If You Build It

Tiny Home Becomes a Hands-On Training Tool for Sarasota Students

Students at Suncoast Technical College put their textbook skills to work and built a tiny home on campus.

By Kim Doleatto February 3, 2022

Students installing solar panels on the tiny home.

Students installing solar panels on the tiny home.

You know the saying, “Teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime”? Today’s version could go something like, “Teach someone plumbing skills and they’ll always have a job.”

Take 20-year-old Randall Herrera. He’s one of almost 200 students at Suncoast Technical College in Sarasota who learned all about what it takes to build a tiny house. His role centered mostly on the plumbing, but he also got his hands dirty with electric work. He’ll graduate late in the year and kick off an internship, he says, the first step toward getting his master's plumbing license and opening his own business.

"The beauty of plumbing is that it’s essential," says Herrera. "You can live without electric power, for example, but not without clean water and proper waste disposal." According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the construction job outlook for 2020 through 2023 is expected to increase 7 percent, with a median annual income of more than $56,000.

Beginning in late 2020, with the help of instructors, students enrolled in programs like plumbing, building trades, construction design technology, drafting and more, worked on the tiny home. Over the course of the on-campus project, 185 students earned a total of 145 industry-recognized certifications, hopefully addressing a labor shortage that's causing a slowdown in homebuilding.

The 220 square-foot tiny home is also eco-friendly. It runs on solar panels and has a compost toilet. What’s a compost toilet? I couldn’t quite grasp the concept, but you add compost matter to it with each use and it “eliminates sewage. Plus there’s no need to empty out a connector,” says Randall.

The first-of-a-kind training approach, in which students applied what they learned in the classroom on the field, happened thanks to the combined efforts of CareerEdge Funders Collaborative and the college. The total cost of materials was roughly $60,000, almost wholly paid for by donors. (Walt and Renée Eppard donated $35,000.)

The tiny home will now act as a rolling promotional tool to encourage skilled trades education and careers among K-12 students across Sarasota County, and inspire "establishing a viable career with hands-on experience," says Kristi Hoskinson, the vice president of CareerEdge. 

The public is invited to an open house and ribbon cutting for the tiny home at 5 p.m. today, Thursday, Feb. 3, at Suncoast Technical College, 4748 S. Beneva Road, Sarasota.

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