Article and Photos by ANDY HALLMAN | May 16, 2013
A class at Maharishi University of Management is building a “tiny house,” just 12-feet-by-20-feet, for one of its teaching assistants to live in.
The class is appropriately called “Tiny Houses” and is taught out of the Sustainable Living Department. The teaching assistant and M.U.M. student who will live in the house is Heather Caldwell, who will share the tiny home with her daughter, Ellie, and son, Henry.
Ellie said the house “looks awesome.”
“There’s not excess space, so it’s going to encourage us to go outside more,” she said.
Henry said he thought the house would be bigger than it seemed Wednesday.
“I’m thinking of having a hatch in my room so I can go out onto the roof,” he said. “I think I’ll get used to the size of it.”
Caldwell and her family plan to move into the house in June.
The eight-member class is a little more than two weeks old. Caldwell designed a floor plan for the home. The entire class built walls and a floor according to Caldwell’s specifications. Wednesday afternoon, the class wanted to see the fruits of its labor so it assembled the floor and walls outside the library on the M.U.M. campus.
No heavy machinery was used to install the walls. About 12 people, including the class members and a few stray volunteers, hoisted the walls into place by hand.
Wednesday’s construction project was simply a demonstration to show Caldwell and the class what the tiny house would look like once it’s done. The class will disassemble the house and move it to its more permanent location near Abundance EcoVillage.
Mark Stimson, head of the building track in the M.U.M. Sustainable Living Program, is the professor for the class. He said his class’s project is part of a growing movement of people building small homes. One of the reasons people are turning to such tiny houses is financial.
“You can build your own home for just a few thousand dollars,” he said. “You can live without a mortgage. It’s a lifestyle and priority choice. If your priority is not to be a slave to your house but to live in a nice, tight, comfortable little house, and spend your money on other things, then you might consider building a tiny house.”
Stimson said Caldwell spent about $4,000 on building materials for the home.
Another major reason people choose to build small dwellings is to conserve energy. The small homes are easy to heat and cool. Stimson said many rely on renewable sources of energy such as solar power to heat them in the winter.
“A lot of them have no utility bills,” he said. “They produce all of their own energy.”
Caldwell’s home will feature large glass windows on the south side to take advantage of the sun’s rays in the winter.
Stimson said most of his students had no experience in construction prior to his class.
“We’re only two weeks into the class and they are already working at a clean, professional level,” he said. “It’s gratifying to me to see the change from three Mondays ago when we started the course till today. They’ve really come a long way. I tell my students that when they’re done with this course, they should be able to go anywhere in the country and be under a roof in two weeks.”
The class spends several hours per day in hands-on construction projects and also studies architecture in a traditional classroom setting. All the students in the class create a floor plan for a home they would like to build.
In order for the class to build a tiny house, someone has to pay for the materials. Stimson said that does not present a problem because people in Fairfield are lining up for tiny homes, especially now that students are donating their labor to build them.
Fairfield’s city ordinances do not allow a house of such small size to be built within the city limits, which is part of the reason Caldwell will build hers outside the city limits near Eco Village. Another reason she is building it there is because she wants to start a community of tiny homes.
Caldwell said she got the idea to move into a tiny house in December. She liked the idea of building an inexpensive home, and she was looking for a senior project to complete in order to graduate.
“In the Sustainable Living Program, we’re all about reduce, reuse and recycle,” she said. “We’re all very close here at the university. It’s cool to have classmates, who are people I care about, help build your house.”
Stimson said the course teaches students how to use space efficiently and creatively, which is especially necessary in a tiny house where there is so little of it.
“One thing in the house serves two or more functions,” he said. “[Caldwell’s] reading nook is going to turn into a guest bed. Some people put their dish drainers right above the sink, which is also where they store their dishes, so you don’t have to dry your dishes and put them in a cupboard. You just let them drain down into the sink.”
Caldwell said solar panels will supply electricity to her home. Her septic system will employ a composting toilet. Heat will be supplied by the solar panels and a wood stove. The house will be 12 feet high on one side and 11 feet high on the other. Rain will be collected from the roof for use in the house.
The course on tiny houses premiered earlier this year. Stimson said the class is so popular he has agreed to teach it next year and most likely will for many years.
Published with permission from The Fairfield Ledger. This article covered almost the entire front page, with a two-column headline, and three large photos, plus runover on the back inside page with a fourth photo.