Not long ago, the Maine legislature passed LD 1981, a bill that defined tiny homes. It says “Tiny Home means a living space permanently constructed on a frame or chassis and designed for use as permanent living quarters.” It then goes on to specify some other things about what a tiny home is. The Maine legislature then passed LD 1530, which is an act to allow people to live in Tiny Homes as a primary or accessory dwelling. This makes Maine the first state in the United States to legalize tiny house living statewide, and my guest, Corrine Watson was instrumental in making this happen. So in this conversation, Corrine will break down what these laws do and don't do, what the process of advocacy was like, and how you can look to Maine as a model to bring to your state or town to help the cause and legalize tiny houses.
In This Episode:
- How did Maine legalize tiny homes and their use as full-time dwellings statewide?
- Does every city in Maine now have to allow tiny homes?
- What you can do to legalize tiny homes in your state
- Lean manufacturing is more efficient and less wasteful
- Maine isn't done: there are still things that need to be addressed
Links and Resources:
Corinne Watson has been drawing floor plans and sketching home designs on scraps of paper for as long as she can remember. Born and raised in Smyrna, Maine, she hails from small-town roots. As the daughter of a Verizon linewoman, Corinne learned at an early age that grit and determination can get you just about anywhere. That drive spurred her to be the first in her family to go to college.
Corinne attended the University of Southern Maine and completed a degree in electrical engineering with a concentration in microelectronics. She landed her first job out of college at Fairchild Semiconductor and then Smith & Wesson, where she learned the fundamentals of lean manufacturing, a process that eliminates waste.
She returned to Southern Maine in 2012 to work as a process engineer at IDEXX. Corinne put her lean manufacturing expertise to work and began improving the manufacturing process and efficiencies of the company’s small animal and livestock analyzer units. Despite success at IDEXX, Corinne never felt fulfilled climbing the corporate ladder. She wanted to merge a passion for design and architecture with her manufacturing background into a purposeful business.
“We have a major homelessness problem in Maine. My dream is to buy a field and fill it with tiny homes for people who have no home,” says Corinne. “I also wanted to build this business to address environmental concerns. A tiny home forces you to live a more conscious lifestyle. Everything has a purpose and everything has a place. You naturally waste less and live more simply.”
Tiny Homes of Maine started with all-custom builds but is switching to customizable models
8×30 ft Boothbay tiny home
Maine's new laws are for movable tiny homes
The kitchen of the Allagash, another model offered by Tiny Homes of Maine
Corinne explains lean manufacturing during the interview
This mobile tiny spa was built for a massage therapist
The Sebago is a tiny Airbnb in Gloucester, Maine.
The Sebago's living room
Kitchen in the Sebago tiny home
Spalted Maple storage stairs contain 1 closet, 2 drawers, and 2 cupboards
Every tiny house by Tiny Homes of Maine has an egress window in every loft
Corinne Watson 0:00
Yeah, so Maine is the first and only state in the United States that has passed a statewide Tiny Home law.
Ethan Waldman 0:09
Welcome to the Tiny House Lifestyle Podcast, the show where you learn how to plan, build and live the tiny lifestyle. I'm your host, Ethan Waldman, and this is episode 183 with Corrine Watson. Not long ago, the Maine legislature passed LD 1981, a bill which defined tiny home. It says "Tiny Home means a living space permanently constructed on a frame or chassis and designed for use as a permanent living quarters." It then goes on to specify some other things about what a tiny home is. The Mainelegislature then passed LD 1530, which is an act to allow people to live in Tiny Homes as a primary or accessory dwelling. This makes Maine the first state in the United States to legalize tiny house living statewide, and my guest, Corrine Watson was instrumental in making this happen. So in this conversation, Corrine will break down what these laws do and don't do, what the process of advocacy was like, and how you can look to Maine as a model to bring to your state or town to help the cause and legalize tiny houses. I hope you stick around.
All right, I am here with Corrine Watson. Corinne Watson has been drawing floor plans and sketching home designs on scraps of paper for as long as she can remember. Born and raised in Smyrna, Maine, she hails from small town roots. As the daughter of a Verizon line woman, Corinne learned at an early age that grit and determination can get you just about anywhere. That drive spurred her to be the first in her family to go to college.
