Tiny houses become big opportunity for building trades students

  • Alvirne High School building and trade students lift up a side of a tiny house section at the start of their construction Thursday at the school. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • An interior of one of the Tiny Houses on display at Alvirne high school Thursday. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor Staff

  • Alvirne high school teacher Matt Somers at the Tiny House event Thursday. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor Staff

  • The New Hampshire Lottery Tiny House scratch ticket. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor Staff

  • An interior of one of the Tiny Houses on display at Alvirne high school Thursday. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor Staff

  • The Tiny House design that the students at Alvirne high school will be working off of although it won’t exactly like this drawing, according to teacher Matt Somers. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor Staff

  • Students, faculty and lottery officials all pose for a photograph at Alvirne high school Thursday. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor Staff

  • Alvirne High School building and trade student Collin Brennan nails in the support for the first wall of a tiny house Thursday. BELOW: The interior of a tiny house is on display at Alvirne High School. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 10/28/2016 1:26:52 AM

The concept of tiny houses is trendy right now – after all, they don’t build reality shows around fuddy-duddy concepts – so it makes sense that the New Hampshire Lottery, the home construction industry and four high school tech centers are using them to create a unique contest.

But for Jason and Jane Cardinale of Winchester, tiny houses are also turning out to be pretty good business.

“I thought we’d get maybe one or two orders, but it’s about 75 percent of all our trailers this year,” said Jason Cardinale of J&J Trailers and Truck Equipment.

The couple have developed a 24-foot-long trailer specifically to hold tiny houses, which are usually defined as having less than 400 square feet of living space. These very small, stand-alone buildings are sometimes touted as a new type of housing option, either for older folks downsizing or young people looking for a low-cost first home – not a recreational vehicle or a mobile home, but something new.

Jason Cardinale said the crossbeams in the J&J Trailers are just 16 inches apart, typical for home construction, but more rigid than what’s used in most trailers for hauling. Further, they are slightly narrower than the 8-foot-6-inch maximum width for trailers on the road, so tiny homes’ pitched roofs can have an overhang to shed rain and still be street legal.

J&J provided the trailers being used by four schools, including the Huot Technical Center in Laconia, for an unusual, perhaps unique, contest sponsored by New Hampshire Lottery as part of its mandate to support public education with funds from ticket sales.

Four building trades classes across the state will build a tiny house – one with less than 400 square feet, and probably more like 200 – on each trailer. Seacoast School of Technology has enough students to build houses on two trailers; also participating are Alvirne High School in Hudson and Kennett High School in North Conway.

The results will be judged in the spring by members of the New Hampshire Home Builders Association. The winning trailer will be part of the grand prize for a new scratch ticket game called “Tiny House Big Money” that will be launched next year, while the other houses will be auctioned off with funds going back to the school and to the home builders’ program to assist with veterans housing.

The lottery paid the roughly $4,500 cost of each trailer and about $20,000 in building supplies for each school.

The building trade teachers are excited because building a tiny house is a lot more fun for students than programs like building a shed, partly because of the reality TV draw (at least two cable channels have shows that feature building or living in tiny houses) and partly because the houses will include services, interior finishing, and hookups for propane tanks and electric generators.

“They’re really fired up,” said Matt Somers, building trades teacher at Alvirne High School, which hosted Thursday’s kickoff. “They’ll be doing everything from framing to electrical, plumbing and finishing work.”

It’s expected that each house will require roughly 550 hours of student labor to be built.

The New Hampshire Home Builders Association is excited because, like many industries, it struggles to find skilled employees.

“They can’t find the help they need,” said Scott Palmer, business development director for the association. “We want to get more kids onto the (building trades) track.”

Palmer said that while tiny homes have appeal, he doubted they would ever make much of a dent in the traditional housing market.

“I really can’t imagine it,” he said. “I would suspect that the only (market) it will impact is the RV market.”

Indeed, the idea of people living in very small houses that may be mobile often runs up against zoning and building code issues. That includes such details as minimum ceiling heights, which are often lower in tiny homes so that a bedroom can be fit into an upstairs loft.

“We’re learning that there is different legislation in different towns,” said Jane Cardinale of J&J Trailers. “Some like it, some don’t. Some address it, some don’t.”

But the tiny house field is drawing serious attention. Jason Cardinale said the next edition of the Building Officials Code Administrators book, often used by cities and towns to develop local building codes, will include standards for tiny houses.

At least two companies in New England sell tiny houses. Tiny House New Hampshire is using plans from the Tumbleweed Tiny House Co. in California, although each team is likely to tweak the design.

“We’re swapping these rooms, and moving this for a loft,” said Somers, the Alvirne teacher, gesturing to the plans while some of his students worked on a wall behind him. “It’s going to be nice.”

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313. dbrooks@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)




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