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Hawkeye Builders Complete First Tiny House

posted on Monday, March 28, 2016 in  College News

By: Amie Steffeneicher, Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier

WATERLOO—The front porch—about 6 feet long and 12 feet wide—could probably fit a couple of chairs, one on either side of the front door. Much more than that, and it would be cramped.

But if Benjamin Strickert had to do it over, he wouldn’t make it bigger. He’d take it out completely.

Without a porch, the “tiny house” designed and built by Strickert’s six students in Hawkeye Community College’s sustainable construction and design program would rightly look like an overgrown shed. The porch was designed to make it more “home-like.”

But that’s also six more feet they could have used as indoor living space in the house, a fourth of the 12-by-24 feet in total.

So, Strickert said, he’d take it out.

“We can increase the living space without increasing the footprint,” Strickert said.

The footprint is the thing when it comes to a tiny house.

Classified as being smaller than 500 square feet—HCC’s is 216 square feet on the main level and 132 in the loft—tiny houses have become a veritable movement in the past decade or two.

That movement has spawned shows like “Tiny House Nation” and “Tiny House Hunters,” catering both to young, childless couples as well as retirees looking to downsize and live more simply.

Strickert’s class was excited about that prospect. But their tiny house is much more than a tiny house.

With limited funds, the students nevertheless wanted to begin using their newfound skills in sustainable design to build a fully functional house—it just had to be much smaller than normal.

“We wanted to learn the trade without building a whole house,” said Trevor Hawkins, one of the six who worked on the house.

But if you’re into the tiny house craze, you might consider what they built to be a “whole house” anyway.

Roughly half of the main level is a living area, with a gas fireplace to the right, and the other half is the kitchen, with space for a refrigerator and stove, as well as a sink and counter space. Next to the sink is the bathroom, featuring a stand-up shower and toilet. The kitchen sink doubles as the bathroom sink.

A ladder leads occupants up to the carpeted loft, meant to function as the bedroom area.

That’s all there is to a tiny house, Strickert said. When they took it to the Eastern Iowa Sportshow at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls a couple of weeks ago, it was billed more as a cabin or second home by the lake. Hundreds toured it, complimenting Strickert and his students in attendance.

Several mentioned they’d pay money for their own, built-to-order tiny house. But Strickert said his class may be moving on.

“If we can recoup our expenses, we eventually would like to build full-sized homes in the Cedar Valley,” he said.

The house includes five photovoltaic solar electricity generating panels on the roof—virtually all of the roof space—estimated to provide a little more than half of the energy needs of two occupants. Strickert’s class estimates the rest of the energy consumption would cost around $15.40 per month. The house utilizes electric utilities for the rest.

It’s also built nearly airtight and “super insulated,” according to Strickert. The goal for the next house will be to offset all of the energy used—no plug-in required.

“We design it to the point where it’s using the least energy possible, and then offset that energy with solar,” he said.

It’s the third year for Strickert’s sustainable construction and design program, and the first house they’ve built. It will go to the highest bidder.

Bids are being taken on the tiny house at Hawkeye Community College’s business office until 2 p.m. April 15. Strickert says all bids are sealed until that time, and they won’t even tell him how many bids have come in.

“I don’t have a clue,” he said. “You hear talk, but talk’s cheap. It’ll be interesting to see.”

One of the issues is buyers would have to move it, and they can’t just put it anywhere — it has to likely be near something that can plug in. The vast majority of RV parks only allow RVs, and residential developments mandate a certain minimum square footage for a house.

Plus, Strickert’s not sure many would use it as their only home, more of a second home—that cabin by the lake.

Though, he admits they could—theoretically—live there full time.

“If you were using it as your primary residence, you’d have to change your thought process,” he said.

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  1. sustainable construction and design
  2. waterloo cedar falls courier