Corinne attended the University of Southern Maine and completed a degree in electrical engineering with a concentration in microelectronics. She landed her first job out of college at Fairchild Semiconductor and then Smith and Wesson, where she learned the fundamentals of lean manufacturing a process that eliminates waste.
She returned to Southern Maine in 2012 to work as a process engineer at IDEXX. Corinne put her lean manufacturing expertise to work and began improving the manufacturing process and efficiencies of the company's small animal and livestock analyzer units. Despite success, and never felt fulfilled climbing the corporate ladder, she wanted to merge a passion for design and architecture, with her manufacturing background into a purposeful business.
"We have a major homelessness problem in Maine. My dream is to buy a field and fill it with Tiny Homes for people who have no home," says Corinne, who is here on the call with us. "I also wanted to build this business to address environmental concerns. A tiny home forces you to live a more conscious lifestyle. Everything has a purpose, and everything has a place. You naturally waste less and live more simply."
Corinne Watson, welcome to the show.
Corinne Watson 4:17
Thank you. Thank you very much for having me.
Ethan Waldman 4:20
Yeah, it's great. Great to have you here. So I figured we could just jump right in. Can you talk about what LD 1981 is what what's kind of going on in Maine on the legal front?
Corinne Watson 4:35
Absolutely. So in 2019 actually, the started where we were getting titles issued from the state for our Tiny Homes, which worked out great. We actually worked with the Secretary of State and the Bureau of motor vehicles and we had a streamlined process for people who needed to find Tiny Homes, and they needed that title paperwork. And also that was good for registering them and transporting them. Well, somebody decided that Tiny Homes should not receive a title and should not be transported, so that kind of shut down our business in 2019. And that that really is what prompted me to work with local legislators to get something in place so we could get back to business.
So I dug in and became a lobbyist. I didn't know that was going to happen at the time, but LD 1981 basically just is a tiny home definition in Maine law. So I worked with Dan Fitzpatrick, of the Tiny Home Industry Association. And he forwarded the definition that a lot of California cities were using, like LA, for movable tiny home. So I use that definition. And long story short, got a law passed. So now in title 29A and Maine law is the definition of tiny home. So we were then able to issue titles, and it's a specific, Tiny Home title. So that enabled us to get back to business and people could get back to financing Tiny Homes. And, you know, we established a new process with the new definition and the new title. So that was that piece of legislation. And then we had more following up with that as well.
Ethan Waldman 6:44
Cool. So is there kind of a next step on the legal front for Maine?
Corinne Watson 6:49
Yeah, well, it that also has been. So as many municipalities and states throughout the nation, placement of Tiny Homes is a major, major issue. And, you know, we dedicate a lot of our time helping our clients work with their local municipalities and placing Tiny Homes. And it seemed like every municipality, you know, would say no, or they didn't have enough resources, or they didn't know what to do or said, pretty much their hands were tied and left the state pass, something that they could go by. So then, we entered another bill in the next legislative session, and that was ld 1530. And again, I worked with local senators and representatives to lobby for that passage. And that is, it builds upon the previous piece of legislation. So it uses the definition and says, if your tiny home meets the definition, or title 29 A, then the state shall approve or accept or permit Tiny Homes statewide. So now, we have statewide Tiny Home acceptance. So that kind of was the follow up with that. And a path, and it takes 90 days for the bill to become a law. So that should be happening, I think, at the end of this month in September, and it will be official. Wow. Congratulations. Yeah, so Maine as the first and only state in the United States that has passed a statewide Tiny Home law.
Ethan Waldman 8:40
So does this, like force every city and town in Maine to allow Tiny Homes?
Corinne Watson 8:47
It doesn't mandate or force that it simply opens the door to allow it rather than, you know, we have a definition. I mean, part of that second legislation that was passed was a lot of a lot of concern about we want to keep the Home Rule intact. So you know, no one likes mandates, right. So towns still can decide and, you know, create ordinances to maybe prohibit in certain zones or, but it just opens the door and say, "Look, the state is encouraging towns to allow Tiny Homes, we're in a housing crisis, something has to be done." And this all of these discussions are happened at the public hearing from our legislators and the committee chairman, saying, you know, they recognize something has to be done. We can't just say, "No, that's not allowed," and then have no solution behind it. Right? Because there was opposition to the bill passing and that is they challenged the opposition to work with me to amend the bill so they could support it because you just can't keep saying no to housing options. Something has to give.
