Building a new home doesn’t take an arm and a leg—sometimes it takes dozens. Matt Blomquist, building trades instructor at Taylorville High School, teaches his high school students how to build a house from the ground up.
As a previous builder and construction occupations teacher at the local prison in Taylorville, Ill., Blomquist found teaching the trades to be a rewarding occupation. When he was contacted by the high school he graduated from about bringing back a student house-building program, it was an easy yes for Blomquist.
The program was one he was fond of back in his high school days, and was eager to lead its resurgence to the area. Today, Blomquist brings building science fundamentals to the table.
TRAINING THE BUILDERS OF TOMORROW
For these Taylorville teens, the classroom is the jobsite, and the homework is building a house from foundation to trim. Each group of students “work” for roughly two hours per day, between either a morning or afternoon session that goes for three class periods.
“Really the only difference between a student-built house and a ‘professional’ house is that it takes us longer to build,” says Blomquist. “And that our labor is technically free.”
One reason it takes longer is because Blomquist (left) makes sure to place a heavy emphasis on building science practices—energy efficiency, blower-door tests, checking for airtightness.
Because of their energy-efficiency efforts, the students build a much better house than “probably anyone in town,” according to Blomquist. He enjoys that they are able to use slightly nicer finishing products as well, such as more durable siding in place of inexpensive vinyl.
“Maybe we had to do a little caulk-and-paint compared to the professional guys, but I’d put the quality right up there with the rest of them,” says Blomquist.
Though it takes longer to build the home from start-to-finish, Blomquist says they have not been impacted by material shortages related to COVID-19 or supply chain issues. They’d purchased some materials beforehand, and have connected with companies online to receive support and donations.
One of these companies, Huber Engineered Woods, started a relationship with Blomquist because of the admiration they had for his house-building program. Sending swag for the kids, giving discounts on products, and eventually awarding Blomquist “Community Builder” in Huber Engineered Woods’ 5th Annual Best of Social Awards.
Check out Blomquist's video from IBS 2022, where he was awarded with "Community Builder" from Huber:
A SOCIAL MEDIA SHOWCASE
While Blomquist manages and posts his own videos of the students on the jobsite, he also encourages them to make videos of their own.
“I’m in the process of starting up a TikTok as well,” he says, “because I know it’s where the younger crowd is.”
His social media presence started with his initial woodshop class, when Blomquist decided to share what his students were up to on Instagram. He was later inspired by the social media presence and projects of builders like Steve Baczek of Fine Homebuilding—who shared his process of building a Passive House.
By the time Blomquist had begun the house-building program, he received further advice from Baczek and his builder friend Jake Bruton. The two of them encouraged Blomquist to start uploading his students’ construction work to social media.
After winning the Huber award and attracting more attention at the International Builders’ Show (IBS) 2022, Blomquist’s Instagram following grew by 1,000 users in less than two months.
“They just opened all these networks to let me start conversations with these companies and builders,” says Blomquist.
He also gets a lot of interest from other builders who are curious about the building program he runs for Taylorville—whether they want to talk about their previous attendance of a similar program, or if they’re looking for advice to start one up in their own area.
Blomquist says he and a few other builders are in the process of creating a guideline for school districts who could implement the program. He wants more programs like this to exist across the country, to aid in both filing the talent gap and garnering interest in the industry.
“I think we have a lot of people that are interested in construction, but they just don’t know it because they haven’t gotten the opportunity to try,” says Blomquist.