Posted on May 15, 2013

VIDEO: Could You Live in a House This Small?

By David Kligman

SEBASTOPOL — This Sonoma County city definitely has a style all its own. And that local flavor can be found at Analy High School, where an unusual experiment is taking place.

Students with virtually no construction experience are building a little house that maximizes energy efficiency, a project funded by PG&E. (Photo by David Kligman.)

Environmental studies teacher David Casey and 20 of his students with virtually no construction experience are building a little house. And by little we mean really little — 132 square feet or roughly the size of a small office.

But when the 8-by-16-foot house is finished next fall it will be fully functioning, including a bathroom, shower, kitchen, sleeping loft and even a sitting area. Relying on solar power for its energy, heat and oven, the home will be zero net energy meaning it can generate as much as it uses.

“Many of them have never held a hammer, a saw, a screw gun in their life,” Casey said. “So they were a little hesitant at first, but now they love it and I actually can’t even slow them down enough. They walk in the classroom and they say, ‘Let’s go work. Let’s go build a house!’”

PG&E funding unique project

Currents recently visited Analy High as the students worked on the frame of the house, which is being built on a trailer.

After a brief classroom discussion, Analy High teacher David Casey and his students get to work building a house. (Photo by James Green.)

PG&E provided the school with a $10,000 Bright Ideas grant that’s giving the students a hands-on learning opportunity unlike anything they’ve experienced. The Bright Ideas program began in 2005 to help public schools better understand the energy industry.

Casey said he couldn’t have pulled off the project without PG&E.

“PG&E is funding the entire project, which is just so incredible to have that money for supplies, for training and for consultants,” he said. “So without them none of this would have happened. It was a great opportunity to really put together all the pieces of my curriculum.”

Students began designing the house when school began last September.

‘How much space do you need?’ and other questions

Along the way, Casey has posed questions to his students: “How much energy does it take to run a house?” “How much space do you need?” And “Could you actually live in a house this small?”

Analy High School in Sebastopol is the site of a unique home-building project that’s getting students to think about how much energy it takes to run a house. (Photo by David Kligman.)

“Right now it looks kind of big but when we put in all the appliances it’s kind of small, something different since I’m so used to my big house but I don’t know,” Analy High senior Alexia Moreno Espinoza said. “I’ll have to wait till the whole thing is put together to see.”

Theo Avila, an 11th grader at the school, said he definitely could see himself living in a house this little.

“It changed my view that I don’t have to have like a big house or anything,” he said. “I can live in a really small space and still enjoy my life and enjoy my life just how everybody else does in a big house.”

As to what will happen with the house once it’s complete next fall, that’s still undecided. One idea is to auction the home and use the money to pay for materials to build another house or use it as a traveling lab to teach other students.

One thing’s for certain. This small house is generating some big ideas.

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"PG&E" refers to Pacific Gas and Electric Company, a subsidiary of PG&E Corporation.
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