AUGUSTA — People who live in tiny houses in Maine are happy to spread the word on the virtues of living in a small footprint — the low cost, ease of maintenance and the freedom from material goods.

The one thing they don’t often say is where they live. Many communities in Maine don’t allow them because they generally don’t meet the requirements of traditional building codes.

But that’s now changing, because the state Technical Codes and Standards Board is adopting an appendix to the Maine Uniform Building and Energy Code that applies to tiny houses.

A tiny house generally is a structure that’s less than 400 square feet. To fit within that small footprint, ladders substitute for stairs, spaces are scaled back, and windows or skylights in sleeping lofts are not considered adequate for emergency exits, all of which violate traditional building standards for stick-built or modular homes. The appendix provides guidance to code enforcement officers on stair dimensions, ceiling height and what’s acceptable for an emergency exit.

On Monday, the board’s public hearing drew more than 30 people to a meeting room at the Department of Public Safety to give their thoughts about a lifestyle choice that’s growing in popularity, thanks to programs on cable television like “Tiny House, Big Living,” “Tiny House Builders,” and “Tiny House Nation,” which promote minimalist living.

For Farley Miller, having a tiny house means he can continue to live in Harpswell, the town where he grew up.

Miller spent some time building conventional houses and for the prices they can command, he told the board he knows he couldn’t afford to live in Harpswell. Miller, 28, built his tiny house for $20,000, including the $5,000 trailer that it’s built on.

He now works abroad for an education non-profit; even so, he stays connected to Cundy’s Harbor, and returns there between travel stints.

“It’s a great community,” he said after the close of the public hearing. “It’s intergenerational. Old and young people hang out together. It’s pretty special.”

John Rodrigue, speaking Monday during a meeting of the Maine Technical Codes and Standards Board in Augusta, invited members to visit his tiny home located at a state park in Pownal.

John Rodrigue lives in a tiny house in Bradbury Mountain State Park in Pownal, where he has worked out an arrangement, but he would like to live on his own property in Pownal. He has been talking to town officials about it, but those discussions have come to halt.

“It’s a great way to live, and I would like to keep doing it,” he said.

But the town of Pownal has its own take. The Pownal Planning has posted a statement on the town website about tiny houses. While the board acknowledges that the town’s zoning allows them in certain zones if they if they meet building, electrical, plumbing and septic codes and have a year-round water supply, a dwelling unit in Pownal is considered a permanent structure that is built on a foundation, frost wall or slab.

That’s the problem that Russell Schmidt, a Pownal Planning Board member, sees.

“I always understood that something with wheels is managed by the DOT,” Schmidt said, referring to the Department of Transportation.

With this change, Schmidt said, provisions will be made in the state building code that’s followed by cities and towns with populations greater than 4,000. Smaller communities have the option to follow the code if they choose. But because the tiny homes are built on trailers, that will fly in the face of the International Residential Code, which has established standards for one- and two-family homes that are three stories or less.

Schmidt said he doesn’t believe the appendix that is being adopted has been fully reviewed under the IRC.

“What’s the difference between a tiny home and recreational vehicle that you live in year-round?” he said.

Not everyone shares his concern.

Alan Plummer, the Maine representative of the American Tiny House Association, speaks Monday before the Maine Technical Codes and Standards Board about tiny homes during a hearing in Augusta.

Alan Plummer, of the American Tiny House Association, said he supports safe housing of any size, and thanked the board for its support of the appendix.

These small-scale dwelling units will be able to help communities by providing housing options for workers who otherwise could not afford to live close to where they work in seasonal or retail jobs. And they provide options for empty-nesters who don’t want the expense and commitment of keeping up a large home.

“This solves problems for a number of people,” he said.

Because of the draw of tiny houses, Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, drafted legislation to adopt tiny house standards in the state’s building code during the past legislative session, but he withdrew the bill, opting instead for state regulators to use their rule-making authority.

The lack of these regulations has not stopped tiny house development in Maine.

In Richmond, a tiny house sits perched on a high-visibility lot on Route 197. Built by Luke Lucier in Cape Elizabeth, the green-shingled house was moved to Richmond in late spring 2016. The town’s code enforcement officer signed off on the house with the belief that it had been inspected much as a mobile home would be. James Valley said tiny houses built on site would be acceptable if they can be inspected during construction, just as stick-built houses are.

Paul Demers, president of the Maine Building Officials and Inspector Association, testifies Monday before the Maine Technical Codes and Standards Board about tiny homes during a hearing in Augusta.

In May, a dispute between the city of Portland and Brent Adler over the placement of two tiny houses on Adler’s Chapel Street lot was settled.

Adler had placed two of the structures on the lot so he could rent them out, but city officials cited both city ordinance and code violations in its lawsuit against him.

Adler, who admitted no violation, agreed to remove the homes and a pay a $1,000 fine.

He had maintained he required no permits because they are recreational vehicles with a motor vehicle registration and the city had no requirements about RV parks. The city’s position was that RV parks are not addressed in city code and are therefore prohibited.

Richard McCarthy, assistant state fire marshal in the Prevention Division, said he was not surprised by the turnout.

As soon as the state Technical Codes and Standards Board posted its meeting notice, he started seeing responses come in.

“This made me realize it was a big thing,” McCarthy said, and that tiny houses have an appeal for a number of people. “A tiny house is not for everyone, but then not everyone likes chocolate ice cream.”

People may submit written comments to the board until Sept. 28.

At that time, he said, he’ll respond to the comments. The board will have a chance to decide if it wants to amend any provision based on the comments received. After that, the document goes to the Office of the Attorney General and then to the Secretary of State’s Office for review and implementation. That could take 30 to 45 days after the deadline for comments is closed.

At that time, tiny homes aren’t likely to be popping up all over.

Those interested in having a tiny house will still have to comply with local zoning ordinances, he said.

“This is an industry that’s still in its infancy. As we learn more, there may be changes,” McCarthy said.

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

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