BY STEVE SPAULDING
Of CONTRACTOR’s staff
EASTON, PA. — The Career Institute of Technology vocational training school offers a wide variety of programs in everything from auto repair to cosmetology. But for those students in its building trades program — which includes plumbing, HVACR, carpentry, masonry, electronics and building maintenance — it provides a special off-site “laboratory.” The students in the various trades work together to build a house, which is then sold to the public.
The house-building project has been a part of the school since its inception. And this year, for the first time, the student-built house will include a radiant heating system.
“The only thing the students don’t do is the sheet rock work and the spackle,” said Kevin Pulli, who is the HVACR and plumbing instructor for the school, “and that’s just in the interest of saving time.”
Everything else, from the framing, trim and siding to the electrical work, plumbing and even the landscaping is all done by students from six surrounding high schools who have opted for vocational training at CIT. The school provides a three-year program for sophomores, juniors and seniors with an emphasis on safety and the fundamentals of the trade.
“The third year they’re with me,” Pulli told CONTRACTOR. “Provided they have enough of the course completed and are doing well, we try to get them into a co-op situation.”
Many of the students go on to summer jobs and even full employment in the building trades. It was such a summer job that led to the involvement of heating and plumbing designer Jeff Young, owner-operator of Climatec Advanced Heating Technologies, also located in Easton.
“Last summer I had one of the CIT kids work for me part-time,” Young said. “He told me about how they build these homes and sell them and that they were going to start a new one this year.”
Interested in what he felt was a great way to expose young people to the plumbing and heating industry, Young contacted Pulli who eventually asked him to be on the occupational board of trades at the school.
“We got to talking,” Young recalled, “about the new house they were going to start, and I said, ‘I’d like to do some radiant, if you’re open to it.’”
Pulli said he jumped at the chance.
“For me to run a radiant heat project in our school’s lab would be a real challenge,” Pulli said. “Radiant heat would be the sort of thing that we would talk about, maybe take a trip somewhere and see a project like that, but we wouldn’t have the opportunity to dig in on it ourselves like we do with the house project.”
The current house project is a roughly 3,000-sq.-ft. raised ranch-style house, sitting on a quarter-acre plot. It is a single story with three bedrooms, two baths, a finished basement and a 400-sq.-ft. garage. The basement, garage, kitchen and bath are all being done with radiant, with conventional forced-air heating in other rooms.
Students usually divide their time between the classroom and the jobsite, and topics follow the flow of work on the house. The radiant portion of the classroom instruction was a little more involved, Pulli said.
“I talked a little about radiant heat, showed them an introductory video, showed them another on the Wirsbo company, talked about the possibilities and things you could do with radiant heat, and from there we went to the house project and dug in,” he said.
The students then might not get back in the classroom for two or three days. When they do it would be on to a new topic, such as rough plumbing or running trunk duct. But most of the learning is hands-on, which according to Pulli is the way it should be.
“The kids really enjoy it,” he said. “The day goes a lot faster, and they’re taking something away from the work.”
Young took the initiative in designing the radiant system, and donated his time and energy to instructing and mentoring students through the actual installation - something that Pulli calls a fantastic opportunity for his students.
“It just shows them the little tidbits, little tricks of the trade, little things the professionals do,” he said.
In addition to Young donating his time and expertise, companies such as Wirsbo and Eastlawn Supply of Nazareth, Pa., donated material and equipment. All the tubing has been laid, the manifolds hooked up, the system tested and the concrete poured.
Ironically, just as the peak of the building season is beginning, the house is buttoned-up while the students are off on summer break.
“When school starts up again,” Young said, “we’ll get into doing the boiler work and controls.”
Young said that he hopes manufacturers donate a boiler and an indirect water heater to complete the job. Whatever equipment they end up working with when the school year starts, the students will have to work quickly to get the heating system up and running before cold weather sets in.
Once the house is completed it gets sold to the public; any profits are put back into the program (typically toward the next parcel of land). For the students who worked on them, the completed houses become a point of pride, even if they never go on to careers in the building trades.
“Twenty years from now,” Pulli said, “if they’re still in the area, driving around in a car with their wife and kids, they can go by that house and say, ‘You know, when I was in high school, we built that house.’”
Pulli should know. He graduated from the Career Institute of Technology in 1984. He said the house he helped build “is still standing, and it looks great.”