Students design and build an affordable home

Juneau-Douglas High School students are almost done building the house they began constructing in the fall.


The students held an open house to let people see what they’ve done so far. The roofing is up, windows are in, insulation has been packed carefully into the walls, the heating, ventilating and air conditioning system is in and drywall is ready to be hung. The drywall is being sub-contracted out. The siding is done on some sides and nearing completion on others.

Students were excited to share their accomplishments and what they’ve learned while working on the project.

Caitlin De Rocher, senior at JDHS, designed plans for the house. She worked with University of Alaska Southeast assistant professor Robin Gilcrist last year on the designs.

“Caitlin and I worked last summer at the high school on their software,” Gilcrist said. “I just backed her up and mentored her. This year, I’m helping design the house for next door.”

De Rocher said she wasn’t given parameters for designing the house, only that it had to stay under 1,000 square feet. So, coming from a large family, she considers the kitchen a focal point for families and emphasized that in planning the two-bedroom home.

Given the small space, she also considered designing open areas to make the space feel larger.

Aside from that, De Rocher worked with Gilcrist and Juneau Housing Trust Vice President Tamara Rowcroft for what would be ideal in an affordable home.

UAS assistant professor Marquam George also had a hand in the affordability aspect, planning the energy audit heat recovery ventilation system, which is a large component that makes the home energy efficient.

De Rocher said another element that boosts energy efficiency is insulation. Standard homes only have insulation inside, but the wall studs leave cold pockets. They not only did the standard interior insulation, but they added 4-inch rigid foam insulation on the exterior. The home also has a heated floor system.

School board member Barbara Thurston asked why they put insulation between the main and second floors.

“That’s so it heats the floor upstairs instead of from the ceiling down,” De Rocher said.

Assistant Superintendent Laury Scandling asked if it was complicated being inspected frequently for building code compliance.

De Rocher said it wasn’t really complicated because of the building, planning and design class and the Gilcrist’s help.

De Rocher spoke of one challenge they had along the way. She said she planned for all right angles, making for simpler construction. However, they also wanted a bathroom upstairs and planned for a pocket door. Because of code restrictions, they had to creatively redesign the upstairs to have an angled wall so the bathroom could be placed.

Student Ryan Reddekopp said they also misread the blueprints, which led to an error in the foundation, however it was an error that leaves an extra foundation piece.

One student said the building project really drives home the material from the class.

“Working with my hands is the coolest part,” De Rocher added. “It really makes it pop from the page.”

De Rocher will be going to Boise State University to major in civil engineering.

Monica Hinson-Wilson, another student on the project and a senior, said she isn’t sure what she wants to do after high school, but she’ll be volunteering in a school because she wants to work with children.

“It was a good experience, but it made me realize I don’t want to do this anymore,” she said. “If I had to fix something in my house I could do it.”

The group has advice for the next round of students who get to build a house — which is actually right next door.

“The stairs take up the most space,” De Rocher said, adding that they did those last because of the precise measurements needed. “It’s probably the most tedious thing in a house.”

“Check your blueprints when doing your foundation,” Reddekopp said.

A total of 10 JDHS students were a part of the house build, which covered two semesters. There are currently six working on it now. Craig Mapes has also brought out his beginning construction class to help.

Assemblywoman Mary Becker asked for the group to debunk a rumor on how much work the students were doing, since she’s heard several times that it’s the adults who do most of the work. The students adamantly denied that adults do most of the work, along with the adults involved in the project.

“I used to have 24 students building a house,” Mapes said. “I thought I was doing most of the work until I built an addition on my house. Students are doing 90 percent of the work.”

Since 1973, students have built between 12 and 14 homes in Juneau. The home students will build next year will be slightly bigger, with an additional bedroom.

When the house is finished, Juneau Housing Trust will reimburse the school for its costs on the project and will sell the home in July.

Rowcroft said there is a partnership between the homeowner and the trust. The trust owns the land and the homeowner will buy the house and have a 99-year lease on the property. When the homeowner decides to move, the trust buys the house back and sells it to another low-income homeowner.

“It’s really important for Juneau,” Rowcroft said. “We just don’t have enough affordable housing. There is a need here we haven’t been able to fill. By taking the land out of the equation, the house becomes more affordable.”

For more information on qualifications for these homes, call 780-4500. To keep up with the progress on the house, see

• Contact reporter Sarah Day at 523-2279 or at


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Fri, 05/25/2018 - 10:12

Nature seminars start in June