Student-Built Solar Tree House Features Rain Garden

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

Students from Narragansett High School joined 19 other high schools to build the solar tree house for the Rhode Island Home Show. (Tim Faulkner/ecoRI News)

Students from Narragansett High School joined 19 other high schools to build the solar tree house for the Rhode Island Home Show. (Tim Faulkner/ecoRI News)

PROVIDENCE — If you are a fan of the tiny-home movement and sustainable living, then this weekend’s Rhode Island Home Show might be worth a visit. This year’s event features an innovative tree house with solar panels and a wetland garden.

While it won’t be perched on a tree, this double-structure, elevated fort will be donated and reinstalled at the Boys & Girls Club on Eddy Street.

John Marcantonio, executive director of the Rhode Island Builders Association, said the project focuses on three themes: the environment, housing and energy.

“It’s all about integrating the landscape into living,” Marcantonio said.

The project is doubly unique in that more than 300 high-school students from 20 Rhode Island schools built the project. They built the structure with fresh lumber, new windows and cedar-shingle siding. It's also wired for electricity for lighting and electronics, all of which will be powered by solar panels.

Although much of the material was bought at a discount and volunteers performed all of the labor, the 1,000-square-foot solar fort has an estimated value of $100,000.

The Home Show exhibit puts an emphasis on stormwater runoff. Climate change, loss of open space and decaying infrastructure are intensifying problems associated with rain and floods, especially in coastal states such as Rhode Island. The fort is surrounded by a rain garden and a woodland habitat, both with native plants. The exhibit also showcases a vegetable garden with a chicken coup and beehive.

Samantha Best, a landscape designer and co-owner of the Magma Design Group Inc., was an adviser on the project. A goal of the exhibit, she said, is to change the notion that the home landscape is for decorating. Instead, the intent is to show that nature and the built environment can sustain each other.

“The idea is to let people slow down and appreciate the natural environment,” Best said.

The Rhode Island Home Show takes place at the Rhode Island Convention Center from March 31 to April 3.