Little house, big project for Rancho builders
Students at Rancho Cotate High constructing environmentally friendly home as part of the school’s Tiny House Project
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By Natalie Gray  March 8, 2013 12:00 am

It has never been a secret teenagers often seem to lack ambition and interest in their everyday classes – science is too boring, math too hard, and let’s be honest, they think, “how often are we  going to use woodshop?”

Rancho Cotate High School teacher Cole Smith, however, has a solution. Give the students something that not only interests them, but also shows how the skills they learn in class can be used in real life. That is how the Tiny House Project was created.

“It’s been great for me, great for the kids and great for the school,” Smith said.


Living in 100 square feet

A tiny house is exactly what it sounds like – a fully functional, furnished and comfortable house with a living space less than 100 square feet. When finished, the house will have a sitting area, kitchen, bathroom equipped with a shower and toilet, a porch and loft for a bed.

Contrary to how novel the idea might seem, small houses like these are not new to the world. In 1999, Jay Shafer built his first tiny house, no more than 110 square feet. In 2005, architect Marianna Cusato developed ‘Katrina Houses’ for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Recently, with the help of Shafer’s company Tumbleweed Tiny House, the ‘Tiny House Movement’ has been sweeping through the country, popular mostly at schools. Schools in the area, like Healdsburg High, have started constructing their own tiny houses.

But none are like the one currently being built at Rancho Cotate.

“We’re going completely off the grid,” said Smith. “That’s a major lesson in the project…show how to live small and lessen your environmental impact.”

Smith said the tiny house of Rancho Cotate is designed to be as environmentally friendly as possible. The house will have solar-powered panels, a 42-gallon water container, solar-powered ovens, a built-in .2 micron ceramic depth water filter and even a compost toilet.

“It’s the greatest lesson…showing kids we don’t really need to do things the way we do everyday,” said Smith.


Converting the water

The water filter and compost toilet do exactly what they sound like they would. The filter is capable of taking any water, whether it be spring, lake, rain or hose and turning it into clean, drinkable water. This will make the tiny house able to be lived in virtually anywhere there is access to any kind of water. As its title would suggest, the compost toilet is used to make usable compost out of the house’s resident’s waste.

Though the house is being made as environmentally friendly as possible, the students and teachers are not unaware such qualities may seem overly radical to certain potential buyers. As a compromise, the house will also have electricity and be able to be plugged into a generator or source of power like another house.

The student builders of the tiny house come officially from Smith’s Regional Occupation Program class AutoCAD-Clean Tech. According to Smith, there are roughly 60 students enrolled between the two periods of the class. Help with building the house has been found throughout the campus, though, and even within the local community.

The tiny house sits upon a flatbed trailer made by the students of the auto body class, which will allow the house to be attached and pulled by car or truck. Help has also been supplied from Bill Hartman’s Woodshop students.

“I’m proud to have a project like this to work on,” said Will Maloney, a senior and student of Smith. “I like coming in and always having something to work on, sort of like a hobby. Mr. Smith is a great teacher.”

Generous donations have also been made by professional companies to make the tiny house possible. Tumbleweed Tiny House donated the blueprints for the house and has been helpful in answering any questions sent their way from the class. The Sun Pirate Solar Contracting supplied solar panels, Mead Clarke Lumber gave wood and recently Liberty Valley Door donated a front door. Gifts, like the door, were taken apart and reassembled by the students. According to Smith, all materials for the house are American made and from local companies.

“We want students to know what it means to be all local,” said Smith, “what it means to have a smart and local economy, supporting local jobs.”

The tiny house is planned to be completely finished in the next few months, in time to be put on display at the Sonoma County Fair. The school hopes to sell or auction the house off to a buyer and make enough money to fund future tiny house projects. 

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