August 5, 2013

Maine home builder sees huge possibilities for tiny homes

By Matt Hongoltz-Hetling / Kennebec Journal

WATERVILLE — When home builder Andy Vear shows off his latest project, which he clearly believes is the coolest home on Cool Street, it doesn't take much time.

click image to enlarge

Sam Tieman landscapes the front of the newly built micro-home at 20 Cool St. in Waterville. The energy-efficient dwelling has one bedroom a full bathroom.

Michael G. Seamans / Kennebec Journal

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Andy Vear demonstrates how the Murphy bed pulls out to accommodate guests in the combined kitchen, dining and living area at the 20 Cool St. micro-home in Waterville. The main bedroom is through the door to the right and next to that is a full bathroom.

Michael G. Seamans / Kennebec Journal

OPEN HOUSE

Those who would like to see the micro-home are invited to an open house on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

MURPHY BED

The Murphy bed, also called a wall bed, was first invented around 1900 by William Lawrence Murphy, a resident of San Francisco who reportedly invented it to circumvent local taboos against inviting a woman into a man's bedroom.

By folding the bed into the wall, his room became a parlor, allowing him to entertain his girlfriend without raising eyebrows.

Murphy received a patent in 1912 for his "Disappearing Bed," and it has been used as a space-saver in tight living quarters ever since.

That's because the house is only 624 square feet, a so-called micro-home that is bucking a national trend toward larger houses. Vear said smaller housing options, common in the 1950s, are coming back now that a recession has taught many Americans to tighten their belts.

Last week, Vear and his partner, Caleb Albert, completed the tidy white house and set up sprinklers to water new grass seed under a layer of hay. They also put up a sign that sets the price of the home, about the size of a two-car garage: $89,900.

In his casual clothes and baseball cap, Vear looks more like a workman than a salesman, but over the course of his 32 years in the home construction business, he's often functioned as both.

As he guides people from the front door to the back one, a journey of only a dozen paces, his speech is peppered with rapid-fire assertions about the home's benefits.

To the enthusiastic Vear, when it comes to micro-homes, each advantage is the best advantage.

"It's inexpensive living," he said Thursday, pointing out a tankless water heater that will help minimize electric bills. "That's what it all comes down to, living within your means."

A few minutes later, while showing off a kitchen pantry built into the wall, he said space efficiency was most important.

"You put a pantry in, you can reduce cabinet size, correct? I mean, storage is everything," he said.

A minute later, it was something else again.

"The beauty of this house is convenience," he said. "You're right on top of everything!"

At 24-by-26 feet, the home is somewhat large for a micro-home, a term for a niche market of tiny homes that sometimes consist of no more than 65 square feet.

But the house on Cool Street is smaller than the average 980 square feet of a trailer home, and much, much smaller than the average Northeastern home, which the U.S. Census Bureau puts at 2,613 square feet. That means that, in the Northeast, there are more square feet per home than in any other region in the country.

The amount is also nearly triple the 983 square feet of the average single-family home built in 1950, according to the National Association of Home Builders.

Vear himself lives in a home that is about 3,500 square feet, more than five times the size of his micro-home, but he said he could see himself living in the cozy house, which features space for a piggy-back washer and dryer; a single 12-by-12-foot bedroom; a storage attic; and the home's most unusual feature, a Murphy bed. Built into a wall, the bed is designed to swing down into place to accommodate overnight visitors.

The Murphy bed is embedded in one wall of the living room; when it is up, it allows room for a television and a fair-sized piece of furniture, such as a sofa.

Vear said the home will cost about $500 to heat per year, and he estimates a mortgage payment of about $500 a month.

He said homeowners will also save on the maintenance and property tax bills, both of which are scaled down to match the tiny property.

Back to the '60s

Vear said the micro-homes make sense in a downed economy in which Maine has been stripped of much of its manufacturing industry.

(Continued on page 2)

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