TheMaineMonitor.org Cottage Industry: Small Wood Homes Yield Big Climate Benefits Maine could get a large economic boost and provide critically needed housing by manufacturing compact, highly-efficient homes.
BY MARINA SCHAUFFLER | SEPTEMBER 13, 2020
A single small home, lifted onto a foundation in Milbridge last month, could signal big housing changes ahead. Confronted with scant affordable housing and mandates to reduce carbon pollution, Maine needs to re-envision how home construction happens – from the constituent elements and the building process to the carbon emissions produced.
A draft strategy proposed by the Maine Climate Council’s buildings, infrastructure, and housing working group recommends highly-efficient homes built primarily with wood that generate as much electricity as they use (for appliances, heating, and cooling) through solar power, either with rooftop panels or participation in a community solar farm.
The innovative spirit needed to navigate this housing transition is embodied in the “Downeast Maine Tiny House” recently transported to Milbridge from Assabet Valley Regional Technical High School in Marlborough, MA, where students customized the building for a disabled veteran.
MILBRIDGE, ME — This lull lift was such a great donation. Once the tiny house was delivered and placed, WK Construction & Sons’ lull lift donation saved Bill Italiano and the crews so much work getting the overhangs and roofing complete. Trey Shaw from WK Construction & Sons was a lifesaver. WK Construction & Sons’ lull lift also enabled volunteers in 2018 to complete the final phase of the Weald Bethel Community Center on time.
MILBRIDGE, ME — On a misty Monday morning, August 3, a tall yellow crane is suspending a new tiny house in mid-air while carpenters guide the building onto its cement foundation. Four years ago this tiny house was an idea sketched on a paper napkin. The idea grew and attracted support from four partner organizations, several sponsors, and many volunteers.
Neither DCP nor the Mission had ever tackled a tiny house. But perhaps tiny houses could serve as a new way to provide safe, warm housing to the elderly, low-income individuals and families, and military Veterans?
Word reached Mission Housing Rehab Program Manager Scott Shaw that a Washington County disabled military Veteran named Ryan needed a place to live. Ryan’s situation was a perfect reason to build a tiny house.
Assabet Valley Regional Technical High School in Massachusetts, the third partner organization, offered to build and donate the house. Doing so would be a great hands-on opportunity for 9th and 10th graders supervised by Lead Teacher of House Carpentry William “Bill” Italiano, to build a real house, bottom to top.
Maine architect Jeri D.W. Spurling of Spurling Design offered to design the tiny house according to Ryan’s needs. Pro bono. Ryan also helped with financing and sweat equity.
The fourth partner organization, C.F. Adams Charitable Trust, agreed to fund the project which was dubbed by the partner groups the Downeast Maine Tiny House Project.
The Project was not without setbacks. Originally meant to be in Cherryfield, ME, a lot in a new Milbridge subdivision was ultimately chosen as the new location.
In December 2019, with the help of expert volunteers, a hole was dug, the foundation was poured. The septic system went in. A drilled well was added. Then all that was secured and protected against Maine’s harsh winter weather, awaiting arrival of the tiny house.
In March 2020, in reaction to Covid-19, the Downeast Maine Tiny House Project stopped. With the end of the house’s construction phase in sight, Assabet Valley HS closed, students and teachers were sent home. The school year ended. No one, including House Carpentry teacher Bill Italiano, was allowed into the school building.
Finally, in July, Bill Italiano was given permission to enter Assabet Valley H.S. to finish building the tiny house. With the help of a couple of local craftsmen, and also, Maine Seacoast Mission volunteer extraordinaire Lee Watrous from Connecticut, the tiny house was readied for transport to Milbridge.
Thursday, July 30, again with kind-hearted volunteer help, the tiny house in MA was shrink-wrapped, wheeled out of Assabet Valley HS, and placed on the back of a transporter. Scott Shaw from Maine drove to Massachusetts with the Mission’s box truck and filled it with tiny house appliances and other parts. Then, with a very welcome police escort, the three-vehicle caravan drove to the house lot in Milbridge.
On August 3, principals from Downeast Community Partners, Assabet Valley H.S, and Maine Seacoast Mission were on hand to place the Downeast Maine Tiny House on its foundation. Architect Jeri D.W. Spurling was there too. So was the new homeowner, Ryan.
A giant crane drove onto the house lot. Workers prepped the tiny house for lifting, wrapping a hoist under and around it. Then, very carefully, the crane engine revved, the house was raised a few feet off the transporter, while workers re-inspected everything.
Someone gave the okay. The engine revved again. The house was lifted higher. The crane operator swung the house, very carefully, over to and above its foundation.
Workmen instructed the crane operator to lower the house so two corners rested lightly on its foundation. Using their hands, workmen aligned the house perfectly. Then another okay signal. The crane operator fully lowered the house onto its foundation. What was once a tiny house napkin drawing was now a reality.
DCP Executive Director Mark Green said, “What a difference a strong partnership makes. This work would not have been possible without the expertise of Mission and DCP employees, the folks at Assabet Technical School, the many volunteers, and perhaps most importantly without the generosity of the C.F. Adams Foundation. Thank you so much to everyone!”
Bobbi Harris, DCP Housing Services Director agreed. “This project is a shining example of partnership and hopefully the continued future of building more Tiny Homes for our communities.”
“This project is a win-win,” said Scott Shaw. “It’s the first such project for the four partner organizations. We’re very excited about it.”
