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March 8, 2016

Students build tiny house on campus

As many Michigan State students prepare for graduation, one senior's genuine interest in the tiny home movement has led to a big collaborative effort among her peers.

Tiffany Pupa, an interior design major from Northville, Michigan, is building a tiny house, dubbed ”Sparty’s Cabin,” on the MSU campus. Pupa has engaged other MSU students in the building, which started March 4 at the Recycling Center.

“I think a lot of people are attracted to tiny houses because it’s financial freedom — you don’t have to pay your mortgage, and you have more control over that,” Pupa said. But, she said, her interest in the tiny house lifestyle involves its global impact.

“It’s not really about the house,” she said, “but that the house is a really great tool for supporting a more sustainable lifestyle. The tiny home really focuses on minimalism and getting down to what you need — having experiences to share rather than material things.”

The central goal was sustainability, so Sparty’s Cabin includes materials from the MSU Sustainable Wood Recovery Program and Shadows Collection. The Shadows Collection salvages trees removed on campus because of construction and turns them into lumber to create unique and truly green products.

Sparty’s Cabin will feature MSU-made custom countertops, shelving and a ladder. The structure will be built on a trailer for ease of transportation. This tiny house will encompass 177 square feet of space that sleeps three. It will feature both an upstairs (sleeping loft and storage) and a downstairs (great room/kitchen, bathroom and bedroom).

Patricia Crawford, associate director of the School of Planning, Design and Construction, encouraged Pupa’s interest in the tiny home movement.

“About a year ago, Tiffany came to me after a Green Building Council student meeting, and she was excited. She had learned about this tiny home and was ripping and roaring, ready to go,” Crawford says. “Tiffany said: ‘I want to build one!’ I said, ‘OK, that sounds like fun, let’s do a little bit of research first.’”

Pupa spent a semester researching what a project like this would take. In addition to researching the construction aspects of the tiny house, Pupa also devoted time to figuring out what a tiny home was and learning about the tiny house movement and the philosophy and culture behind it, Crawford said.

“Tiffany did an amazing job,” Crawford said. “Everybody was very excited about her project.”

Construction runs Fridays through Sundays and involves about 200 students.

“[The project] is going to take 12 days to build,” Pupa said. “We should be done by April 22, which is Earth Day. It’s a lot more complicated than I thought it would be because when you’re building, you’re just building on your own.”

Jeffrey Meek, a construction management student from Livonia, Michigan, and a member of the build team for Sparty’s Cabin, said he thinks students will learn a lot. “We might have a few challenges with constructing it just because we’re all kind of rookies here. I’ve never built anything like it,” Meek said.

But the team has a lot of support.

“What I’m most excited for is to watch these students build it and to see them grappling with the complications,” Crawford said. “Like today, we didn’t have the screws we needed, so OK, let’s send three students to go get screws while the others start cutting the flashing. Just to watch them go through that process and to know how much smarter they’re going to be at the end of it and how much they’re learning… I can’t give them this kind of experience sitting in the classroom, talking about how a construction project works.”

MSU students will be working together on Sparty’s Cabin March 11-13, and weekends through April 22.

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