Torrey Hills students get real-life insight as they design 'tiny house'

Mia Roseberry, the executive director of Wounded Warrior Homes visited Torrey Hills Elementary School sixth graders on Dec. 7 to speak about how her San Marcos nonprofit is making a difference through providing transitional housing for veterans.

Roseberry’s visit was meant to inspire students who are currently working on a design thinking-based project to design their own prototype for an energy-efficient, sustainable “tiny house” for a member of society to benefit from.

“The students are specifically working to design ‘tiny homes’ for some of our most underserved populations within larger urban settings. This would include veterans, the homeless, and our senior citizens,” said Sarah Raskin, the Del Mar Union School District design engineer. “The students will study the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals for 2030, with a specific focus on sustainable cities and communities.”

Roseberry founded Wounded Warrior Homes after learning about the challenges some severely wounded veterans face in securing transitional housing and life counseling after they are discharged. Thirty percent of returning veterans suffer with Traumatic Brain Injury or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and 40 percent of homeless men are veterans — Roseberry said many do not have family or support groups to help them bridge the gap to be able to live independently after suffering a catastrophic injury.

In addition to housing, the group provides those with the support services and resources they need to transition from active duty to civilian life.

“We’ve helped 65 veterans in four years with only eight bedrooms,” Roseberry said.

One of the homes that Wounded Warrior Homes uses in San Marcos started out as a “tiny house” just like the students are working on — and it was designed entirely by college students.

Starting in 2011, a team of students from George Washington University, Catholic University of America and American University designed and built the home on the Catholic University campus in Washington D.C. Students began working on the house for entry into the 2013 U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon but their goal was also to design a specialized home to meet the needs of a wounded veteran.

“The home is just 750 square feet but it doesn’t look that small,” said Roseberry of the home that was donated by the students to her organization.

Some of the home was built and designed on a 3-D printer and students used reclaimed wood from an old barn and an old church for the framing, decking material, siding and floors.

Roseberry showed students how the home’s kitchen and bathroom were designed to be accessible with lower countertop heights and spaces such as the sink and stovetop that easily accommodate a wheelchair underneath.

“The students interviewed people with TMI and injuries to find out what they needed in the house,” Roseberry said, noting the students included a drawer-style dishwasher, a low bed and an easily accessible washer/dryer in the bedroom closet.

Pathways in the home are wide enough for a wheelchair and soothing paint colors were used on the walls to promote a sense of calm and healing.

The sustainable features of the home include natural ventilation and a greywater collection system that harvests rainwater and reuses it for landscaping and an edible garden. A unique under-floor heating and cooling distribution system supplies air at floor-level.

Roseberry said the home had so many innovations that the students had to come out to San Diego to show Wounded Warrior Homes how they all worked — the home is completely wireless and the students designed sliding louvered doors that react to heat and close in order to shade the building from bright light and the heat of the sun. When the louvers cool, they open to allow light to enter. Solar panels run the entire house and the electric bill is almost nothing, she said.

The home was deconstructed, packaged, transported and reconstructed for the Solar Decathlon in Irvine in 2013, coming from Washington DC on two trucks. It was kept in storage until it was able to be placed on the Wounded Warriors property, which at that time had one residential home and large yard. As there was a large gap between the tiny home and the existing home on the property, Wounded Warrior Homes added a section to the tiny house and connected both homes with a patio.

The homes are provided for two and a half years but Roseberry said most do not stay the entire time. The shortest a veteran stayed was four months and on Jan. 1, one veteran is moving out after just over a year.

Their first-ever resident had been living in his car for six months with just $80 to his name and a service dog. All of the furniture wasn’t quite in the house when they took him in but Roseberry said he was so happy to have a home he said he was willing to sleep on the floor. That veteran now runs his own nonprofit to help others.

Roseberry loves the success stories, such as the veteran who has gone on to become a Paralympic athlete, works as an assistant football coach and is now married with a child — when she met him he couldn’t even drive a car on his own due to his Post Traumatic Stress.

“What we do is just give them the time to stop, give them time to get back on their feet and move on with their lives on their own,” Roseberry said.

“The students were impacted by the thoughtful design of the tiny home, such as the soothing color choices, accessibility features and sustainable materials design," said teacher Holly Morey, noting the insight will help them come up with design solutions for their tiny homes. "The students were able to further understand the significance of having a place to call home from the stories Mrs. Roseberry shared about the veterans."

To learn more, visit WoundedWarriorHomes.org

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