CASTLE ROCK — Before Summer Little graduates from high school, she expects to own her first home.
In fact, the Castle Rock junior is building it herself.
Summer, 16, is building a 220-square-foot “tiny home on wheels,” she said. She started the project in her advanced fabrication class at the high school earlier this academic year.
Students in that class complete projects that apply their welding skills. The class is run partly as a business, so many of the projects are put up for sale once they are completed, said L.J. Kruckenberg, Castle Rock High School welding instructor.
“Summer is kind of special because she’s not only a student in class, she’s also a paying customer,” said Kruckenberg, noting that Summer plans to pay the school back for materials so she will officially own the trailer and house once she’s finished.
“They think it’s really cool because most teenagers can’t own a house or afford to have a house, and I’ll already have one built by the time I graduate. And then if I sell it, I can definitely make my money back, and then some,” Summer said.
According to The Spruce, a popular home-living website, the median cost of a tiny home is $59,884. The low end of the range tends to hover around $20,000 to $25,000, The Spruce says. Summer estimates her house, which she is building from scratch, will cost her about $11,000.
So far, she’s invested about $3,500 on the 26-foot-by-8.5-foot trailer frame that will bear the tiny home, including about $900 on steel.
She started by building a subframe for the trailer. Then, she cut and attached long members and added cross members.
“Each one has to be plasma-cut individually, so it fits inside kind of like a puzzle piece,” Summer said.
She’s used the equipment in the high school shop to cut and weld the pieces, and she’s put what she’s learned in her math classes to the test by designing the trailer, she said.
“Building a project to this scale has a lot more precision than a smaller project,” she said.
It also requires problem solving, like deciding to add a diagonal support to keep the long members from warping downward — an unexpected challenge she faced early on in the design process, she said.
Her parents inspired Summer’s decision to build a tiny home for class.
“I didn’t even think I would end up living in one until I started building this. My parents actually threw out the idea,” said Summer, noting that her parents’ long-time interest in tiny homes has now rubbed off on her. In the future, she said she could see herself opening a construction business for items in tiny homes.
Although she knows she wants to pursue a career in the trades, Summer said she’s still not sure exactly which trade she’s most interested in specializing. She hopes the tiny house — a project that requires welding, construction, electrical work and plumbing, among other trades — will guide her in choosing a specialization.
Plus, it will help her stand out in a pool of job candidates.
“I know a lot of people who go into apprenticeships without much experience ... but I think I will have a step up because of this trailer,” Summer said.
Kruckenberg, who also works nights at Weyerhaeuser Co., said it’s “pretty impressive” to see someone as young as Summer with the drive and motivation to take on a project like this.
She’s also stuck with the project, even after peers and adults doubted someone so young could take on a project so big, she said.
“A lot of my classmates didn’t think it would happen. Then I started it, and they were pretty impressed.”
Summer plans to finish the trailer before the end of this school year. Then, she will design and build the actual living quarters during her senior year. (Most of the construction will take place independently, outside of school, she said, but she might build some stairs or shelves for her home in her introductory construction class.)
Along the way, she’s tracking her progress on her Facebook page, Summer’s Little Home, which has more than 130 followers. (See more photos attached to the online version of this story.)
“The most rewarding part is probably seeing people’s reactions,” Summer said. “So many people have commented (and followed), and it’s just pretty amazing.”