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SCU’s Tiny House, Big Win

SCU's Tiny House, Big Win

Santa Clara University’s temporary campus addition is smaller than the average building but it’s still attracting lots of attention. After all, the rEvolve house made SCU history on Oct. 15th by winning first place at the Sacramento Municipal Utility District 2016 Tiny House Competition. The competition, similar to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon, judged on four categories: Architecture, Energy Efficiency, Communications and Home Life. SCU also brought home honors for energy efficiency and communications.

For senior mechanical engineering major and student project manager JJ Galvin, the win was a long time in the making: “My interest in [this project] started even before I came to SCU – they always talk about the previous solar decathlon houses on the tour. I was already thinking then about how it combined all my different interests in engineering into one project.”

Since the project took over two years to complete, Galvin celebrated the victory with his dedicated teammates – Anna Harris, Gabriel Christ, Jack Dinkelspiel, James LeClercq, Jonathan Borst, Jun Chang, Marcus Grassi, Martin Prado, Nico Metais, Samantha Morehead, Taylor Mau and Thomas Chungas well as with construction manager George Giannos and faculty advisor Tim Hight.

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Galvin appreciated all the help they received from fellow SCU students, “While we only brought 15 people to the competition, there was a lot of support from different students. Some people were only able to come for a little while – at times, it could be frustrating, but I’ve seen that it’s helpful to get all these different inputs while putting the house together. By the end there was a core 15 of us and it was so cool to see how much time and interest we put into our project and how we all came out to help as much as we could.”

One key member, unfortunately, was not present at the final award ceremony. Father Jim Reites, S.J. or “Papa Reites” served as faculty advisor until he passed away in April 2016. Galvin remembers Father Reites fondly for his ability to challenge the student designers to improve.

“There was a gap at first, but then we had to step up. It’s a very difficult thing to look at the project with a critical eye [like he did]. So, in a sense, it’s great now to be able to do that as an engineer,” said Galvin.

The 238-square foot house is a fully-functional unit with some typical features – heat / air-conditioning, water, a kitchen and shower – but there’s also a rooftop deck, a vertical garden and a revolving porch which increases the solar energy reserves and inspires the house name.

Galvin, however, is particularly proud of the durable materials and special features built in for the home’s final destination with Operation Freedom Paws (OFP), a nonprofit that teaches veterans and others with disabilities to train their own service dogs. When the students visited OFP in Summer 2015 based on a suggestion from a professional contractor who works with the group, they quickly realized there was a great need for a comfortable space for veterans to stay while training at the Gilroy facilities. “What [OFP] does helps so many people and we saw that we could fit into their work,” Galvin explained. “We could make the program even more functional and easier to run for their clients.”

But before the house journeys down to Gilroy, the team is happy to share the win with the greater SCU community. Galvin also hopes that future students might learn as much as he did in the process: “I developed quite a bit, but mostly in leadership and communication. I learned how to get people motivated and involved and excited to build a house. Those are skills I didn’t have before.” He added, “While solar power has been done [for previous SCU design competitions] and it’s not some sort of crazy design, we hope that seeing how the team won and did well in the Sustainable categories will have more people sign up and stick with the house projects in the future.”

The winning tiny house will be on display and available for student tours on SCU’s campus until early November.

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