MHS Tiny House Project is Underway!

In less than a year, the Tiny House program at Marblehead High School has evolved from a dream, to a Friends of the Marblehead Schools (FMPS) grant proposal, to a detailed set of building plans. Thanks to the passion and dedication of the course’s three teachers and the hard work of over 40 students, the FMPS-funded Tiny House program is entering the building stage.

So-called tiny houses, homes that are 400 square feet or less and built either on a foundation or on a trailer for portability, have exploded in popularity in the last 5 years. Experts say the phenomenon is due to an interest in frugal, environmentally-responsible living, and it’s a reaction against the “McMansion” trend of the last 20 years. The concept has grabbed national attention–HGTV is chock-full of Tiny House programming–and in Landergan’s view, it’s an accessible way for students to learn how to design and build a home.

“It’s been an amazing process to see,” says MHS teacher Cathy Landergan, who spearheaded the program. She and science teacher Ryan Forcier and industrial arts teacher Mike Agosti have joined forces to shepherd the Tiny House program though its first year. Tiny House is a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) program focused on collaborative problem solving, and it’s made up of three courses: architectural design, science, and building. Students can sign up for one, two, or three of the courses, and if they take all three, they earn honors credit.

Last semester, the Tiny House architectural design course divided into teams to create design plans–using SketchUp, a 3D design program-for the dwelling.

“The students came up with many creative designs, and the ultimately chose ‘The Scupper,” a nautical theme,” says Landergan. The Scupper will be 140 sq. feet, and will be built on a trailer.

While they were coming up with a design, the architectural students collaborated with students in the Tiny House science and engineering who had been learning about how to apply science to the design of the tiny house by studying material science, thermodynamics and electronics and sustainable building practices.

The architectural design and science classes worked collaboratively to come up with the final plan, making sure the design plans worked with the systems, and that everything would be built up to code.

“There was a lot of problem solving and self-directed learning,” says Forcier. “The students had differing levels of experience, but they all learned to work as a team.” And since Tiny House is a new course, the teachers had to learn on their feet at times too.

“We did a lot of meeting and planning,” laughs Landergan. There were unexpected tasks including several meetings with the building inspector, and designing and building a custom door for the house for starters. But ultimately, “it’s gone so well. The students are amazing, and we’re looking forward to the building phase.”

Mike Agosti is eager to get the students started. “We’ve gone over the plans with a fine-tooth comb so that the building experience can go as smoothly as possible,” he explained. The first week of the new semester will focus on safely—“I come from an industry background as an engineer, and it’s always safety first,” he emphasizes.

The Tiny House will be built under a tent to protect everything from the elements, and the teachers and students are eager to get to work. “It’s been a real community project,” says Landergan. “We’ve had so many offers of help including donations from Gilbert and Cole and Waters and Brown. We’re pleased with how the first semester went, and we’re looking forward to the next phase. Friends of Marblehead Public Schools have, as always, been instrumental in giving me the support I have needed to roll out and implement new exciting classes. With them this would not have been possible.”

Check here often for updates on the Tiny House Project… we will post pictures and status reports as they become available.