Tiny House. Big Impact.

1aI learned about the Tiny House class this past spring semester as an intern at UGArden, UGA’s student-run organic learning and demonstration farm. This is my last semester as an undergraduate, and I wanted to take the class because I knew it would be educational, service-oriented, and absolutely unforgettable. And being a student in the first class ever of its type at UGA sweetened the deal even more. In fact, I built my fall schedule around this one class. I was excited to get started, and it’s already been such a great experience to learn about constructing a tiny home on a utility trailer frame. The tiny house class is made possible by three remarkable instructors with their own specialties and expertise: Dr. Kim Skobba, Prof. David Berle, and Mr. George Wright.


The trailer was custom-made by Rollin-S, a trailer manufacturing company in nearby Carnesville, Georgia, and it started off as a regular steel-frame trailer that a farmer or tradesman might use. I learned on the first work day of class that there’s a distinction between a flatbed trailer and a utility trailer, and it’s all determined by its construction and number of axels. On this day of class we also learned about the different varieties of insulation and the benefits and drawbacks of each. Here you can see the student-built, custom-installed flooring being filled with foam insulation, one of the first steps in the construction process. From this point onward, it’s all going up!


After the hard work of us students instructed by our fearless construction leaders, Berle and our contractor extraordinaire George Wright, a shell of the tiny house took shape. Shown here is George (L) and Berle (R) who is likely reminding us to post to this blog, and George is preparing himself for an afternoon of completing the exterior walls with our help. What a patient and dedicated guy he is to offer his time and expertise to a group of young students building a very nontraditional structure.


Later that same afternoon, the sun and heat gave way to rain and humidity. It was a real scramble to cover the frame quickly with this large tarp to protect it from the rain. While one rain shower won’t damage the exposed wood of the structure, it’s a good practice to protect the wood from moisture as much as possible. These rain delays are nice because it gives us all a chance to take a break and chat with each other. On this day under the cover of the barn, George and I talked a little about our backgrounds and I discovered we’ve got a lot in common.

3Here we see the third to last OSB (oriented strand board) going up to complete the exterior walls. Oriented strand board is similar to plywood but offers price savings and generally requires less intensive wood resources than plywood. Its utility and reliability are equal to that of plywood, and instead of being made of several sheets of multi-layered wood, OSB is made of compressed wood strands to form layers. Bottom line is that it uses wood from fast-growing trees produced in tree farms. While there are environmental concerns with tree farms, it’s an arguably better option than clear-cutting stands of older growth, biologically diverse forests for lumber production. For us here on the work site, it’s a big step forward to see the shell of our tiny house being completed.


Berle looks on as the second to last OSB gets nailed in place. His studious expression means he knows I’m taking a picture with him in it. There’s no telling what he was thinking about it, but I’m sure he was pleased with our progress.


A true candid of George, the man without whom this tiny house would not be possible. I have great respect for those people who know how to work with their hands and build things, and George embodies those skills. He’s been building homes longer than I’ve been alive, and he’s honed his craft by practicing sustainable construction before there even was a term for it. He’s an easy-going and affable man, and we students are all very fortunate to learn from his talent and expertise.


The final piece of the exterior wall is checked and re-checked by George. This man knows his stuff.129By the end of this work day, all four walls were in place. The tarp overhead now creates a light blue hue splattered across the walls means which means this phase is completed. Next up is adding the sleeping area loft and finishing the roof. What a gratifying experience it is to see that last sheet go up and seal the shell of the house. Stay tuned for even more progress on our tiny house!

Student Blog Post // Brian Holcombe // Anthropology Student, Construction Amateur, Proud Student of Tiny House Class at the University of Georgia