Ethan Waldman 10:13
What was the what was the kind of gist of the opposition? Why didn't they want to support it?
Corinne Watson 10:21
It was more it had to do with that Home Rule. You know, they're stuck. They didn't want they wanted local control. And not a state mandate.
Ethan Waldman 10:31
Corinne Watson 10:32
So, you know, similar to Maine has passed recreational marijuana sales,
Ethan Waldman 10:39
Corinne Watson 10:40
but it's still up to each individual town, whether they allowed to have recreational marijuana sales or not. So it's pretty similar to that.
Ethan Waldman 10:52
So it's passed statewide. But a town would have to go out of its way. Right now. They don't have to do anything to allow Tiny Homes, but they would have to do something to prohibit them. Okay.
So it's opt? It's opt out, not opt in.
Corinne Watson 11:07
Ethan Waldman 11:09
That's, that's great. And then I'm guessing that the town's zoning rules still apply, in terms of placing the tiny home? What, what does the bill do for that in terms of how they decide to classify a tiny home in terms of their zoning?
Corinne Watson 11:28
Well, that's just the thing. It doesn't have to be classified. It's its own thing. So it's not not an RV. It's not an RV. It's a tiny home, or the definition and the law. So you don't have to classify that was what was the issue before is trying to group it in? Well, the mobile home? Well, it's not a single family dwelling? Well, it's an RV. Well, here's an exact definition that tells what it is. And actually, at the end of the definition, it tells what it is not. So it says this is not an RV. This is not a mobile home. This is not a trailer. I can't remember what else is yes. But yeah. Yeah. So there's still more work to be done. You had mentioned, you know, zoning, so that is kind of another another hurdle is the zoning because towns are confused, because they have some towns having accessory dwelling ordinances, and, you know, so they're trying to figure out how this fits in with what they have already in place. And if if they need to change anything, and if so what? Right, right.
Ethan Waldman 12:50
Yeah, I could see how that would be confusing with existing ADU law.
Corinne Watson 12:55
Ethan Waldman 12:57
Are there any towns that like our I guess my question is, what has the response been? Have you have you heard feedback from towns and or any towns kind of getting out ahead of this and trying to figure out those zoning issues?
Corinne Watson 13:11
No. I don't know of any. I don't think anything's changed. I mean, I think that towns are more accepting, because they know that legislation was passed so that now they, they just accept it. And it's like, oh, it's allowed.
Ethan Waldman 13:30
Okay. Right. Okay. Cool.
Corinne Watson 13:33
Ethan Waldman 13:34
So, you mentioned before that, that, you know, you really got into this initiative, because it wanted to get back to business. Can you explain more about what this does, from you know, from the perspective of a professional, tiny house builder?
Corinne Watson 13:52
in the state, it doesn't really change what, what we're doing that much all, you know, we really, like helping people live a lifestyle they can enjoy. That's, you know, our mission. So it helps us help our clients. Okay. But people, you know, as far as it affecting sales or anything like that, I mean, there was people buying Tiny Homes, either way, you know, whether they were asking permission or not. Yeah. So help us help our clients. So, that that is a good piece, but I think that we probably would have been fine either way. But it is important to us, you know, to help our community and, and help people with housing options. Yeah, yeah.
Ethan Waldman 16:27
I know, there's gonna be people who are listening who are very curious to kind of learn about, like, how could I do this in my state or in my town? What's your advice to them?
