Pittsboro students build 450-square-foot cottage to promote sustainable living

krupp@newsobserver.comJune 6, 2013 

— After two years of planning and construction, the 450-square-foot “Chatham Cottage” is tight on space but broad in its mission.

The house, built by students in a sustainability technology program at Central Carolina Community College’s Pittsboro campus, is designed to encourage sustainable and minimalist living while teaching the students about energy-efficient and “green” building products and methods.

Now the one-bedroom, one-bathroom cottage, with living room and kitchen, can be yours. It goes up for auction in a parking lot at the school on Friday at noon.

The Chatham Cottage cost a little more than $30,000 for materials and advertising, said Laura Lauffer, the Sustainable Technologies coordinator at the college. Building supplies were sold to the team at wholesale prices, while Lowe’s home improvement provided potted plants for the interior and Chatham Habitat for Humanity donated the furniture and accessories.

The minimum opening bid for the cottage is $30,000. Lauffer and class instructor John Delafield hope to sell it at a price that can support construction of another small house next semester.

Delafield said a $30,000 grant from the Progress Energy Foundation that helped establish the Sustainable Technologies Classroom prompted the college to begin thinking about building an energy-efficient house.

“That’s not a lot of money to build a house,” he said, “so the administration said ‘Let’s build a small house.’ So we accepted the challenge.”

‘A good, livable space’

Delafield and his class modeled the cottage on floor plans from the Tumbleweed Tiny House Co. But Delafield says the design of the Chatham Cottage was “changed to suit our sense of what would make a good livable space in North Carolina and, secondly, what would make the house movable on North Carolina highways so there would be no need to move utility lines.”

Students were involved in every aspect of the building process, Delafield said, including creating the schedule, building the interiors and exteriors and maintaining a blog to record their progress. The Chatham Cottage was conceptualized in September 2011 and took two years to complete, with about 30 students with various levels of construction experience participating.

“We did hire some contractors at the end,” Lauffer said. “You don’t want new students doing drywall.”

One student, Jeff Klemm, has worked in construction for more than 20 years but says he had not worked with green building materials before joining the Sustainable Technologies team.

“I decided I wanted to learn something different about [construction] so I came here to CCCC, and they taught me how to build green,” Klemm said. “I’ll be taking quite a bit of information from this college with me.”

Buyers expected at auction

What the cottage lacks in space the crew believes it will make up in long-term energy savings. The Chatham Cottage uses North Carolina southern yellow pine for wall framing and includes Energy Star features throughout the cottage’s construction, including extra sealant, caulking and insulation barriers surrounding all electrical outlets and switches.

The ventilation, lighting, and exterior construction are designed to meet Energy Star standards, and the house includes plumbing with WaterSense low-flow products.

Such features are becoming much more common, Lauffer said, but are rarely found all in one home.

“North Carolina energy code now is so much more stringent that green building is almost a misnomer,” she said.

Auctioneer Gary Phillips, former Chairman of Chatham County Commissioners and co-founder of Weaver Street Realty, expects at least 20 people to attend the auction, with possibly 10 bidders.

“I think there is certainly a clientele interested in a sustainable cottage,” said Phillips, suggesting a farmer desiring to live closer to his property or an artist who can use the cottage as a compact home and studio.

So far, Lauffer said, potential buyers of the cottage have been retirees.

“One couple will put it on their basement to be their whole living space,” she said. “One couple will use it for a guest house on their lot and someone is also interested in bidding on the house as an investment property.”

Klemm said that an owner of a cottage could “add additions to it, extend the flooring if you like that design and want it to be a larger size,” but the intention of the house is to live as compactly as possible.

The next Sustainable Technologies class will begin in August.

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