cringe. It wasn’t their fault, at that time they just didn’t know enough to know enough.
We ended up spending quite a bit more money than we intended with student “experiences,” but that is what we do here.


My hope for the future is that somebody is planning on building a tiny house, but wants to do the finish work themselves. That way our class can do all the basics of framing, siding, electrical, plumbing, insulation, and whatever wall covering material they want, but let the customer detail it out themselves. It is probably a long shot, but we have plenty of good building construction projects lined up until we make that decision.

If anyone is interested in watching the initial building process, we made a short video about it, complete with thoughts from Dee Williams! Enjoy!
Joe Mauck
St. Helen’s High School
Building Construction Department
2375 Gable Road, St. Helens OR 97051
Office: 503-366-7416
Cell: 503-490-6350

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Mike Tabony - July 25, 2014 Reply

Wish you were close. Looks like a pretty good deal to me. I’m more partial to underground houses but one of these would be just the ticket to put off in my woods. A couple of batteries with a solar panel for charging so you could run a laptop and a couple of LED lights and one has the perfect writing or thinking get-away. They are so small that the dog and I inside would probably generate enough body heat to warm it in the winter.

Keep up the good work.

Mike Tabony

Devi Cholet - July 25, 2014 Reply

Really lovely and creative!

Frederick Thurber - July 25, 2014 Reply

What’s with all the plywood and non-wood building materials? Yecch.

It is not like there is a wood shortage in Oregon, right? If should have real wood paneling on interior and cedar shingle, etc.

    Joe - July 25, 2014 Reply

    Yes! And if anybody would have donated those expensive materials then we would have done it!
    I have 130 students each year and a budget of $1400. $10 dollars a student doesn’t leave room for cedar and panelling, even on a small scale when I have to buy materials, fix machines, and provide for mistakes.

      Marsha Cowan - July 26, 2014 Reply

      I think the finished product looks great, and plywood adds so much structural strength to a building that will be moving and stopping going down the road putting lots of torque on those walls. Plywood is great!

      laurie - July 28, 2014 Reply

      I wonder if you could get lowes and home depot to donate the good stuff for a little free advertising? The extra money you could charge for the finished houses would be a donation to the building program. Just an idea. looking good so far

      laurie - July 28, 2014 Reply

      maybe a duplicate, but what if you get lowes and home depot to donate the good stuff. the extra money you make on the houses would be a donation to the building program. just an idea. Looking good so far.

      Laurie Allen - August 7, 2015 Reply

      Hey Joe did you ever get any help for your tiny house project? Did you hear about these guys? They are making a curriculum around building tiny houses. Might be useful. Still think about your program and wonder how it’s going….

    shawn speed - July 25, 2014 Reply

    Let’s see you build on fredrick you douchebag. Those kids worked hard on this project for 3 years. All. Your doing is running your non building ass mouth for 3 minutes

      Nancy - July 28, 2014 Reply

      Hey, enough with the name calling. She has the same rights as you. Apologize.

      Frederick Thurber - July 30, 2014 Reply

      Oh yeah? I have built 5 small buildings using only natural wood products.

      And I get the wood, real wood, from local sawmills, not the crap from Lowes or Home Depot.

    Noah - July 26, 2014 Reply

    That was the first thing I noticed as well! – I remember my shop/woodworking class in High School was ONLY wood…

Joy - July 25, 2014 Reply

I’m sure they will sell at those prices. before you know it! Maybe next time…just pick a very simple plan…I think they got carried away with the angles, and made it harder on themselves. might just be fun to do a project of scavenged materials, such as pallets. teach them how to be resourceful. More eco friendly, too. I think a simple lean-to house, with metal roof to help with water catchment possibilities, would be so easy this Granny could build one. Save budget money for a couple extras, like nice counter top, and nice finishes. Pallet wood when painted up, looks pretty good and is the new ‘chic’.
Good luck!

    Robin S - July 25, 2014 Reply

    I love your idea and comment. a Salt box could be a very do-able plan. Water catchment and recycled materials, Awesome. This could be a great senior project and could maybe offer applied science and other credits as well as the industrial arts credits… so many great ideas and opportunities.

