Officials: Tiny house solves big problems

May 2, 2019

NORTHFIELD, Vt. (AP) — A celebration on Friday marked the near-completion of a tiny house built by Norwich University students, which was hailed as a solution to help prevent homelessness and mental illness.

In the past, those with mental health issues have had a shortage of affordable housing, or difficulty fitting into communal housing or apartment settings.

Enter the LIFT house, a 280-square-foot, energy-efficient home for a homeless person with mental health issues. The students named the project the LIFT house with the idea that the concept and structure itself could help lift someone out of a difficult situation.

The project is a collaboration between Norwich University students, who built the house; the Department of Mental Health, which will a provide housing vouchers for the occupant; Washington County Mental Health Services (WCMHS), which will provide tenant support; Downstreet Housing and Development, which creates affordable housing projects; and Barre property developer Thomas Lauzon, who provided the land on Brook Street in Barre where the home will be situated. Additional support came from the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board and TD Bank, which recently gave Norwich University $200,000 for its architectural affordable-home building program.

Friday’s celebration included a tour of the tiny home still being built — the first of two that will be situated on Brook Street — and accolades for the students and partners in the project.

“The cost of this building is significantly less than trying to build a single-family home or trying to build a rental apartment,” said Eileen Peltier, executive director of Downstreet. “So, we’re excited about this because we need options for what is an affordable housing crisis in Vermont right now.

“We’re here, not to celebrate the end of the project, but phase one, moving towards a much bigger scope and scale of this,” she added. “We ’re really looking forward to collaborating in the future.”

“We recognize that not having housing causes great stress,” said Mary Moulton, executive director of WCMHS. “So, when that becomes too much, lives can fall apart.

“The students were just terrific in terms of asking about people’s special needs. So, when we look at the house, we talked about the need for more open space and also the need for private space,” she added.

The front of the house features a broader opening, with a kitchen and room for a sofa and table. The roof slopes down toward the back of the house, which includes a bathroom with a washer and dryer and a walk-in shower, and a bedroom with room for a queen-size bed and full closet.

Energy efficiency is a key part of the project, with a tight building envelope, cellulose-insulated walls, triple-glaze windows and a high-efficiency heat pump and ventilation system. The installation of solar panels would make the build net-zero in terms of energy efficiency.

Peltier said it would cost about $75,000 to build the prototype but it is hoped that costs would fall as the design, materials and construction techniques improve.

Senior Michael Menn, 21, of Moscow, Russia, applied to several colleges in the country but came to NU after getting a scholarship to study architecture.

“I was part of the media team,” Menn said. “We have a website, we have an Instagram account, and photography and videography, and I’ve been helping with the construction, too.”

Senior Nathan Russell, 22, of Moretown, was clerk of works on interior design and in charge of framing.

“We did a lot of research last semester in design, and we looked around the world even, and we found out that tiny homes were very good solutions, especially tiny home villages,” Russell said. “Then, we took that and, in order to make this project in a climate like Vermont, we needed to make high-energy performance work with a lot of insulation.”

Senior Jordan Kacur, 22, of Syracuse, was in charge of the siding crew.

“The energy-efficiency side of it was really interesting because that’s something we might need to look at more with architecture in the future,” Kacur said.

Lauzon suggested scaling up production could create a new industry for Vermont.

“We started brainstorming about where could we build them?” Lauzon said. “Where could we create a little factory where we could churn out four or five of these a week, very efficiently, and drive the cost down — not the quality — even more?

“If the whole idea is to provide people with an alternative housing arrangement that is more affordable, obviously the more you scale, the better. A lot of people want to downsize, want a smaller dwelling unit,” he added.

It is expected the first house will be installed on Brook Street in the summer.

Norwich University’s first tiny house, the CASA802, won the 2016 People’s Choice Award from the Vermont Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIAVT).

To learn more about the LIFT project, visit https://bit.ly/2ZNdlj8

stephen.mills @timesargus.com

Online: https://bit.ly/2UIXe2t


This story has been corrected to show the grant amount from TD Bank was $200,000, not $20,000.


Information from: The Times Argus, http://www.timesargus.com/