Corinne Watson 16:40
Dig and know the existing laws. You know, I literally got the law books which you can order from your state and went through everything. And, you know, because I honestly thought a lot. We didn't need to make a lot make this happen. But it was the quickest way to get there. But yeah, just dig in, find a local rep, that will advocate for you, you know, not, there's people that have opinions about Tiny Homes, that they think that people should live in them, there's people that have opinions that they think people should not live in them. So you definitely want to find someone in your legislature, legislature that is an advocate for you. And shares the same opinions as you, obviously that would be helpful for them to get anything passed. So you have to get a bill in and anyone could submit a bill, the bill would need a sponsor. And then, you know, you have to pay attention and, and know your stuff and and show up. You know, these days, it's it's zoom. So it's pretty easy to show up or, yeah, the workshop events and the the public hearing. And then you, you know, call and email and tell other people to show up and give testimony and show support. And, you know, this is an important issue. We we need housing, we need options, we need affordable options. But if no one shows up to, you know, show support or to give testimony, then the people in the committee, you know, they don't think that it's an issue, I guess, right? I don't know if they live under a rock.
Ethan Waldman 18:42
I'm curious, can you speak to why you chose or why this bill took the strategy of defining tiny home as its own thing rather than trying to kind of extend existing ADU rules to say like, okay, a tiny home meeting these criteria can be used as an ADU
Corinne Watson 19:06
It had to do with the transportation piece of it.
Ethan Waldman 19:09
Corinne Watson 19:10
So there's already Appendix Q in place. Maine adopted Appendix Q in 2018. So, you know, there's already a system in place if you want to build a home or a structure under 400 square feet, okay. And there's codes to follow. So that are already listed. So it was more that this legislation is for Tiny Homes on wheels or movable Tiny Homes, okay. And it has to do with the title portion of it and the VIN number,
Ethan Waldman 19:48
right, so that the fact that it is on wheels, it creates its own category. So rather than try to modify appendix q or extend that that does make sense. Yep. I'm curious, you know, in your bio, you talk about that you have a lean manufacturing background. How have you applied that to building tiny houses.
Corinne Watson 20:13
So in lean manufacturing, the, the basis of it is to eliminate waste, and you have a single piece flow. So rather than manufacturing and you know, what's referred to as batches. So instead of building 10, or 20, Tiny Homes at one time, and having 20 different crews, 20 different sets of equipment, we build one at a time, and have a streamlined process. So one at a time to completed. And we have one crew and one set of equipment. And it's more efficient, less to manage, especially, you know, client wise, we're only dealing with three or four clients at a time as we queue up the next build and whatnot. So it's just a more streamline way to manufacture anything. So it's, it's been very beneficial for Tiny Homes.
Ethan Waldman 21:19
Nice, nice. So how far out? Are you? Are you booked?
Corinne Watson 21:26
We're about a year out right now with a backlog of Tiny Homes. And that is growing every day. But we are constantly working to scale up production. We're working on a larger facility, and obviously onboarding more folks. So we can speed up our single piece flow in our lean manufacturing facility.
Ethan Waldman 21:55
Very cool. Yeah. And what primarily, what, what kind of builds are you doing? Are they are they all stick frame builds?
Corinne Watson 22:06
Ethan Waldman 22:07
It's funny when I suppose the word manufacturing totally does apply to building a home, but like I, when I hear that word I envisioned like an assembly line in a factory. Is that kind of how it is? Or is it?
Corinne Watson 22:23
No, not really. You can picture maybe three Tiny Homes, so you have one that's almost finished, yet, the next one behind it is, you know, partially built. And then the one behind that is just the bare trailer. So usually, that's how the flow goes. So and then, you know, when the one at the front of the line is almost done, they all move ahead. And that that cycle repeats itself, you know, repeats itself. So we have about three units in a row at any one time.
Ethan Waldman 23:03
So, it's but it's still a single piece flow, even with the three?
Corinne Watson 23:10
Yes, and they're all different. So it's not like we're just cranking out the same tiny house, right? They're all different. So
Ethan Waldman 23:18
Are all your builds custom? Or are they, you know, certain models?
Corinne Watson 23:24
We are, we have paused the custom. They were all custom. So our pipeline is full of custom builds. But as far as taking on new orders, we have positive customization, because of the unpredictability of supply chain right now. I mean, some of our suppliers have a lead time of six months. So it's just, you know, we we want to keep expectations with our clients on delivery, right. So it's just too unpredictable to do completely custom. Because all of you know, all of that potentially have to be ordered where we do stock, the standards, the standard items. So the floor plans that are on our website, which is about five different for floorplan floor plans. So that's what we're building we can customize, you know, colors and things within the tiny home floor plan. But for now, that's what we're sticking with until the supply chain. If it ever gets back to normal, that would be great. So yeah.