      Marsha Cowan - July 26, 2014 Reply

      Also, you could add solar. I built a 100 watt solar generator for my tiny house which is much smaller than this one which was housed in a cabinet outside with an electrical cord running to the house. The cord had three outlets in it. Worked great! Panel, battery, charge controller, inverter, all for about $500. Doable for a school project.

    Joe - July 25, 2014 Reply

    The point of these tiny houses is for education. We do the angles so that the students do have to push themselves. Scavenged materials are fun, but I want these students to know what to do on a jobsite when they get a real job out of high school. Once they know what a brace panel is, a portal frame, a nailing schedule, etc., then they can be creative while still keeping it structual.

    Joe - July 25, 2014 Reply

    The point of these tiny houses is for education. We do the angles so that the students do have to push themselves. Scavenged materials are fun, but I want these students to know what to do on a jobsite when they get a real job out of high school. Once they know what a brace panel is, a portal frame, a nailing schedule, etc., then they can be creative while still keeping it structual. Ps. We did the rain retention on the previous tiny house.

    Marsha Cowan - July 26, 2014 Reply

    Hey! This granny did build a lean to…

Swabbie Robbie - July 25, 2014 Reply

I can’t help but think that if the students could have applied the whole grant toward building one tiny house a bit larger they could have had a real livable house. They could have have a better exercise in plumbing and, most importantly space utilization for efficient comfortable living.

I am sure they learned some valuable lessons from seeing that loft space for sleeping should not have ones head under an angled part of the roof.

As is, the buildings look like they would make excellent studios for writing, practicing music, and other retreats out of the house.

The students should be proud of the job they did on such a limited budget and the things they learned doing it.

I hope your, and other schools keep building projects going.

    Joe - July 25, 2014 Reply

    The reason we did two houses was because I have 25 students in the class. On our previous tiny house when we did one, 20 of the students stood around and twiddled their thumbs most of the time during the hands on portion because of limited substance.
    With one Tiny house you also run the risk of having all the eggs in one basket, not being able to sell it, not being able to move it, and not having room to build it. With two smaller houses we can always sell them off as sheds.
    The loft is staged that with the pillows; they’re only for leaning. It is a 7 1/2′ long bed so I see no reason to put your head in there either.
    Thank you for the compliments!

      Swabbie Robbie - July 25, 2014 Reply

      I see your points about having too many students standing around not being able to participate if you built only one building. It is an educational project and I think it may give a leg up to any students who want to work in the building trades, as well as those that just own a home someday and will need to do maintenance, remodeling or adding an addition.

      You should have no trouble selling them as they can have great utility for the purposes I mentioned and many things others will think of.

      Wish I had a shop teacher like you back in my high school daze 🙂

Nancy - July 25, 2014 Reply

What a wonderful story! I would suggest you carry on and do it again!

These are bigger windows than most tiny houses…yea! The design is charming. Without a loo I see these as garden offices or design studios.

Have you decided to sell them or auction them with a reserve? I would think in your part of the country a museum, etc., would be glad to help you if you contributed part of a profit?

Way to go high school class and patient, creative teacher!

Mike Emberson - July 25, 2014 Reply

Excellent – Way to go. I retired last year from teaching Industrial Arts. I spent a number of years building complete 1000 to 1400 sq ft homes with my students. We had professionals from most trades come in at each stage to give a little lesson and get everyone started. A couple of the homes were built at the school site and then trailered to the actual location while a couple were built right on the foundation itself and the students meet there each day after lunch and spent the entire afternoon on site. Keeping students motivated is always a challenge, some are go getters while others lack the skills to keep themselves interested. We as instructors are always challenged in this regard. The tail light warranty is always a concern. I have been asked to go up to the Canadian Arctic to teach Industrial Arts at a high school in Arviat. My plan to date is to build Tiny Land Cabins using the “Perfect Wall” method of construction. You have got me thinking about a student exchange program!!


