Photo above: Yellow cedar home build by Sitka High School Advanced Construction class. Credit: Maia Mareš.

The Tongass Tiny Home was built by students enrolled in the Advanced Construction class offered beginning 2015 through the vocational education program at Sitka High School (SHS) in partnership with SCS. This was the first advanced construction class offered by the Sitka School District in ten years. The custom place-based curriculum provided students with the opportunity to build valuable technical skill-sets, while exploring potential pathways to success in the regional economy.

The Tiny Home was purchased by a Juneau family and was delivered to them in March 2021. The final construction and customization of the home will be done by the current owners. Prior to sale, SHS students completed the bulk of the home construction, in different semesters learning and applying important trade skills such as framing, roofing, siding, windows, flooring, finishing, construction safety standards, selection of materials, use and maintenance of construction tools, review of building codes and appropriate professional behavior for the construction sector.

Photo: Interior of the Tongass Tiny Home. Credit: Amelia Milling.

“Some of the things we were most excited about was the chance for this project to really advance our curriculum,” said Mike Vieira, CTE Instructor at Sitka High School. “This project led us to talk about species of lumber, where that labor came from, why we’re using it, why we’re not just using stuff that’s easier to work with, and what the whole goal of the project was, which was to promote Southeast Alaska and try to make some jobs that are sustainable for the region.”

The lumber for the project was sourced from local mills in Southeast Alaska including Good Faith Lumber, TM Construction, Southeast Young Growth Milling Entrepreneurs, and H&L Salvage Mill. Whenever possible, local materials were purchased to build the Tongass Tiny Home. Buying locally manufactured wood products crafted from sustainably sourced Tongass timber provides jobs and supports local businesses across Southeast Alaska. By purchasing local wood, this project is strengthening relationships between Alaskan builders and Alaskan lumber suppliers to facilitate intra-region commerce. As Senator Lisa Murkowski said after visiting the Tiny Home in 2018, the initiative is a “wonderful example of buying local and responsibly utilizing our sustainable resources, all while equipping our young Alaskans with valuable skills and real-world experience.”

Photo: Maureen O’Hanlon, Chandler O’Connell (SCS), Andrew Thoms (SCS), Perry Edwards (USFS), Pat Heuer (USFS), SHS student Ryan Bartlett, Mike Viera (SHS), Tristan Rhoads, and Olan Moore. Credit: Amy Li.

The Tongass Tiny Home demonstrates sustainable home design and construction that meets climate needs, reduces material use, and maximizes energy efficiency with an overall low carbon footprint. Buying local wood means less fuel used and fewer greenhouse gas emissions generated from shipping than imported timber from other states and countries.

Young growth wood regenerates quickly and provides a sustainable alternative to the harvest of industrial scale, old growth timber clear cuts. The Tongass National Forest is in the midst of a transition to sustainable young growth timber management, and student use of young growth wood in the Tiny Home highlights opportunities for using these forest products.

This project also prompts Sitkans to explore the economic potential of the tiny home model. Affordable housing is a challenge for many rural Alaskan communities, and a tiny home may be a viable alternative for certain home seekers or homeowners. While not right for everyone, tiny homes may be a great option for Alaskans seeking to downsize, to reduce their energy bill, to avoid the need for a mortgage or to lower their rental payments. Tiny homes also may provide an avenue for communities to thoughtfully increase housing density and add affordable rental units to the market.

Thank you to the purchasers of the Tongass Tiny Home, and thank you to the partners, collaborators, and volunteers who have contributed to the project: The Sitka School District, the National Forest Foundation, the Nature Conservancy, USDA Forest Service, Mike Vieira, Randy Hughey, Meredith Condon, Island Enterprises Inc., Sitka Electric, Gordon Hall Plumbing, Schmolck Mechanical, and Tumbleweed Tiny House Company.

Contact SCS for more information on local young growth timber, regional youth workforce development programs, and sustainable housing.