Tiny house, big lesson

BOCES students learn by building small home

Saranac Lake High School seniors Andrea Boon, left, Josh Howland, third from left, and Brooke Smith, right, join instructor Clarence Brockway inside a tiny home their class built. (Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

SARANAC LAKE — Tiny homes have gained in popularity in recent years, not only as fun little nooks and treehouses in a family’s backyard, but as homes. Local businesses build them, and so do students at the local trade school.

Businesses such as Adirondack White Pine Cabins manufacture tiny homes for their customers every year.

“You can count the number of custom cabins we build each year on your fingers,” the Saranac Lake-based company says on its website. It doesn’t have assembly lines and doesn’t buy prefabricated parts from other countries. Every cabin is built “one board at a time.”

Meanwhile, Clarence Brockway, a teacher at the Adirondack Education Center in Saranac Lake, is just starting to go public with his pupils’ tiny home building. With more than 30 years of building experience and an education in wind and solar energy, he is spreading his knowledge to local students in the building trades program at this BOCES school.

Every year, seniors and juniors construct a tiny house and a shed.

A tiny house is under construction inside the Adirondack Educational Center earlier this school year. (Photo provided by Clarence Brockway)

“This is the third tiny house I’ve helped students make,” Brockway said. He explained how each year a class has built a different model that is auctioned off, the profit of which goes back into the program for the next year’s class to build with. The first year’s house consisted of mostly recycled items, such as windows and doors. Every year since, the houses have paid for themselves.

“There is no state money that goes into this, and we are not looking to make a profit,” he said.

The school gives students all the tools they need to work with, including state-of-the-art saws that are impossible to cut yourself on. Each student is given safety shoes and tool belts they can bring with them when they leave.

“Most students go on to college after they graduate from here,” Brockway said, but it’s always useful to have the basics to work with when they leave.

“The kids do everything,” Brockway explains. They even practice wiring the house on an “electrical trainer,” which is disconnected from a power source. Mr. Brockway then checks it before it is reconnected to see if it works.

The porch of this tiny house, built by local BOCES students, can be folded up for transport. (Photo provided by Clarence Brockway)

“They learn from their mistakes, but have a blast.”

The students are in charge of taking pictures along the way to show their progress. The pictures are then put into a PowerPoint program for the Board of Education and future buyers to view. The pictures alone show the pride in the students’ work.

The building trades program works with other programs in the school as well. There is a sawmill and a solar-powered kiln on premises, which are used to replenish their building material supply. Local stores donate other supplies: Hulbert Tri-Lake Supply donated the toilet for the bathroom, Coakley High Peaks Ace Hardware donated flooring, Rice Furniture contributed with carpet, and Heavy Haulers donated some of the cost of the custom-made trailer they built the tiny home directly on to this year.

The houses are built piece by piece inside during the winter, then assembled outside once the weather gets warmer. The deck off the front is hinged to fold up for transportation. There is in-floor heat which is solar powered, as well as a fridge, lights and stove, but there is also an external power source hookup if needed. The whole place is winterized, with the exception of the plumbing bellow, but there is on-demand hot water which the in-floor heat piggybacks off of. The loft is just high enough to sit up in, and the building width is just within the maximum allowed for road travel.

Television programs such as “Tiny House Nation” have helped make smaller dwellings popular. When one thinks of a tiny home, upstate New York is not the first place one might think of: California maybe, or a more developed part of New York state. Yet the super-efficient building is, arguably, well-suited to the Adirondacks in that it has less square footage to heat in the winter and to keep clean during mud season. There is no wasted space and not much cost.

Local BOCES students built this tiny house, which is mobile and powered by the sun. (Enterprise photo — Emily Luxford)

Adirondack “By Owner” is using the “tiny house” description to sell a 730-square-foot, rebuilt cottage on a lot in Tupper Lake for $109,000. Adirondack White Pine Cabins, with which some students do work-study programs, is selling its creations without land for anywhere from $30,000 to $80,000, depending on the size and features — a standard one measures 399 square feet of living space, not counting a porch. Some people list tiny homes for vacationers on Airbnb, making these structures valuable as rentals as well as primary dwellings.

This BOCES school, with its tiny house measuring just 225 square feet, is not only training students in building trades; it’s also teaching them one way to make money, or even to how build their own homes in the future.

Who built it

This is the kitchen of a tiny house BOCES students built. (Enterprise photo — Emily Luxford)

Adirondack Education Center BOCES students who helped build a tiny house this school year:


Andrea Boon

Stuart W. Burnett III

Joshua A. Howland

Dawson LaPierre

Gage Madore

Brooke Smith


Quinn Shaheen

Tyler Stevens

Brady Stewart

Garrett F. Thurston

Justin Walsh

Erik Wood

Tyler L. Wright

Gabriel Giraldo

David Hart

Cole Lacey

Christopher Moquin

Bryce Paries

Cody Pioli

Spencer Pratt


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