Microhouse project’s second building focused students on budget, design

The coronavirus delayed an important LIFT, but won’t stop it.

Norwich University architecture students, directed by architecture professors Tolya Stonorov and Danny Sagan in 2019 designed and built LIFT 1.0, a microhouse that was later moved to Barre.

The second version was in progress when coronavirus curve flattening closed Norwich’s campus and halted many endeavors.

LIFT 1.0, a project by Norwich’s Design+Build Collaborative, a collaboration between the schools of Architecture + Art; Engineering; Business; and Management; and Nursing, emerged after Downstreet Housing and Community Development, a Vermont nonprofit affordable housing corporation with offices in Barre, Vermont, looked for new solutions to address an affordable-housing shortage. This project was intended to be efficient and affordable; a pair of these microhouses (approximately 360 square feet) would be installed on a lot in Barre.

The TD Bank Charitable Foundation, Washington County Mental Health Services and the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board are partners on the LIFT projects.

Norwich University’s construction management and civil engineering faculty proposed having students examine LIFT 2.0’s design and determine how realistic previous cost projections were.

Norwich students built the first LIFT house, which used locally sourced materials and was designed for energy efficiency. A single-sloped roof means the house can achieve net-zero energy efficiency. (Net-zero means the amount of energy the house uses annually is equal to the amount of renewable energy the house creates.)

Housing vouchers will be paired with both LIFT houses to serve people who have mental illness, are homeless or are at high risk of homelessness. This initiative will couple with a Washington County Mental Health Services clinic less than a mile away to serve a growing community need and mitigate homelessness.

A $200,000 2019 grant from the TD Charitable Foundation, TD Bank’s charitable giving arm, helped establish the Design+Build Collaborative in February 2019. An additional $20,000 grant from the TD Bank Foundation backs LIFT 2.0.

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Norwich architecture professor Tolya Stonorov describes features of the new LIFT house at a Jan. 14, 2020, press conference at the Downstreet Housing & Community Development headquarters in Barre, Vermont. (Photo by Mark Collier.)

Because Vermont contractors were to build the second LIFT house, it would serve Barre twice — providing low-cost housing and construction industry jobs.

However, when the contractors bid to build the second LIFT microhouse, the construction costs were substantially higher than the design team’s estimates. So, Norwich University’s construction management and civil engineering faculty proposed having a group of their students examine the design, determine where they could reduce costs while satisfying design requirements, and then gauge how realistic their cost projections were as they constructed the second LIFT house.

In fall 2019, the students, Jillian M. Fortunati, Ethan T. Giordano, Ronald J. Mayorga, Owen G. McKenna, Dakota J. Picard, Ryan J. Shea, and Jonathon P. Sprout, with Civil Engineering student Jacob T. Burke, began reviewing the original LIFT house plans under lecturer Mark Atwood’s supervision.

For example:

The LIFT 1.0 exterior siding was constructed using short siding pieces with the joints between the boards aligned. It was proposed that the LIFT 2.0 exterior siding boards be made out of longer boards with precut ¼-inch vertical grooves that correspond to the vertical joints between the individual boards on the LIFT 1.0 house. The vertical grooves in the LIFT 2.0 siding would be in the same locations as the joints in the LIFT 1.0 siding.

After receiving design approvals from Downstreet and other agencies connected to the project, construction commenced in earnest late in the Fall 2019 semester.

Because the project was constructed inside the high bay of the CoLab maker space and was shielded from weather, the construction team choose to use an “inside-out” construction scheme. They installed the interior wall finished surfaces while installing electrical and plumbing from the outside of the wall and installed the outer sheathing and siding afterward.

The project was installing the interior drywall, rough electrical and plumbing work when all on-campus activity stopped because of the coronavirus pandemic. Construction is planned to resume when students are allowed back on campus.

(Slideshow photos from January 2020 LIFT house press conference by Mark Collier.)

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