The doorways, showers, and appliances are all accessible from a wheelchair. When not in use, the bed folds into the wall, providing plenty of additional living space. Surfaces in the house are tough enough to withstand the claws of a dog while remaining easy to clean. There is even a vacuum built into the wall to collect dog hair and a drawer with dog bowls that emerges from the wall.
The cost of a service dog normally runs $10,000 to $60,000, but Operation Freedom Paws offers the dogs to clients at no cost. In the past, clients stayed in hotels paid for by Operation Freedom Paws. With the rEvolve House, the organization can reduce costs and help more people.
“That’s the coolest part,” Giannos said. “Our house has meaning, and it’s going to make someone’s life better.”
Usually emails from foreign countries promising deals too good to be true belong in spam folders. But about two years before the SMUD competition, faculty advisor James Reites, S.J., MST ’71 received an email from Colossun, a company in Spain, that changed the path of the project—eventually.
Colossun claimed it could equip the tiny house with solar panels that would revolve to follow the sun. The email sat in Reites’ inbox for about a year before he and Hight decided to respond. They knew the rEvolve House was too small for the revolving panels to sit on the roof, but there was a way that Colossun could help.
“We asked if we could rotate the house,” Hight said. They could. In Barcelona, Colossun worked on a design to revolve the house. Oddly, the development of a rotating base actually had nothing to do with the naming of the house, which came much earlier. “It was more ‘evolve’ and a revolution in that sense,” Hight said.
While Colossun figured out the logistics of the rotating platform and how to get it halfway around the world, the rEvolve House team was busy working on the rest of the structure. Building a tiny house for competitions like SMUD is a multiyear endeavor. Students, mostly from the engineering program but not exclusively, joined and left the project, with some staying on the team throughout. The students spent half their college careers building the house. And putting their sweat (and a little blood) into it is more than a metaphor.
As the competition drew near and the house started to take shape, the company that produced the revolving platform ran into a roadblock of international proportions. The team had scheduled Hanjin Shipping to transport the crate containing the material for the platform across the ocean, departing Barcelona on Sept. 1, 2016. But the day before the platform was set to sail, Hanjin declared bankruptcy. Globally, around 90 of Hanjin’s vessels were stranded at sea; anyone in queue for shipping with the company was out of luck.
“So we scramble, scramble, scramble,” Hight said. “We have this sponsor, Pasha, a transportation company. They worked with us in the past and the founder, George W. Pasha IV ’84, is an alum. They’ve been extremely good to us and generous and solve our problems. He said, ‘We’ll take care of this. Don’t stress. We’ll figure it out.’”
They did. Strapped for time, the team ditched the plan to ship the crate through the Panama Canal to Oakland, instead sending it to New York and then having it delivered by truck to California in time for the competition.
Gregorio Garcia Portero, an engineer from Colossun, flew to Santa Clara to help put the giant erector set together. A few days after his arrival, the house revolved for the first time. Two weeks later, it was in Sacramento collecting first prize at the SMUD competition.
Crack the Code
To put it in Silicon Valley terms, small units think different. They don’t waste space—appliances are stacked, storage is built in, everything has multiple uses—and they put a premium on design. But will tiny houses hit the mainstream? Hight is uncertain for a variety of reasons, starting with building codes. While tiny houses are popular among engineers and amateur construction enthusiasts, the governing bodies for building codes on local, state, national, and international levels haven’t caught up yet.
“If you build or remodel a house, there are permits, there are inspections, there are fees. There’s a way to do it that’s well established,” Hight said. “What is needed is a way to modify those [processes] so a tiny house can be permitted, can be inspected, and so forth.”