LACONIA — More than two years in the making, and the work of 70 to 80 high school seniors who studied building and construction and plumbing and heating during COVID-19, the Huot Technical Center’s fourth tiny home rolled away Tuesday to a permanent foundation in Bridgewater.
“It looks like it’s at home. The house is home,” said the owner, a woman from the Lakes Region who purchased it for $60,000 and expects to spend another $60,000 on water and sewer hookups, electric wiring and fixtures, and a front deck – a total price tag that is roughly two thirds of its assessed value. The now house sits back from River Road, across from the Pemigewasset River, on a lot with fruit trees and perennials. “It’s small and easy to heat and cool and has low taxes,” she said. “It’s just a great spot.”
It’s another success story in the ongoing saga of small, affordable student-built homes, created through a partnership between the Huot Technical Education Center in Laconia, and the Lakes Region Builders and Remodelers Association.
“It’s a win for the home buyer because they get affordable housing. We wanted something practical and affordable for this area and for the kids” to produce, said Brenda Richards, executive officer for Lakes Region Builders & Remodelers, which provided free technical support and mentoring for the student builders, and arranged for donations of construction materials..
For the builders-in-training it was a foray into constructing a house as it would occur on a real job site without leaving school grounds, instead of fabricating a miniature house on wheels, said David Warrender, director of the Huot Technical Education Center.
“It was the perfect little project. It was the perfect time to be exposed to what it would be like in the field to do new installs,” said Eric Neggers, a participating plumbing and heating student who graduated from Inter-Lakes High School in 2020 and now works for Minuteman Plumbing. “It’s a wonderful idea for Huot to have projects like that. I had a job lined up after I graduated.”
The project, which ran from fall 2019 through spring 2021, had to overcome challenges of fabricating in-person while social distancing, and during the closures and hybrid schedules of COVID-19 – which meant that construction took two school years instead of one.
“In 2019-2020 they got the floors and walls up, then finished it in 20-21,” said Warrender. “Our hope is that next time, we can turn these around in a normal school year.”
The 384-square-foot one-bedroom house measures 12 by 32 feet, with a full kitchen and a bathroom with a shower, and was delivered Tuesday afternoon by large boat movers, Miles Marine of Gilford, and set on a foundation with a walk-out basement. The house follows three successful tiny home constructions by the Huot Center, involving students from as many as seven area high schools. The last tiny house took up residence in Bartlett.
“This one is a little bit bigger, more similar to what they would see on a typical job site. It’s built like a small single family house that’s going to be moved,” and had to meet standard building codes, Warrender said.
It’s a win for the students and their future employers.
“I enjoyed building from the start, so it seemed like a good fit for me,” said Camrin Gilson, a building and construction student at Huot who graduated from Gilford High School in 2020, and now works for Livingston Builders in Laconia. “You learn how to use tools, which we couldn’t do until we got 100s on the quizzes. Reading the tape measure, you keep doing it and doing it. Everyday it gets easier. I enjoy what I do now - a little bit of everything, not just installing windows or doors.”
“We might give them a class on a particular aspect, like windows, kitchen cabinets or roofing. The kids do most of it,” said Bob Glassett of New Hampton, a volunteer member of the Building Committee from Lakes Region Home Builders and Remodelers.
“We give them guidance, suggestions and sometimes camaraderie,” said Ray Boelig of Laconia, a committee member who is officially retired, but now works for Ponders Hollow Custom Flooring and Millwork. “We learn a little bit from each build. You can teach from a desk top, but until you drill the holes and saw the pipes, that’s a different experience.”
Patti Phelps, the house’s interior designer and owner of All in the Details in Bow, said this is the smallest design project she’s worked on, but it seemed huge after the tiny houses on wheels. COVID restrictions limited mentor-student interaction. “Normally we have more hands-on involvement with the kids. I usually come in the stand-in role of the homeowner,” with specifications and last minute changes. “Lots of times the kids have great ideas we get to incorporate.”
A bigger challenge was getting the materials they wanted when they needed them, which meant some style compromises had to be made, like switching washed pine paneling for whitewashed pine – an obvious difference in color. But the buyer was amenable to what the group selected.
“I was looking for a small efficient home. The idea that the kids built it appealed to me also,” said homeowner, who will be able to occupy the house next month. She eventually hopes to create a guest room and storage area in the basement.
In September, area high school seniors in Huot’s Building and Construction and Plumbing and Heating programs will start work on a slightly larger small home, measuring 12 by 36 feet, Warrender said.
Such homes are easier to find permanent locations for because many towns in New Hampshire have regulations that do not permit tiny homes, which are designed to be moved, Richards said.