CHERRYFIELD, ME — Scott Latour of Latour and Sons Trucking, Inc. have offered to transport the Tiny House from Assabet Valley Regional Technical School to its site location in Milbridge, ME. Thank you.
CHERRYFIELD, ME — Scott Shaw, Maine Seacoast Mission’s Housing Rehabilitation Manager, is a partner with this Downeast Maine Tiny House Project. Thank you, Scott, for this update and photo:
Check out the great post by Bob Washburn at Essex Bay Cabinetry, Georgetown, MA. He has been a volunteer with the Mission Housing Rehab Program for years. Bob has built and donated all of the kitchens in our past mobile home rehab projects.
When I asked if he and his business partner would be willing to build the kitchen for the Downeast Maine Tiny House, there was no hesitation. He just answered “Absolutely.”
CHERRYFIELD, ME — The Downeast Maine Tiny House Project, after a several month hiatus due to Covid-19 restrictions, is back on track.
The house, which will be owned by a disabled military Veteran, was in its first phase of construction at Assabet Valley Regional High School in Massachusetts. After students under the direction of Lead Teacher of House Carpentry Bill Italiano made the tiny house ready to travel, the next step was to drive the house to its lot in Milbridge, set the house on its foundation, and finish the home for occupancy.
Enter Covid-19. Assabet Valley Regional HS was closed, students were sent home, then the school year ended. Months passed. Finally, Bill Italiano was given permission to re-enter the school. Using his own vacation time, Bill started completing the work necessary for the tiny house to travel to Maine. He was later joined by former student James Watkins, and Bill’s friend, Jack O’Brien. Lee Watrous, a wonderful Housing Rehabilitation Program volunteer, is now also on site at the HS finishing up the interior sheet-rocking.
The goal is to have the home in Milbridge by late July. A million thanks to Bill Italiano, Lee Watrous, and all of the volunteers who put this very worthwhile project back on track. The Downeast Maine Tiny House Project is a joint effort by CF Adams Foundation, Maine Seacoast Mission, Downeast Community Partners, and volunteers.
We’ve been hard at work on our Tiny House Project. Maine Seacoast Mission’s Scott Shaw has been busy keeping the job-site clean and clear of snow. The veteran who will be receiving this tiny house has been working hard to keep the site clear as well.
Assabet students are diligently working on the house in Massachusetts. We are very grateful for all of their hard work. We’re also grateful to the TV production students who are capturing all of this work via photograph and video. It is much more exciting to view the project through the eyes of a camera.
We are still looking for more sponsors. If you’re interested in teaming up with a great group of partners, please don’t hesitate to contact Scott Shaw or Bobbi Ann Harris. We’d be glad to use any materials or funds that are willing to donate. This house has been possible from the overwhelming generosity of our sponsors and the donated time from many of our contractors.
DCP, Assabet, Maine Seacoast Mission, and C.F. Adams Charitable Trust hope to have many more tiny house projects in the future. We believe in this project and the people’s lives that are being changed for the better.
As the project continues to progress, I had the pleasure of interviewing eight Assabet Valley students this week. Each set of students represented a different trade and aspect of the project. The students are currently working on our Tiny House Project to benefit a homeless veteran in Milbridge, ME.
Jake Hudson and Joseph Cristobal are sophomores in the House Carpentry program at Assabet. This is their first time building a house. They have found that the project is way more complicated than they expected it to be.
However, they both really enjoyed framing the walls and installing insulation on the roof. Both admitted that there were challenges with this home. Jake is afraid of heights and Joseph stated that the walls were much harder to lift than expected.
The Biotech program was up next and was represented by Jack Raith and Lisa Brescia. This is the first time either student has worked on a project for someone with such severe corn allergies. They were tasked with researching each company providing material for the tiny home.
Both students have spent over two weeks calling each company to verify the materials used. This proved to be quite complex because most customer service agents couldn’t confirm the exact materials used. Jack was surprised to learn that they couldn’t trust the data sheets that were included with the materials. Lisa learned that it’s important to dig deeper.
Hailey Ducheine and Berin Bukow are both juniors in Assabet’s Plumbing program. Neither students realized that they had a technical side until they entered the Plumbing Program at Assabet. Both plan to go into the plumbing field when they are finished with school.
They believe the biggest challenge was making sure that everything was even, level, and lined up. They found that it was great to have a hands-on visual of the plumbing in the walls rather than reading about it in a textbook. Hailey enjoyed making sizing adjustments the most and Barren liked pressure testing the drains.
Tyler Dossas and Elizabeth Cormier joined me from the Electrical Program. Both are seniors who shared that drilling the studs and spacing wires was the hardest part of their job. This isn’t the first house they’ve worked on. Both participated in a Habitat for Humanity Project two years ago through Assabet.
They enjoy feeling like they are doing good and giving back while they work on this project. Tyler plans to be a residential electrician when he leaves school. Elizabeth hopes to become a vet tech. Tyler and Elizabeth will graduate from Assabet this spring.
All of the partners truly appreciate the hard work that the Assabet students are putting in on the tiny house. This house wouldn’t be possible without the technical programs offered by the school. The students get to experience hands on learning while learning the value of giving back to people in need.
The homeless veteran out of Milbridge is looking forward to receiving the house after the holidays. He has purchased land in Milbridge, and site work has been finished. Stay tuned for more updates as we move towards the finish line!