Civic Works’ Tiny House: A small home that saves big on energy


What’s mobile, features more than a dozen “green” and energy-saving materials or technologies, including solar panels and a tankless water heater, a “pedal generator” that produces power by an individual pumping it with their arms and legs, a loft-style sleeping area, a solar powered generator, and was built by city youth?

It’s Civic Works’ Tiny House, a 200-square-foot home on wheels that serves as the Baltimore Energy Challenge Mobile Energy Education Center. Launched in 2009 by the Baltimore Office of Sustainability in partnership with the Baltimore Community Foundation and Civic Works, the Baltimore Energy Challenge (BEC) teaches low cost ways to save energy to Baltimore City residents, businesses, and nonprofits through grassroots efforts.

Tiny House is being used to inspire residents and businesses to become more energy-efficient, and to educate students on green technology and sustainable living. Civic Works recently received the “2016 Project of the Year Award” at The Corp Network’s National Conference, in recognition of building the Tiny House. Civic Works is Baltimore’s urban service corps and an AmeriCorps program, which seeks to strengthen Baltimore’s communities through education, skills development, and community service.

Tiny House was open for a tour on Monday, February 29, 2016, at Clifton Mansion, Civic Works’ Baltimore headquarters, located at 2701 Saint Lo Drive.

“Tiny House was built by participants in Civic Works YouthBuild program,” said Earl Millett, Chief Operating Officer for Civic Works. “Most of these youth would have probably said they couldn’t hammer a nail or handle a tape measure, and here they are building a whole house. It took them eight months to build the Tiny House, and they are proud of it.”

Civic Works YouthBuild program provides job training and education for low-income Baltimore City youth. YouthBuild gives a second chance to Baltimore City youth who have either dropped out of high school, or require extra training and education. According to Millett, 20 young people worked on Tiny House. Through their work on Tiny House, the young participants gained new skills while creating an affordable home that can be used as a model in sustainable living options.

“Tiny House is in move-in condition,” said Millett. “They aren’t for everyone, but we found a surprising number of people who don’t want to pay exorbitant energy costs. It’s a much smaller space to heat, and the home runs off solar power. It would drastically reduce what people pay in their energy bills. We are hoping to build more.”

Tiny House also features a propane heater, a back-up battery to keep the lights and appliances on when the sun isn’t shining, a solar-powered ventilator, and a cool roof.

Tom Caponiti, serves as the Heat Islands Coordinator for the Baltimore Energy Challenge.

“Heat Islands are communities where there are a lot of dark surfaces such as roads and black roofs and not a lot of vegetation,” explained Caponiti. “Our program is helping to combat that by promoting tree growth, and through other efforts.”

He added, “We are also educating people about solar panels, and cool roofs which are outfitted on Tiny House. Cool roofs are made of reflective material, which pushes the heat away from the roof, which helps to reduce energy costs.”

Rodney Payne, is the EnergyReady Program Manager for Civic Works Baltimore Center for Green Careers (BCGC).

“I was the construction coordinator and worked with the students on Tiny House,” said Payne. “Initially, the students were very skeptical, but now they all want to either build a Tiny House or buy one. They had a real sense of pride once they saw the finished product. They were really happy.”

He added, “They learned carpentry, framing, how to install siding, and other skills. They also learned about the importance of responsibility and accountability. This included showing up for work, being on time, having what they need to wear to work such as the right clothing or boots, and knowing the right terminology for that kind of business. They can take that to any job. It also provides them with an advantage over someone else who may be applying for the same job.”

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