Tiny houses teach Livingston County students huge lessons

Sara Kellner
Associated Press

Howell — Brighton senior James Linske said he never liked traditional high school classes such as history and math. He prefers hands-on work.

That’s why the Howell Construction Trades Program, a class at Howell High School that enlists students to build a house from the foundation to the roof shingles, was perfect fit for him.

Each of three tiny houses that high schoolers built includes a kitchen, bathroom, bedroom and dining area, contained to less than 300 square feet.

He was among 70 students in the class, which is based in Howell but accepts students from nearby schools through a partnership with the Livingston Educational Services Agency.

“I didn’t even know about this class until the last minute,” Linske told the Livingston Daily. “I signed up, and it saved my life. I definitely would not have graduated without this class.”

Todd Millspaugh, a licensed builder and the program’s instructor, said over the past few years he and his students have constructed a 2,000 square-foot house with three bedrooms, 2 bathrooms and a three-car garage. They also pave the driveway, install irrigation systems and finish the landscaping.

High school students and their families viewed their completed tiny houses at Parker Middle School in Marion Township. Thursday, June 10, 2021.

“I want people, when they see it, to be amazed that students did it,” Millspaugh said. Millspaugh said the house his class built last year sold in five hours for $400,000.

But this year, Millspaugh decided to take on a new challenge. His students built three tiny houses, all of which are smaller than 300 square feet. 

Millspaugh said the tiny houses provide a unique challenge because every square inch needs to be utilized.

High school students and their families view their completed tiny houses at Parker Middle School in Marion Township. Thursday, June 10, 2021.

Howell senior Alex Smith said the tiny homes were a completely new learning experience compared to the full-size house he worked on last year. Smith took the class his junior and senior years of high school, returning his senior year as a group leader.

“Think about how much space you have to work with,” Smith said. “You don’t have a lot of space to work with, and you have to put a lot of things in there to make it a house.”

Each tiny house has a kitchen, bathroom, bedroom and dining area. They also have lighting fixtures, stand-up showers and strategically crafted storage spaces.

High school students and their families gather at Parker Middle School to view tiny houses that students built in a construction class in Marion Township. Thursday, June 10, 2021.

In the beginning of the school year, Linske wasn’t sure he and his peers could successfully build three houses, so seeing them completed was rewarding.

In the fall, Linske will begin a pipefitting apprenticeship - something he never considered before taking Millspaugh’s class.

Smith was also able to land a job before he graduated high school last month. He is working for the Howell Public Works Department as a skilled laborer.

Each of three tiny houses that high schoolers built includes a kitchen, bathroom, bedroom and dining area, contained to less than 300 square feet. High school students and their families viewed their completed tiny houses at Parker Middle School in Marion Township. Thursday, June 10, 2021.

Millspaugh said he tries to encourage his students to look at opportunities outside of getting a four-year degree. 

“I didn’t realize how strong the four-year degree was being fed to these kids,” Millspaugh said. “I’ve been saying that you don’t have to have one. You can go to a trade school, get paid while you do your training and make more money without being in debt.”