Big Win for a Tiny House

Big Win for a Tiny House

By Matt Morgan

The rEvolve team celebrates their win. Photo by Joanne Lee
The rEvolve House, SCU’s entry in the inaugural Tiny House competition, takes first place.

When the rEvolve House project started two years ago, JJ Galvin ’17 was a quiet college sophomore. He wasn’t ready to lead a major construction project, he says, but he knew he wanted to learn.

At the award ceremony of the Sacramento Municipal Utility District 2016 Tiny House Competition at Cosumnes River College on Saturday, Galvin was different: a vocal, confident senior and, now, a champion.

Galvin and his rEvolve House teammates took first place in the inaugural Tiny House competition. Their 238-square foot house, which features a revolving base that allows solar panels to follow the sun, was named the overall winner and took honors for energy efficiency and communications.

The competition was patterned after the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon and featured nine houses judged on four categories: Architecture, Energy Efficiency, Communications, and Home Life.

“I’m on cloud nine,” Galvin says. “It’s unreal that I’m blessed enough to be here and have this team around us and have the support that we’ve had.”

During the award ceremony Galvin, who volunteered as student team leader in Fall 2015, was chosen by his teammates to hold the trophy in photos.

“Half the reason I came to Santa Clara was to work on projects like this,” Galvin says. “So I said, you know what, if no one else can do it, I’m going to step up.”

Galvin’s transformation wasn’t unique. Working on a house for half their college career forced all the students to become leaders. Galvin, Anna Harris ’17, Gabriel Christ ’17, Jack Dinkelspiel ’17, James LeClercq ’17, Jonathan Borst ’19, Jun Chang ’18, Marcus Grassi ’17, Martin Prado ’16, MS '18, Nico Metais ’16, MS '18, Samantha Morehead ’18, Taylor Mau ’18, Thomas Chung, and George Giannos ’18 worked long hours and became problem solvers.

Students hug after winning
Photo by Joanne Lee

“I think this whole team can conquer the world now,” faculty advisor Tim Hight says. “They set themselves a huge target and they probably exceeded it.”

Giannos, who served as student construction lead, says he could name five or six leaders but pointed to civil engineering leads Harris and Dinkelspiel as integral.

“The reason why this structure is standing right now and why it will be here for 25 years is because of them,” Giannos says.

Though small in stature, the rEvolve House is a fully-functioning home. It has heat, air-conditioning, running water, a kitchen, a shower, a rooftop deck with a spiral staircase, a self-watering vertical garden, and, of course, the porch which doubles as the revolving mechanism and helps increase solar energy reserves by about 30 percent.

After the competition, the house will be donated to Operation Freedom Paws—a nonprofit dedicated to teaching veterans and others with disabilities to train their own service dogs—and was designed with its final destination in mind.

The doorways, showers, and appliances are all accessible from a wheelchair. The bed unfolds from the wall, providing plenty of living space for clients suffering from PTSD. Surfaces are tough enough to withstand the claws of a dog while remaining easily cleaned. 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 $10k to $60k, but Operation Freedom Paws offers the dogs to clients at no cost.

“I think that’s the coolest part,” Giannos says. “Our house has meaning and it’s going to make someone’s life better.”

One face missing from the celebration Saturday was Jim Reites, S.J., MST ’71. Papa Reites, as he was known by students, served as faculty advisor and unofficial chief inspiration officer until he passed away in April. The team remembered him by placing his green hardhat on the top shelf in the kitchen and embroidering a message on their sweatshirts: In Loving Memory of Papa Reites.

Reites was a staple on solar decathlon teams in recent years and his fingerprints were all over the rEvolve House team.

“The smiles are really where you see (him) and the work ethic, too,” Galvin says. “How hard each of these people worked for this project, that’s where you see him.”

“The commitment, the dedication (is where I see him),” Hight says. “They were all-in for this, to make it happen. They didn’t let anything slow them down or get in their way. Every obstacle, they just seemed to find a way around it.”

“Papa Reites encouraged us to do better than our best,” Giannos says. “He was not OK with mediocrity and that was clear in everything we did. He was the first one there and he was the last one to leave every day. I think that stuck with us throughout the summer.”

Giannos says the team built the house for Reites and they know he’s proud of their win.

“I know he’d love to be here right now,” Giannos says. “He’d be the first one on stage and the last one here hugging the house before we left.”

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