By Jess Clarke
Norwich University Construction Management majors helping to build a solar micro-house for a low-income family are experiencing the industry’s realities: amending plans based on the availability of particular materials, worker scheduling issues, and weather—always weather.
“It’s one thing to talk about making a schedule in a class. It’s another thing to actually have to work on that schedule and realize that some days the weather isn’t particularly nice. Some days, not everybody can show up at the time you thought they would,” says Ed Schmeckpeper, chair of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.
The Construction Management major is rigorous. Students take classes in business, engineering, and architecture in addition to other core courses. When they graduate, majors are prepared to sit for several industry certification exams.
But in the Norwich tradition, the micro-house provides invaluable hands-on experience as students read and interpret plans, procure materials, estimate costs, address safety issues, accommodate changes from architects, schedule the order of construction, and perform other tasks.
“If we didn’t have this project, I would invent one so students could experience all the aspects of construction management while they’re on campus,” Schmeckpeper says. “It serves [NU founder] Alden Partridge’s mission to have students who execute as well as conceive, act as well as think.”
Junior Construction Management major Alois Steinbugl ’17 is one of about 20 fellow majors involved with the house project this semester. Numerous Norwich architecture and engineering majors are also working on the CASA initiative micro-house.
The project aims to design and build an affordable, sustainable micro-house for low-income Vermonters as an alternative to mobile-homes. The current design, which is entirely solar-powered, carries a $40,000 price tag.
“Being able to see the project from both aspects, the design part as well as the hands-on construction, leads to a greater understanding and more practical approach to learning,” says Steinbugl, who spends six to eight hours on the house weekly.
“Proper planning, communication, and hands-on construction are only some of the skills and lessons I am gaining from working on the project,” he says.
The house, which will be about 380 square feet, has cathedral ceilings in the kitchen and living room. It is designed to be energy-efficient and economical, both to construct and to own. Those aspects tie in with Construction Management courses that pertain to affordability and sustainability.
The project reflects Norwich’s ongoing spirit and history of service. After construction is finished this spring, the house will be transported to Shelburne, Vt., where it will transform the life of the new owner.
“The fact that this project will serve as a house for a low-income family makes building it more enjoyable,” Steinbugl says. “It is interesting to learn that a project of this size and quality can [not only] be built to be structurally sound as well as aesthetically pleasing, but also be economically feasible.”
Norwich received a $20,000 grant from the TD Charitable Foundation to develop affordable solar houses by students and faculty in the School of Architecture + Art and the David Crawford School of Engineering. The grant supports the Creating Affordable Sustainable Architecture (CASA) Initiative, a program in NU’s College of Professional Schools that focuses on housing for low-income Vermont families.