Ethan Waldman 24:38
Do you ever do you see the the work, the advocacy work that you did with Maine, as you know, is this a template that other states could use?
Corinne Watson 24:49
Yes, absolutely. I would. I would definitely encourage it. It's not going to you know, it doesn't solve anything but I think the incremental Like we, we just got the definition in there, like the smaller bites are easier to tackle rather than one big encompassing Tiny Home bill. Right, that has everything in it. I think is, you know, a few states have tried to do that unsuccessfully. So I think that the way we did it, which was not strategic. It just happened to be that's how it worked out. But it, but it seems to be getting the definition and state law. And then, you know, acceptance of Okay, all towns shall permit Tiny Homes. And then, you know, we probably still will work on the kind of the next issue is okay, well, how do you deal with sewer and electric and water hookups. And what does that look like? Yeah. So I feel like that's probably next up, or things that need to be addressed?
Ethan Waldman 26:05
Yeah, and what are your? What are your ideas around that? Because I know it can be so different in different towns based on what their infrastructure is and what they want?
Corinne Watson 26:17
Yeah, I'm here in Maine. I mean, I see it. There's two paths for hooking up to utilities. But three, one is, you have city hookups. So you have city water, and sewer. And that I would think should be the easiest. And then the second option is you want to tie into an existing home, private well and subject. So the rules would have to change for that. And then the third is just completely off grid. Right. So I mean, off grid, you'd still you'd still need a water source. But just advocating for more, you know, solar, solar power, and something more feasible and more economical for water and sewer. Because you don't need a four bedroom septic system for a tiny home, obviously, or even a two bedroom septic system. Hmm. So and I don't think that we need law in order to change that. I mean, those are rules that have been in place, probably for 30 or 40 plus years. So I think it's just in Maine anyway, they have a process for rule changing, they call it so I think it's just convincing the right people that a tiny home has very little waste or water usage and shouldn't have the same requirements as a single family home.
Ethan Waldman 27:58
Right. Right. Yeah, that's, I'm so I'm in Vermont, you know, also a rural state and not far away. And in the cities, I know that that the wastewater issue is, is a big one for Tiny Homes. You know, what your, what your single family home was permitted for, you know, what your septic is permitted for or your hookup to city is is able to carry and that is one of the many kind of little, like a death by 1000 cuts, but it's one of the many little hurdles to just placing Tiny Homes, in backyards and in cities.
Corinne Watson 28:41
Yes, it is for sure.
Ethan Waldman 28:45
Well, I just did a bicycle tour on the coast of Maine. This audience Oh, yeah. Rocklin to Bar Harbor and back. It was, it was nice. It was I was I haven't been to Maine in ages, because I live in Vermont. And I was like, oh, man, it's gonna be just like Vermont, but with the coast. It is not it's much different.
Corinne Watson 29:08
It is much different.
Ethan Waldman 29:09
Yeah. Yeah. Well, I'm curious, are any resources that you can share or recommend to listeners who are interested in kind of getting into advocacy?
Corinne Watson 29:21
You know, I don't have any links or sites to share. But well, actually, the tiny home Industry Association has all kinds of activity. You know, Lindsay over there as heading up, legalize Tiny Home test for us or something like that. So, yeah, Tiny Home Industry Association is has a ton of resources for it. And advocacy.
Ethan Waldman 29:48
Excellent. Excellent.Well, Corinne Watson, thank you so much for for doing the interview and being a guest on the show.
Corinne Watson 29:55
Yes, thank you.
Thank you so much to Corrine Watson for being a guest on the show today, you can find the show notes including a full transcript and links to Maine's historic bills that they recently passed at thetinyhouse.net/183. Again, that's thetinyhouse.net/183. Well, that's all for this week. I'm your host, Ethan Waldman, and I'll be back next week with another episode of the Tiny House Lifestyle Podcast.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
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