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  • Writer's pictureChatham Habitat for Humanity

Small House, Week One

In partnership with the Sustainable Building program at Central Carolina Community College and the Small House Institute, Chatham Habitat is building a 512 square foot, handicap accessible, sustainable small house.  It is our goal to engage the community in a conversation about small houses, to learn more about how we could incorporate small houses into future developments, and to determine if we could serve a larger portion of the population by making small houses an option for future Habitat homeowners.

We would like to explore the possibility of adding small houses to the potential offerings for Habitat families. It is possible that a small house would enable Chatham Habitat to serve seniors, single adults, young couples, adults with disabilities, or disabled veterans. When clustered together, a community of small houses could serve segments of the population that our current offering of single-family homes does not suit. It is our goal that this small house will be fully handicap accessible, functionally designed, highly energy efficient, aesthetically pleasing, and will meet all building code requirements. This first small house is a model; in building one small house, we hope to learn more about the community that we seek to serve.


Beginning in June of 2014, Harvey Harman will instruct a Central Carolina Community College course on Small House construction. The students, along with Chatham Habitat volunteers and other interested parties, will construct and finish the small house on Chatham Habitat’s property on West Street in Pittsboro. The house will be visible from the road, and open to the public during business hours.

There are many advantages to a “small house,” the most relevant of which is affordability. Because the homes can be placed on much smaller plots of land, and use fewer materials to build, they will be much less expensive to own than a traditional single-family home. Currently, the materials to build a Habitat home cost around $78,000. A small house can be built for only $36,000. The cost of land and infrastructure will also be less, considering that a small house can be comfortably seated on a quarter-acre or clustered for even more efficient land use. The small house will be built to high energy efficiency standards—both to keep homeowner costs low and to lessen the resident’s carbon footprint. For many seniors, adults with disabilities, and even disabled veterans who may be on a fixed income, affordability is of paramount importance. A traditional Habitat house may be out of reach, but a small house may better suit their needs and budget.

cottage plan

One of the most exciting parts of building this small house will be the ability of our construction staff, construction students, and volunteers to flex their design muscle. When working in such a limited space, efficient design is essential. There are many creative storage options drawn into the plan, and the whole home is built in such a way that future additions can be easily built. For example, every window opening can become a door, the home can be added onto on all four sides, and the house could be expanded to 20” by 36” to make a two-bedroom cottage. There is extra support at eight-inch intervals in the frame of the home so that a second story could be added, and a spiral staircase would fit neatly in the second closet. Extra storage can be added in the bathroom, bedroom, sitting area, and kitchen. Although the home is small, it is extremely adaptable to the needs of its owner—even a growing family.


Construction on the small house began last week. Because many of the students do not have much previous experience, Harvey took time last week to make sure that all the students have the basics down: taking good measurements, leveling, and using all the necessary power tools. The students set up the blocks that the house will be temporarily built on, and prepared to build the frame for the floor system. This week, the class will continue to build the floor system, and hopefully begin exterior framing.

Over the next six weeks, be sure to check back for more information about the small house’s progress. Visit the Chatham Habitat Facebook page to see more photos, or stop by our campus at 467 West Street to see the house. It will be open for tours during business hours (9-5 Monday–Friday and 8-4on Saturday). Call Anna Spears at (919) 542-0794 x222 if you’d like to set up a tour ahead of time.

floor frame

the frame of the house after one week of work

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Michelle Amanda
Michelle Amanda
03 sept 2022

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