Lori in Prescott - July 25, 2014 Reply

Love them both! The wine bottle and glasses was a nice touch! You could always simply build a storage shed for the school project and have the inspired students work on a Tiny House on the weekends and split the profits when it sells. In my son’s shop class they built intricate homes in doll house size. Spiral staircases, roof decks, real shingles cut to size, cedar siding . . . he sold his for $300 split 3 ways for the 3 boys that worked on it. Very cool project. The little girl who got it was thrilled.

Dominick Bundy - July 25, 2014 Reply

Looks more like a kids playhouse, very cute. but not at all livable in a fulltime bases..

    Joe - July 25, 2014 Reply

    You are correct, they were built for the education. Unless we have an upfront buyer with a plan we cannot risk those funds in building larger and it not selling.

      Marsha Cowan - July 26, 2014 Reply

      I could live in it as well as other single ladies or gents. I currently live in a 10′ renovated bus, and have more room than I can use. So don’t rule out someone using it as a home just yet 🙂

        Marsha Cowan - July 26, 2014 Reply

        I picked up all my computer skills later in a couple of years of college, so just goes to show that computers are not that hard to learn, but carpentry and mechanics require greater skill and more learning time. Put them back in the schools!

          PDXCarol - July 31, 2014 Reply

          Put construction back in the schools, yes! In the Pacific Northwest, schools are designed for the academic, college bound and college is pushed to the max as the way to go. In Portland, OR, where I live (& teach), the high school with the highest graduation rate for boys is the one that has technical tracks. Wonder why?

Robin S - July 25, 2014 Reply

Good Morning, I was a high school teacher and in my experience, It seems the greatest success for BIG, Long Lived, projects in a classroom comes with the opportunity for individual, truly interested students to apply to compete a project independently or with assistance from 1-2 other students, thee crew that can sign on from the start and work through to the end or be “seasonal” workers.

The forums that I have seen work the best are as junior/senior projects with multiple credit opportunities. It could require a portfolio and documentation of all the steps required to complete the project.

Building a house combines skill but many other opportunities to demonstrate learning. Think of Math, research, technology, advertising, public speaking and presentation , interacting with City planning and zoning officials, Logistics, such as finding out how to transport the finished product, acting as employer, supervisor of their crew.

I would offer assistance with post secondary education opportunities, maybe as an apprenticeship or finding a project management class, possibly job placement or work study with an appropriate community partner.

Make this class application based not an “optional general credit class open to the entire student body”. To make this class something that has bones and truly provide more than a “hammer fingers” opportunity you need support from your principal, superintendent school board and community partners.

Your course can be truly prep for the future for a group of students trying to determine what they will be doing for the rest of the lives. I salute you. This is the type of education that students take with them when they leave school. The trades are recruiting for young workers, with support from your school and community, You can make a difference.

I miss the classroom and the opportunity to work on these projects. I envy and encourage to in your endeavors…I believe you are on the right track. From one Teacher to Another….HANG IN THER!!!!

    Kathy D - July 30, 2014 Reply

    I agree with Robin and truly commend your efforts! This is a tough project for many students and is one they’ll remember for a long time. Applying to work on a team to build a Tiny House is a great idea. This becomes difficult if you have a multi-age class with varying experiences. Anyway, just wanted to offer my vote of confidence in your efforts. I am a middle school science teacher. Getting my students to build a simple working catapult proved to be daunting for the students and frustrating for me. But at least we tried. That’s the important thing ????

Charley_sf - July 25, 2014 Reply

Good looking trimwork…. subsequent projects will allow your groups to focus on great floorplans too. After careful study of Tiny Houses featured on the internet, you will see some very nice layouts that could put your graduates into business as I suspect many will be happy to use this template as their first home!

Susan - July 25, 2014 Reply

Nothing to be ashamed of, especially for learning experience value. Wish I could take that course. I could use the skills. Next time you could try a couple Conestoga huts – much simpler. Churches may help donate as they can use for aiding homeless. Find guidelines on the web.

sc - July 25, 2014 Reply

Since the houses are so small, you might considering running a raffle for each of the houses, if that is permitted in your area.

