College of the Desert is on a roll, building Tiny Houses on Wheels that will make a big impact on future communities. The project began in 2020 with a focus of teaching Architecture and Environmental Design students about sustainable building practices while creating a functional living space.
Tiny homes are typically less than 400sf and have attracted attention for their affordability and energy efficiency. Offering a lower carbon footprint than traditional housing, they can also help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The original tiny house began as a class competition among Architecture and Design students. The case study required the understanding of national regulations for recreational vehicles, the use of smart materials and tiny home construction trends. A jury consisting of an architect, an engineer and a contractor used specific criteria to name the winning design. A $125,000 Strong Workforce Grant, geared toward helping career and technical education programs prepare students for the workforce, funded the project.
COD and Desert Sands Unified School District navigated 18 students at Amistad High School through a series of construction courses. Southwest Carpenters Union provided textbooks and a direct pathway for students into their apprenticeship program.
“The students learned valuable skills such as building, wiring, electricity and plumbing,” says Bert Bitanga, MArchRED, a COD professor of Architecture who oversees the project. From designing the home and sourcing materials to framing the walls, managing the budget and meeting local building codes, they learned by doing.
Impact on Future Communities
“The tiny house build doesn’t just benefit the students; it also presents an opportunity for residents seeking affordable housing options,” adds Bitanga. “It’s a model that can be replicated in all communities. The project aims to educate students and the public about the benefits of sustainable housing and encourage them to adopt similar practices in their own lives.”
Construction of the first COD home took 18 months, due to pandemic delays. Measuring just 225sf and bolted to a trailer, it is big on amenities and efficiencies. Dual-glazed vinyl windows and a multi-split air conditioning/heating system join sustainable royal vinyl flooring, recycled wool insulation, low-VOC paints, a tankless water heater, a rainwater-harvesting system and solar panels.
Recently shown at Modernism Week, the design is inspired by mid-century modern architecture with clean lines, simple forms and a connection to nature. The minimalist interior features a space-efficient living area, kitchenette (with dual cooktop, sink, mini refrigerator and freezer), bathroom (with composting toilet and shower), a queen-sized sleeping loft and washer/dryer combo. A powered awning shades the outdoor living space.
After the success of the initial tiny home, a second is currently under construction, housing two student lofts, desks and a bathroom all under a butterfly-style roof. The third tiny home project by two female students, Gleisy Romero and Molly Glaab, was recently won in a hotly contested competition. It is the first to require ADA compliance.
“I thought my first year would be learning the basics of architecture and design, but we are making a difference already,” shares Gleisy. “With such a small space, we need to be innovative with functional loft, bathroom and study areas. We have sourced everything down to the toilet paper holder. It’s been an incredible learning experience.”
To learn how to support Architecture and Environmental Design students, donate to codfoundation.org, call 760.773.2561 or email the Executive Director, Catherine Abbott