Tiny house, big lessons

Students and staff of the BOCES Building Trades program show off the interior of a “tiny house” that the class built this school year. (Enterprise photo — Justin A. Levine)

SARANAC LAKE — When your workers can only put in a few hours a day, it takes a lot longer than a school year to build a house. But a tiny house on a trailer, it turns out, can be put together by high schoolers from the Tri-Lakes in that exact amount of time.

For the fourth year in a row, high school juniors and seniors in the Building Trades class at the Franklin-Essex-Hamilton BOCES campus in Saranac Lake have completed a “tiny house” that has everything you need, and can be hooked up to a truck and moved.

But this isn’t any camping trailer, it’s a full-blown house with vaulted ceilings, wood paneling and a full bath. The kitchen has a propane four-burner range and oven, and the only thing that’s really sized down is the fridge. There is a built in propane monitor heater, ceiling fan and extra storage built into the stairs that go up to the loft. And the whole thing is legal to tow.

There are also four solar panels on the roof that power the house, and a small wind turbine that can be turned on to provide extra power generation.

Building Trades instructor Clarence “Brock” Brockway said the reason his class builds a tiny house each year is that the kids get to see the whole process without having to really even leave the classroom.

From left, teachers assistant Mike Garfield, Tyler Wright, Cody Pioli, Cole Lacey, David Hart, Fox Thurston, Quinn Shaheen, Justin Walsh, teacher Clarence “Brock” Brockway and Jacob Colbert stand outside the trailer-mounted tiny house the class built during the school year. (Enterprise photo — Justin A. Levine)

“It gives them instructional value for building a real house, it’s just compacted and tiny,” he said Monday at the school, which is on state Route 3 just outside of the village. “Everything that’s in a real house is packed into this, so I can at least show them without taking them to a jobsite. And they get to apply it.”

Brock has two classes that worked on the house, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. On the opposite times, each kid goes to their respective high school for regular classes. With just a few hours with each group, travelling to and from job sites would leave very little time for actual instruction.

The house is built on a trailer that is purchased in the fall, but the students do the rest of the work, which includes framing, roofing, siding, plumbing and electrical, as well as cabinetry, stairs and finish work. In the fall, the kids make the blueprints for the house, and then see it through to the end.

“I don’t want them to learn to do just one little thing,” Brockway said. “You guys are going to own a home one day, if they don’t do this for a living at least they can change out a switch, fix the waterline. When they do this, they see what’s in the walls.”

Brockway said despite the obvious jump his students have in the job market, not all of the two dozen or so kids will go on to be builders for a living.

“Some do go to building trade schools,” he said. “Most of mine go to two-year colleges, which I talk them into. Some go in the military, and some do go work construction. Some have become electricians.

“There’s always a demand for construction workers. There’s always going to have to be someone to fix a window.”

Now that the house is built – with donations from Hyde Fuel, Coakley High Peaks ACE Hardware, Aubuchon Hardware and Hulbert Supply – it will be auctioned off, with the money recouping the cost of materials. Brock said any extra money goes back to the students in the form of safety shoes and tool belts.

Fox Thurston, who graduated from Saranac Lake High School last weekend, said he started out wanting to study auto and small engine repair, but couldn’t resist the Building Trades program when he saw the tiny house his predecessors built.

“I came here and visited and saw the tiny house, that was three years ago, and I was just blown away,” Thurston said. “I come from a family of contractors and I always wanted to learn more about it.

“It really exceeded my expectations,” he said of his time in Building Trades. “The tiny house I saw wasn’t even on a trailer. We went from no trailer to a 24-foot trailer with solar and everything. It advances so fast, it’s awesome.”

Thurston said he’s planning on starting college this coming January, but that will be after he attends basic training for the Army National Guard, where he hopes to specialize in horizontal construction.

BOCES offers a number of programs, including Building Trades, Automotive Technology, Cosmetology, Culinary Arts, Coding and Gaming, and Natural Resource Science.

2018 tiny house builders


Jacob Colbert

Gabriel Giraldo

David Hart

Cole Lacey

Christopher Moquin

Bryce Paries

Cody Pioli

Spencer Pratt

Quinn Shaheen

Tyler Stevens

Garrett Thurston

Justin Walsh

Erik Wood


Gavin Arey

Justin Burke

Kara Dunham

Grant Eckardt

Zachary Gladd

Brandon Miner

Benedict Nicola

Robert Stephenson

Ryker Wells

Robert Wenske