Pat - July 25, 2014 Reply

Joe – These tiny houses are fantastic! My deepest compliments to you and your students. It is so nice knowing your students are learning something that can, and will, help them in adult life. Also, for what it’s worth, I live in an 1,157 sq ft home in California. There are four bedrooms. Each is a bit small but work great for my cats and extensive yarn collection. I LOVE my home which was allegedly built by professionals. Note: not one room is squared off in any way, shape, or form! Your students can outshine those professionals any day of the week!

Thanks so much for sharing this story and pictures!

    Joe - July 25, 2014 Reply

    Thanks Pat!

Corby - July 25, 2014 Reply

The counter top, sink, and color choices are unique and create a warm and functional space. I like the angles! Those of us who lived in ranch houses got a bit tired of unbroken lines that went on forever when they didn’t need to!

colt13 - July 25, 2014 Reply

Impressive for novices. May not have paid off the way you intended, but now that there is a finished product, I think at least half will do projects in their own lives. Great idea!

James - July 25, 2014 Reply

The houses look nice and they are learning experiences not a production line so some imperfections are to be expected. I agree with the comment above that these houses might be a more appropriate project for junior and seniors working for independent study credit. At least your school still offers woodworking, my high school killed the program a couple of decades ago in favor of so-called more important subjects.

    Marsha Cowan - July 26, 2014 Reply

    So did our high school along with the mechanics class (working on cars), so they could have more computer classes. I never took the computer classes, yet have a good job in a computer lab at an international company anyway. I would have loved the carpentry and mechanics classes and could have really benefitted from them.

Shelley Noble - July 25, 2014 Reply

Congratulations marshaling the projects through to the end. And much respect to the hardworking students who did the work. I hope the experience of doing it will assist them in the future.

Jennifer M - July 25, 2014 Reply

Great idea! You went the extra mile for your students and I hope your school board, principal, etc. recognized your and your students’ efforts for the great thing it is!

Joyce - July 25, 2014 Reply

When you notice a student has chosen a simple wood project (chopping block, shelf, chair etc.) see if you can incorporated that same project by having them build 2 and then place one of the projects in the tiny house. Chopping block could be part of the counter or a slide out shelf. Wall shelf would enhance the use of wall space and may be built inside the wall.
One school I was at, the shop teacher acquired old or fresh cut lumber then replained that lumber for shop use. You may be able to acquire juniper or cedar wood to add for trim work using this method. Should you have a student with artistic ability, the student may be able to carve or paint a design for decoration.
Good luck in future projects:)

jonnie hammon - July 25, 2014 Reply

What you are trying to teach your students are skills, and work ethics. Neither being taught to most students, these days. Thank you. My oldest granddaughter just graduated high, and starts college next week. The experience I had with my children, and now grandchildren, has been disappointing, more often, than not. They work skills taught when I went to school, were not being taught any more. Work ethic is a mystical dream, for schools now. I appreciate your efforts. If you graded them by how much they actually did, it sounds as if most would have failed, with only a small few able to pass the class. I think you would have had more student input, if they knew they would be graded on the work they did, along with their work ethic, the neatness of their work. With so many students, some can do side projects for grades. Such as furniture making, making worthy suggestions on how to improve the wiring, plumbing, insulation innovations, etc… to prove they are paying attention. Just a thought.

Marsha Cowan - July 25, 2014 Reply

Oh my gosh! I cried when I saw these pics and read this article. What an amazing job for teens! I have raised 4 teens of my own and been a high school teacher for 22 years, and I know about the work mentality of that age group, yet you had several students every semester that dedicated them selves to figuring out how to. build these houses, even without continuous supervision. I applaud their efforts, and I have to say that I love the designs. Everything is very pretty and ready for the owner’s finishing touches. Pat those students on the back for me, my arm’s not long enough!

ellen - July 25, 2014 Reply

Lovely! I think they are perfect extra bedrooms for teens – pop them in the back yard and go, but a bathroom in the garage, and viva la independence! 🙂
Seriously, tiny houses are a great idea, and I like the result. My daughter would love to take your class. Is that really a cat bed? I love it!

ellen - July 25, 2014 Reply

Lovely! I think they are perfect extra bedrooms for teens – pop them in the back yard, put a bathroom in the garage, and viva la independence! 🙂
Seriously, tiny houses are a great idea, and I like the result. My daughter would love to take your class. Is that really a cat bed? I love it!

