High schoolers in the Hermiston area are stepping out of the classroom and onto the jobsite as energy-efficient homebuilders. The Columbia Basin Student Homebuilder Program gives students the opportunity to work with local tradespeople through each step of constructing a new home.
Curt Berger manages the program for the Hermiston School District and sees it as an incredible learning experience that creates a pathway for students interested in starting a career in the trades.
“They get real hands-on experience, building a finished product that’s going to be here forever. And they get to work with local subs, contractors and suppliers that they could be working for in the future,” Berger said.
Landin Newton is one of those students. When he first started in the program, he was still getting comfortable with the idea of using power tools. Now, he’s using the circular saw like a pro and even has his eyes on a possible career. “I’m looking into the electrical trade,” Newton said. “I’ve been in contact with the electricians, and it’s nice to be able to talk to them about what part of the field I’d like to get into.”
An exciting part of the program is that students are building homes designed to save energy. Each home earns an Energy Trust of Oregon EPS® rating. This rating measures the energy efficiency of the home and highlights the energy-saving features that make it stand out. Speaking about Energy Trust involvement with the program, Program Manager Shannon Todd says, “We’re so excited partner with the Student Homebuilder Program. In addition to learning core construction skills, students have exposure to energy efficiency. We hope this knowledge of green building will open up even more opportunities for these students and promote sustainable construction in the region.”
Energy Trust offers support from early design through testing to help the program achieve its energy goals, and Berger and his students take pride in the high quality of their homes.
“One of the things they learn is that if you’re going to build a house, you definitely want to do it right,” Berger said. “Add more insulation, make sure everything’s tight. Take these steps that lead to less dust, less noise and lower energy costs.”
Caitlin Anderholm, another student in the program, is excited about the lessons she’s learned and the impact these homes have on the community.
“I already have my family saying how proud they are of me. Just being able to say that you’ve built a house while you were still in high school is impressive in itself. And then having it be a high-end home, it’s just a big accomplishment,” she said.
Every year, more students like Landin and Caitlin gain valuable experience through the Columbia Basin Student Homebuilder Program. Whether they choose to pursue a career in the trades or simply use these life lessons down the line, it’s a unique opportunity.
“For me, it’s not just the tools, but the work ethic,” Newton said. “There’s a common sense that’s involved in this kind of workspace, where you always have to have your eyes open for who needs help and what you need to do next.”
Anderholm added, “Being able to learn the skills is important so you know how to do things correctly. And learning ways to be more energy efficient, it gives you something else to really think about.”
Learn more about the Columbia Basin Student Homebuilder Program and view more of their completed projects at columbiabasinstudenthomes.org.