Home / Blog / Patricia Herlevi: Tiny house 'solutions'

Patricia Herlevi: Tiny house 'solutions'

Dec 13, 2023Dec 13, 2023

Tiny homes are bandied as a solution for the homeless epidemic that has spread across the U.S. It's been touted as a solution for Climate Change. People who homestead rally for tiny homes. However, most conversations focus on zoning and building codes that restrict or allow tiny homes for year-round living.

In Vermont, the cost of land and infrastructure deter prospective homeowners from building a tiny house. According to Steve Hayes, planning technician with the town of Brattleboro, "Developments with lots of units (i.e., a multifamily apartment building, a row of townhomes, or even a duplex, compared to a single unit) are able to effectively spread those kinds of fixed costs out across those units, diluting the impact of it to any individual unit, and larger single family homes can typically clear a higher price on the market, which may help to make them pencil out in many edge cases where a single tiny home can't."

As far as building codes and zoning in Vermont, Rick Oberkirch (community assistance specialist with Vermont Agency of Natural Resources) said, "Big house, stick-built, manufactured home, tiny house, canvas yurt, RV camper are considered as ‘buildings or structures’ if they are to be permanent and occupied as a seasonal or year-round single-family residence. A proposal to erect a structure on a lot will make it an improved lot. Folks will need a state wastewater permit for the construction of a water supply and wastewater disposal system. They will need to hire the services of a licensed septic system designer to evaluate the property and the options and propose a plan for the connection of the new structure. This plan will be submitted in the form of an application for a ‘Wastewater’ permit."

That doesn't mean there aren't companies in Vermont that build tiny homes for domestic use. Jamaica Cottage and Roll’en Homes design and sell tiny homes, among other types of structures. And WheelPad offers a solution to a niche market.

WheelPad, founded by Julie Lineberger (Wilmington) and designed by her husband, architect Joseph Cincotta, helps families care for their sick relatives closer to home.

According to Lineberger, "WheelPad models are all Universally Designed, that is built for all people. Thus those using wheelchairs can use them. In fact, WheelPad started as a company due to a spinal cord injury our godson experienced shortly before his 26th birthday. When he moved to accept a job in Portland, he was unable to secure accessible housing."

Disabled military veterans and relatives disabled from disease or accidents have also successfully lived in WheelPad studios and suites. The company's website shares stories of its happy clients who were able to bring their sick or elderly relatives home. The WheelPad studios or suites are built offsite and then reassembled at the family's home.

Due to its unique mission and status, WheelPad hasn't encountered the red tape that other tiny home builders have.

"One hundred percent of all our zoning and permit applications are successful; some simply take longer than others. The longest was for an installation just outside Boston, which was far more difficult than an installation on Cape Cod. A few towns in Vermont were able to process the permits in less than a week. One municipality gave a variance to a longtime local family for their installation so the family could stay together in town." said Lineberger.

"At one point, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders came on board to help with a WheelPad become a viable solution for military vets.

"July 2016, we first reached out to Bernie regarding WheelPad L3C's concept of a SuitePAD, an accessible bedroom and bathroom suite to attach to an existing home, and our desire to allow injured service members to convalesce at home rather than in rehab facilities. He loved the idea.

"During March 2017, Bernie was in Brattleboro, and we spoke of our advances with the business, and his team members visited our original prototype. In May 2018, Bernie spoke at the Veterans’ Town Hall where WheelPad L3C was exhibiting... He and his team then assisted WheelPad L3C in reaching the proper people at the VA to be qualified as an accredited VA Contractor," said Lineberger.

The majority of WheelPads were sold to clients in Vermont, but they have also sold to clients in Washington State, Nebraska, Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

Jamaica Cottage Shop specializes in well-built and attractive smaller structures such as sheds, accessory dwellings, workshops, cabins, bunk houses, and cottages. A search of the different categories on the website didn't bring up tiny houses listed with bathrooms and kitchens, as seen on YouTube channels featuring tiny homes. This was reflected in the lower cost of the buildings.

A blog article dated in 2019 and written by the founder Domenic Mangano who founded the company in 1995 (in Jamaica, Vermont) mentioned flush and compost toilets as well as, running water. But none of the current tiny house models on the website mention indoor bathrooms or kitchens which would be required for living year-round in the structures, especially in Vermont. Mangano sold the company in 2021 to a homebuilding company in New Hampshire.

A better option for purchasing a tiny home is Roll’en Homes, founded by Greg Durocher, a former employee of Jamaica Cottage Shop. His portfolio includes the standard tiny home (the type seen in YouTube videos) with kitchens and bathrooms.

(Neither Jamaica Cottage Shop or Roll’en Homes responded to interview request or questions in time).

Anyone wishing to reside in a tiny home needs to research the real cost of owning and living in one. As far as curbing climate changes or saving money for homeowners, this might not be the case in Vermont.

The one bright spot is using tiny homes for disabled people wanting to live closer to family. Tiny homes also provide spaces to create art, write novels, or just to hang out away from the crowd.

Patricia Herlevi has freelanced as a journalist since the mid-1980s covering music, fine art, architecture, food, movies and other topics of interest. She is also an animal communicator, Reiki Master and lover of all things metaphysical, including astrology. She is in love with gemstones, lifelong learning, and dogs in no particular order. She currently lives in northwestern Pennsylvania. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of Vermont News & Media.

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