Students in a Kirkland technical college are working toward building a tiny home for the homeless.
By the end of the quarter, 11 Lake Washington Institute of Technology students will have built a 120-square-foot home designed to comfortably fit a family of five in Seattle.
That’s the aim of the Build a Tiny House course offered for the first time this summer at the technical college.
Dr. Suzanne Ames, associate vice president of instruction and former dean of the Center for Architecture, Design and Engineering at the college, said the project is “a real answer to the homelessness problem and skyrocketing housing prices.”
The class will donate the small structure to the Low Income Housing Institute, which set the criteria for the tiny home.
The home will have electricity but will not be equipped with plumbing — there won’t be a full kitchen or a bathroom, as the site it will be transported to will have those facilities, licensed architect and adjunct professor Charles Williams said.
In addition to the square footage limitations, which allow it to be placed in Seattle without a building permit, the home must meet specific transport dimensions. It can be no wider than 8.5 feet and no taller than 13.5 feet — but there are clever ways to get around these limitations, Williams said.
For example, the roof will fold flat, in transport, but will pop up to give the inside a little more volume. The trick is making sure the roof doesn’t leak, Williams said.
“You’ve got to be a little clever,” Williams said. “It takes a little bit of thought.”
There will be an elevated bed that can sleep two. In the open space below, there will be a counter with access to a plug so someone could plug in a toaster, a heater or to charge a laptop. The living space will include a couch that will be able to convert into a bed that sleeps two. There’s also going to be a fold-away table that can transform the couch into a dinning room seating area that can seat eight. In addition, there will be a private space for dressing.
LIHI will transport the tiny home on a flat bed.
Williams, who has been an architect since 1997, is teaching the course as well as the Design a Tiny House class.
The Design a Tiny House class walks students through the process of imagining something and identifying their priorities for its costs and capabilities.
Both courses take advantage of the school’s “makerspace,” which houses equipment that bring ideas to life with a 3-D printer, CNC routers, a laser cutter and more. The prototyping facility allows students to create objects so they can evaluate them and bring them to production.
There are a variety of people, from retirees to students, enrolled in the courses, Williams said.
The tiny house movement was very much in response to the expensive way people are producing homes, especially in this region, Williams said.
Tiny homes are usually between 200-400 square feet and provide people a minimalist, simplified life that’s environmentally and fiscally friendly.
The median home price on the Eastside is $700,000, according to the Northwest Multiple Listing Service. In contrast, in the past 180 days, homes between 100-400 square feet have sold in Seattle for prices between $85,000-$345,000, according to the Northwest Multiple Listing Service.
Williams said the class is building its home for just $2,500.
“These are not commercial grade homes,” Williams said. “They deal with the fundamental needs of the homeless: a dry and insulated enclosure, basic electricity, a supportive community and a lockable door.”
The costs of the home are covered by the cost of the class.
“When you occupy a home you occupy only one space at a time,” Williams said. “In a tiny house you’re making more intensive use.”
He said that some people might say, “Oh, I could never live in a tiny house,” but for a homeless family, it’s better than the alternative.
“There are many ways to kind of trick you into feeling like it’s a bigger space,” Williams said. He spoke of strategic window placements so the occupants can always see the horizon.
“Things like that become more important in a tiny house,” Williams said.
The Build a Tiny House class meets on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. for eight weeks. The Design a Tiny House class meets Monday and Wednesday from 6-8:20 p.m.