POWNAL — John Rodrigue, host at the Bradbury Mountain State Park since the end of May, lives in a tiny house in the park.
Rodrigue would like to move the building, which takes up a mere 192 square feet, not including a 7- by 8-foot loft, to a lot somewhere in Pownal and keep the home on wheels.
A lengthy process likely awaits, and Rodrigue is aware of that. The process begins when the Pownal Planning Board meets at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 21, to discuss the subject of tiny houses, defined by tinyhousecommunity.com as a structure of 400 square feet or less.
“My goal is to work with the town of Pownal on a new zoning ordinance,” Rodrigue said. “It’s a process. It’s one thing about a tiny house owner – you have to endure the process. You’ve got to meet the hurdles and you’ve got to jump over them.”
Rodrigue was living in Brunswick when he had his dwelling built by Tiny House Crafters of Vermont at the end of May. His house has a small bathroom, the loft with a kitchenette below and what he calls a “great room.”
“The challenge of a tiny house right now in Maine is they don’t know how to classify them,” he said. “I’m trying to be at the forefront of this movement.”
The American Tiny House Association exists to support people “who are seeking creative and affordable housing as part of a more sustainable and self-reliant lifestyle.” The association offers tips on working with local government officials to increase acceptance of tiny houses, a growing trend as people opt to downsize.
Tinyhousecommunity.com acknowledges that size specifications for rooms, clearances and distances between fixtures and building codes are more difficult for tiny houses to meet. Small homes can easily meet building codes. But zoning is a challenge for both tiny and small homes, as many communities require houses to be 1,000 square feet or more, the association says.
Overall size, however, is not the only thing to consider when people ask the town for the right to site a tiny house on a lot. Safety, according to Roger Keith, Pownal’s code enforcement officer, is paramount. That generally means a house, tiny or not, needs solid footing, running water, a grounded power source and a sewer system.
“Lots of tiny-house scenarios have to do with facilities,” Keith said. “People looking to save money don’t want to build a foundation, and want to put it on a platform. They want a composting system and to carry in water. Nobody else can do it cheap. Everybody has to play by the rules.”
Ron Hodsdon, Pownal’s Planning Board chairman, said the board heard from Rodrigue a few weeks ago.
“We didn’t have an answer for him,” Hodsdon said. “This (tiny houses) seems to be a coming thing. But we have no answers right now. We’re just talking about it.”
Though Pownal no longer has a size requirement for single-family dwellings – state law prevails and the state has no size requirement either – the town does stipulate that rooms within the home have a minimum square footage. Keith said that the requirement is 70 square feet for rooms except for the kitchen, which carries a minimum of 120 square feet. The town does have a rule on mobile homes of 750 square feet.
“What it comes down to,” Keith said, “is trying to avoid someone coming in with a camper, parking it on a slab and calling it a single-family home.”
Rodrigue is a member of Trail Monster Running, a group that does snowshoe racing on Bradbury Mountain, across Route 9 from the campground. He also competes in conventional foot races around the country, which is why, he said, he wants to keep his tiny house on wheels, so he can travel to race sites. At the campground, his house is on wheels, which rest on a level surface. He has a composting toilet.
“I want to live in a house,” said Rodrigue, who has worked as a civil engineer. “I don’t want to live in a trashy trailer. I’m not trying to cut corners.”
A few people wishing to put tiny houses in Freeport have visited Fred Reeder, that town’s code enforcement officer. No tiny houses are on the landscape as of yet.
“I give them the info on what they need to do, and I never hear again from them,” Reeder said. “You can have a small house, but I don’t think you can have a tiny house because some of these things are pretty small.”
Freeport, too, insists on a permanent support for homes – slabs and piers will do – a septic system and running water. And like Pownal, there is a minimum size for rooms, which Reeder didn’t have handy. Homes need bathrooms, sleeping areas, living spaces and kitchens, he said.
To illustrate just how small some tiny homes are, Town Manager Peter Joseph pointed out that a standard single-width mobile home takes up 750 square feet, compared to the tinyhousecommunity.com definition of 400 square feet or less.