The Heartwood School for the Homebuilding Crafts
Homebuilding Curriculum

Comprehensive Homebuilding

July 10 – 21  


Each year 7-10 percent of the new homes in the United States are owner-built, and this course is designed for those of you who are preparing to build soon or are planning to build sometime in the future. It's also ideal for people who wish to design their own Framinghome and subcontract out all or part of the work, and for those choosing homebuilding as a career. Even though most owner-builders lack the years of experience of a professional contractor, they are often able to build a better house for less money. In this course, you'll learn to use the tools and techniques of a successful owner-builder.

The best way to learn something is to do it. With that in mind, we've designed our curriculum so that students aren't subject to 3 or 4 hours of uninterrupted classroom sessions trying to absorb information they could easily find in books. Rather, we intersperse the classroom sessions with demonstrations, slide programs, discussions, mock-ups, and models, and we encourage student participation whenever possible.

For example, you'll first have the various processes explained carefully by an experienced builder. Then, you'll view slides to see the process happening, step-by-step. Next, you'll examine full-scale mock-ups or go into the shop or to the building yard or site to actually frame up a wall section, for example, so that you can own the information and techniques you just learned. We use this type of learning process whenever we can: in design, in calculating beam sizes, in acquiring electrical skills, in laying out a house foundation, in orienting for solar exposure, and in cutting rafters, for example. In this hands-on kind of training, opportunities to learn are everywhere; if you are keen to learn, you won't be disappointed. Our aim is to provide as many learning opportunities as possible so that when you leave Heartwood, you go with enough skill and knowledge so that you can continue your learning on a solid foundation.

In between the the morning and afternoon sessions, we share lunch together (these are fine, wholesome meals — both vegetarian and non-vegetarian — and if you have special needs, we try to fulfill them); after lunch, there is time to talk for a while on the porch or to browse in our extensive building library.

"As an architectural engineer for the past 25 years, I highly recommend this course... I saved $1,500 on my house design in just the first three days of the course, and obtained an extremely livable, efficient plan that would not have been possible otherwise." — Don, Colorado

"What a wonderful time we had at the school. When I came I wanted to be a lead carpenter on a framing crew. Since then all I’ve done is carpentry, working for many contractors and finally owning my own business. I recommend your school to young apprentice types; it will build character as well as skills."

Course Outline

The general course topics include:

  • an introduction to tools, power tool use and safety practices
  • vocabulary and materials
  • site selection, preparation and solar orientation
  • foundation types
  • structural principles and calculating timber sizes
  • building code requirements
  • framing systems: stud, post-and-beam, double wall
  • roof framing
  • installing doors and windows
  • building stairs
  • trim and finish carpentry and joinery
  • plumbing and electrical systems

The design curriculum is woven into the entire course, concentrating on teaching you to develop problem solving and visualization skills that are useful at every stage of the building project. Our goal is to design houses that are affordable, efficient in the use of energy and materials, and beautiful and healthy to live in. Beauty in a home results from naturalness, simplicity, good proportions and attention to detail. Without them, a house is a mere building.

We look carefully at the problems of staying within budget, estimating costs and time, and being your own contractor. We explore passive solar heating and cooling techniques, including the latest information on superinsulation, with a discussion of what we feel works and how to design for it. Finally, the entire process comes alive through the use of universal design patterns developed by Christopher Alexander in his works, The Timeless Way of Building and A Pattem Language, which form the basis of a human-scale and ageless architecture.

"To anyone planning to build a house, the Heartwood course is invaluable, in the end saving thousands of dollars in contractor's fees, errors, and needlessly limited possibilities. There is much to learn, but each part of the process is broken down and presented in a clear, harmonious way. Why can't all learning be like this?" — Meg, writer, Massachusetts

"I had very little building experience and wanted to build my own house. You gave me the knowledge and confidence that it could be done. I have since built five other houses and made my money back many times over. I can't thank you enough for what you did for me and the impact it has had on my life." — Richard, Illinois

Tuition: $1550 per person, $2900 per couple; includes lunch.

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Heartwood School

Johnson Hill Road

Washington, MA 01223

Phone: 413 623-6677


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Heartwood, Inc. All rights reserved.