As Tiny House rises, two student-run UAH sustainability groups join forces


Members of the UAH Green Club gather in front of their Tiny House energy efficiency project. From left are Jeremy Floyd, Tyler Truitt, Sarah Haidar, Abby Hendrie, Ankur Shah, Dr. Bill Carswell and Jordan Manchebo.

Michael Mercier | UAH

As construction continues on its Tiny House energy efficiency project, the University of Alabama in Huntsville’s Green Club has affiliated with UAH’s Association of Energy Engineers (AEE) to gather and research outcome data about the sustainable construction methods being used.

"The AEE is a separate club with a very similar purpose," says Green Club vice president and tiny house design lead Abby Hendrie, a junior majoring in Civil Engineering who hails from Elizabethtown, Ky. "They want to make students more aware about energy, renewables and how to incorporate them into everyday life from an engineering standpoint."

In a past project, the AEE student chapter outfitted a golf cart with solar panels to raise awareness among the UAH community about sustainable energy. The new affiliation is a great fit for both clubs, Hendrie says, since many Green Club members are also members of AEE and vice versa.

The UAH Green Club is advised by Dr. Bill Carswell, a principal research scientist in the Charger Energy Laboratory and the Reliability & Failure Analysis Laboratory at UAH’s Research Institute.

"The club wants to bring a sense of eco-mindedness and sustainability to students through hands-on projects, volunteering opportunities and keynote speaker expositions," Hendrie says.

The walls and roof are up and insulation work is underway at the Tiny House, a student-run project to showcase energy efficiency and sustainable living. Ultimately, the goal is to put the Tiny House on a trailer so that the small 8x12-foot house that incorporates modern building and energy management practices can be used at events to showcase energy efficiency.

Primarily, the Tiny House is a learning opportunity for students to delve deeper into understanding what it means to be sustainable while gaining valuable technical, hands-on and real-life building experience, Hendrie says.

"Not everyone gets a chance to be a part of a technical project, especially with so many engineering-oriented clubs, and so we invite students of all backgrounds and majors to participate," she says. Next up is to finish the exterior siding and add the solar panels, solar water heater, and heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) unit.

"We want to have a finished exterior and working HVAC by the fall semester. Once the fall semester has started, we will finish the interior and fine-tune the insulation," Hendrie says. "AEE will come in the fall and do an analysis of the insulation, energy usage and overall efficiency of the tiny house project, as well as suggest ways to make it better."

The use of various forms of salvaged insulation is one of many eco-minded additions being incorporated into the house.

"We’ve taken empty bottles that would have been thrown away – or recycled, hopefully – and we re-purposed them by adding non-biodegradable trash like wrappers, old markers and plastic bags to the inside," Hendrie says. "These bottles are stuffed to varying degrees, and some not stuffed at all. The bottles are spray-foamed in, and AEE will assess which insulation is better: fully packed, lightly packed, empty bottles or our generic insulation control."

Summit Information Solutions Inc., Cintel Inc., Energy Huntsville, Alabama State Sen. Bill Holtzclaw and dozens of personal donors have funded the Tiny House project, says Dr. Carswell.

"We are very grateful to all our sponsors for making the tiny home possible. Not only is this a great learning opportunity for the students, but it will be a great teaching tool for the entire Huntsville community," Dr. Carswell says. "Opportunities for sponsorship at all levels are still available for anyone interested in supporting this worthwhile endeavor."


Dr. Bill Carswell

Jim Steele