Ricki Navarro - July 25, 2014 Reply

FANTASTIC! I live in Portland and dream of a tiny house in my backyard. I would love to discuss teaming up with you and your students on a joint project — that would be on the order of a miracle for me! The tiny houses you have for sale are delightful, and I am so impressed by what you and “the kids” have accomplished — bravo!

Sandy B - July 26, 2014 Reply

What a wonderful, life long experience you have given your students!!!!

Rob - July 26, 2014 Reply

Great work, I teach High School woodworking in Canmore, Alberta and am looking at expanding my program (mostly furniture construction) into Framing etc.

I’m looking for funding, I hear your pain with regards to money.. donations would be great but we have enough to do…..

I’d love to talk more.. let me know and we could email.

    Joe - July 27, 2014 Reply

    Feel free to go to the school website and look up the woodworking program! You can find my email there.

Andrea Wyckoff - July 26, 2014 Reply

I am so impressed! What an awesome project to work on and learn from in High School. Thanks for making this happen!

I think Tiny Homes 101 should be added to all high schools as a class! I would have loved to take a class like this in high school. Actually, I’d even love to take one now!

Thanks for being such an awesome teacher!!

Valerie - July 26, 2014 Reply

Joe, I taught high school for several years, and I think you have worked a miracle!

Michal Tankersley - July 26, 2014 Reply

Joe!!! You all did such a great job on these!!! Well done and look forward to seeing more.


Michal Tankersley - July 26, 2014 Reply

Joe!!! You all did such a great job on these!!! Well done and I look forward to seeing more.


Sandra Napier - July 26, 2014 Reply

As a past visual arts teacher, I can do nothing but sing your praises!! These are fantastic. I only wish I lived with in 100 miles of you and then I would buy one and put it on my property. Joe, you and your students have done a remarkably wonderful job. Keeping kids motivated and on track is very hard, but you did it and gave them an experience they can and will use the rest of their lives. When I was in 7th grade I signed up for a home maintenance class and loved it but was thrown out because I was a girl. (Many years ago!) Now I have my own home and I have to rely on handiman services that generally do a bad job. Even with references! You are giving those students tools for life, in so many ways!! Keep up the great work, Please. Thank you!

Mel - July 26, 2014 Reply

Great job Joe, teaching the trades is such an important and valuable thing in our education system. I wish I had had the opportunity to do something similar! I did woodworking in jr. high but the only thing I made was a CO2 powered car. And it weren’t pretty! 🙂

Cristina - July 28, 2014 Reply

I wish we had that woodbuilding program at school ehen I was there

Christina - July 31, 2014 Reply

I think your projects is really great for the kids to complete to learn skills they can apply in their future lives. There needs to be more practical job or skills training for kids to be exposed to in jr and senior high. It is too bad that the very wealthy and big companies are not donating enough money to help the kids here learn life and work skills that would make them more competitive in the job market and cope with the harshness of life changes and earning a living. I applaud you for your work and I think that if you put the houses in the garden setting for your photos, it would sell as a work/ garden shed, small art studio, play house, office. Just add some furnitur or a few decorative touches or props to give people an idea of what it could be used for. I think if you have a bigger project like a small house that you want to do and pitch it as learning skills (budget proposal, design and architectural skills, material selection, building, electrical, plumbing, roofing, foundation etc. ) for the students, you could get donations of money, material and several useful speeches for the students from associations or individuals like the realtors, construction, architect, accountants, design, window companies, door companies, solar companies, concrete companies, paint companies, flooring companies, roofing companies environmental companies, furniture, insurance (you will need some insurance until it is sold) etc. and from even non related building people or professionals in exchange for their names as donors to be mentioned on the sale site on a wooden sign and on the sale brochure for the house you complete. It would take a little time for you to compile the list of names and addresses and get a proposed letter together once you decide on the project and what is needed- money or materials as long as the school would approve it.

Christina - July 31, 2014 Reply

To followup on my suggestion, you would also have to determine what type of warranty or length of time the house would be warranted for so that is another issue to check into.

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