Home, sweet (tiny) home

Jed Breen ’19 spent months on a senior project he can live in.

Patrick Garrity
January 23, 2019
Jed Breen '19 stands beside his senior project — a tiny house he built by hand.

Jed Breen '19 stands next to his senior project — a fully habitable "tiny" house he built by hand.

Dig through all 92 pages of the Courses of Instruction, and you’ll find nothing about studs, jambs or joists. Nothing on wallboard or window frames. Exeter offers 450 courses, from Molecular Genetics to Roman Satire, but not one covers how to build a tiny house. So, Jed Breen ’19 created that class for himself.

For the better part of five months, through most of his summer break and during free formats throughout fall term, the senior worked in his family’s backyard in nearby Rye to build a home from scratch. His finished product, a 100-square-foot house on wheels, is powered by solar panels, heated with propane and is fully habitable — well, once the composting toilet is installed.

The house is the result of Jed’s senior independent study project, a program that allows Exeter students to explore areas of interest that fall outside traditional course descriptions. Seniors, with approval from the faculty, may design individual or joint projects of comparable value and scope to those of an academic course.

Typically, three such projects are ongoing in any one term, but the frequency and subject matter vary. Recent projects have included a bluegrass music album, a student-designed Harkness class for adults on campus and a photography exhibit focused on people of color.

Jed’s proposal melded two of his passions: sustainability and working with his hands. “I wanted to create an example to the community of something that was as efficient as possible,” Jed said.

“I grew up building things. My dad was an engineer and my grandfather has the skills of a carpenter, electrician and plumber, so I was no stranger to building things,” Jed explained. “I used to love going down to the basement where my dad’s work bench is and help him build small odds and ends for around the house. I don’t remember specifically when I first put hammer to nail, but I can’t remember a time I wasn’t making.”

English Instructor Jason BreMiller, Exeter’s sustainability education coordinator who served as Jed’s faculty adviser on the project, said Exeter emphasizes the mind — sometimes to the detriment of the physical. “Our students crave opportunities that are kinesthetic, that wed the head and the hands.”

Jed initially laid out the house in his head, then used Google SketchUp to build a 3D model. From there, it was all about gathering building materials. Thousands of dollars’ worth of materials, from the wood to the solar panels to the kitchen sink, were donated by local businesses.

His grandfather, Jim Breen, worked closely with the teen. “This couldn’t have gotten done without my grandfather. He is an amazing man and I love him a lot,” Jed says.

BreMiller said the project was a winner because it tapped into Jed’s passions. “This project is a clear expression of his interests in environmentalism, sustainability, renewable energy — a combination of interests on his part.”