Big living in tiny houses: North Adams building company churns out tiny houses

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NORTH ADAMS — Bigger may once have been better, but the trend in today's housing market is to go tiny — and a North Adams firm is making people's dreams of living in a tiny house come true.

B&B Micro Manufacturing, located in the Windsor Mill on Union Street, sprang out of B&B Precision Builders, a home improvement business founded by three Adams residents and friends, Mitch Bresett, Chris St. Cyr and Jason Koperniak. B&B entered the tiny house business about 16 months ago.

"We're centrally focused on tiny houses. They are our bread and butter," Koperniak said. "Our largest client right now is on the real estate level. There is a large demand for tiny houses and we fought to get the contract."

The contract calls for creating 150 identical tiny houses for the client (whom Koperniak declined to identify or give exact details of the project's location).

"We decided to go full-tilt," he added. "We originally had five employees and now we have 37 that are working three shifts, 24 hours a day, seven days a week." On the day of this interview, crews were working on five tiny houses, in varying stages of completion, inside the huge warehouse space.

B&B also does custom tiny houses and creates its own designs. A model tiny house, The Arcadia, stands in the parking lot of the mill. A tour of the tiny house revealed a kitchen area at one end, complete with a small stainless steel sink, stainless three-burner gas range with a hood and oven, a two-drawer refrigerator/freezer and concrete counter with drawers and cupboards that stretched into the living area.

The center of the tiny house held a floor-to-ceiling closet, a raised convertible sleeper couch, a narrow staircase to the loft, which doubles as storage space and a bookcase. A large TV hangs at a height that is advantageous to watching it from the couch or from the bed in the sleeping loft. At the farther end is the bathroom, hidden behind a sliding barn door, featuring a full-size tile shower with a rainfall shower head, toilet and small sink.

In addition, the house features Bluetooth switches, an HVAC unit, and a rear deck with fold-up stairs and a decorative branch railing. The sleeping loft, which extends over a third of the dwelling, is large enough for a queen-sized bed. Two skylights and numerous windows give the home a light and airy feel. The exterior is Shou Sugi Ban-like finished wood.

All this in 240 square feet and mounted on a trailer for easy moving. The cost of the model is $89,000.

"There is no definite square footage used in defining a tiny house. It's usually understood to be 250 square feet and under," Koperniak said. "They can also be on foundations, but most times they're on wheels."

Koperniak said the market for tiny houses is really diverse and covers a large spectrum of people with baby boomers and millennials leading the way.

"There are a lot of singles and couples," he said. "You should allow 100 square feet per person, so a family of three would need a minimum of 300 square feet. It's definitely not for everyone. Those who love it, really, really love it."

So, how do you get the tiny house lifestyle going?

"The prospective buyer comes in to talk to one of the partners and we discuss their needs, the size and weight of the house, essential appliances and a price point. We'll create something that can accommodate all that," Koperniak said, adding "The sky's the limit in design. We can custom design anything and we're very excited to do custom builds."

He added that the tiny house, however designed and built, must be road legal and liability-free.

B&B's tiny houses start around $40,000 and go up from there, depending on the amenities. The houses can be made handicapped-accessible and designed for living off the grid with solar power, water tank and composting toilets. The firm also offers trailer-mounted shells with the plumbing and electrical work installed that the homeowners can finish themselves, as well as complete do-it-yourself tiny home kits.

Once the materials come in — the trailers currently come from North Carolina, but Koperniak said the partners were looking to locally source the trailers, as they try to do with all the other materials used in their tiny houses — a tiny house takes two to three weeks to complete.

You've ordered your tiny house and now it's time to face the reality of paring down your possessions. Katie Jackson, B&B's business and community development specialist, offered some tips.

"While you're still in your home, put things you don't think you'll need in another space. If after three months, you haven't used them, get rid of them," she said.

She also suggested digitalizing photos and important documents, and photographing sentimental objects, as opposed to keeping them.

For clothing, she suggested the "hanger trick" — each time you wear something, put the hanger on the rack backward. After a period of time, look at the hangers; any not turned around are probably clothes you can live without.

For other tips, she urged people contemplating tiny house living to read "Put Your Life on a Diet, Lessons Learned from Living in 140 Square Feet" by Gregory Paul Johnson.

Many municipalities have zoning and building codes against siting a mobile home or recreational vehicle as a permanent home on a parcel of land. And, since a tiny house is usually on a trailer, it is considered an RV. In fact, owners pay RV insurance instead of homeowner's insurance.

Koperniak said he is working with Smart Growth Alliance, a nonprofit organization, in advocating for a state bylaw regulating accessory dwelling units. Each municipality would then be able to set its bylaw, which could not be stricter than the state bylaw.

Koperniak and Jackson are pursuing the idea of creating an "architecturally chic" tiny house village in a community in the region, and are working with state officials who they said were "very excited about it."

"People love the minimalist lifestyle," he said. "The millennials have a different mindset than their parents, who had a lot of stuff. Millennials value experiences over possessions. Things important to them are not things, but experiences."

To learn more ...

B&B Micro Manufacturing is at 121 Union St., at the corner of Union and Canal streets, in North Adams. For information, call 413-427-2686, visit bbmicromanufacturing.com, or find it on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.




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