Tiny house movement comes to Orcas High School: Students build a house on wheels

Small homes are popping up all over the country, and a group of Orcas High School students have spent the past year constructing their own.

At 14 feet tall, 160 square feet and resting on a trailer that was built to highway specifications, the tiny house is solid and built with care.

“It can go anywhere but we think it probably won’t leave Orcas,” said woodworker Mark Padbury, who has led the Career Technical Education project with physics instructor Brett McFarland and OASIS teacher Jill Sherman.

Twenty island donors gave to the project, which was part of the Orcas Island Community Foundation’s annual Give Orcas campaign. A total of $30,000 was invested, which will be recouped when the tiny house is sold. The money will be put back into the program for the next home construction. The plan is to have funds to run the program for at least five years. For current proposals in need of funding, visit www.giveorcas.org/.

Next year, the CTE class will tackle building a boat, a project funded by the Orcas Island Education Foundation. The school hopes to alternate each year between building a house and a constructing a vessel.

The class began the year by building an insulated 8×8 foot shed with windows.

“We wanted to initially teach the kids some framing techniques,” said Padbury.

A large part of the first semester was devoted to deciding on design elements and finalizing plans. Overall, it has a craftsman style, and utilizes fir (mostly Orcas-milled) for the beams and finish work. Around 30 sophomores, juniors and seniors have been sanding, drilling, gluing and hammering since the fall. The class hopes to get the metal roof on before school is out in June. Originally, the house was going to be fully completed and ready to sell by this summer, but with only a handful of hours dedicated to the project each week, it’s taken longer than expected.

The wiring, siding and finish work will be done next school year. For more information about purchasing the tiny house or shed, contact OICF at 376-6423.

In addition to hands-on building, the class discussed the social implications of the tiny house movement and consulted with Steve Diepenbrock, who has built several tiny homes.

“The kids have been totally engaged,” said Sherman.

For a video about the tiny house project, visit www.youtube.com/watch?v=yFOFWyDQLgk.