Small homes made of Maine materials could boost economy, aid climate, council says

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The Maine Climate Council has suggested a strategy that draws on the potential for constructing fuel efficient, modestly priced homes with locally sourced wood to help address the state’s affordable housing shortage while boosting the economy.

Sustainably harvested wood – particularly when transport is minimal – is more sensible when compared with steel and concrete, which have a denser carbon footprint, Stephen Shaler, associate director of the Advanced Structures and Composites Center at the University of Maine, told the Maine Monitor.

Using locally sourced wood to build homes could expand job opportunities in construction, design and forest products, revitalize former mill towns, help trade school programs and strengthen university research and development, the climate council reported.

While Maine is known for producing traditional hardwood from spruce and pine, engineered wood like laminated strand lumber is a newer industry. Wood fiber insulation manufacturing is on track to begin by 2022. A nanocellulose alternative to sheetrock also is in the early stages of development.

In collaboration with Downeast Maine Community Partners, students recently constructed a “tiny” 560-square-foot house for a Millbridge resident. The project helped explore the feasibility of producing similar structures on a broader scale, the Maine Monitor reported.

Plans are now underway to build affordable zero-energy modular (ZEM) homes, made from local wood products, at the former Great Northern mill site in Millinocket – now the One Katahdin multiuse industrial park.

Consultants with the L3C firm Material Research have signed a memorandum of understanding with Our Katahdin – a nonprofit economic development group – for a ZEM home factory that annually could build up to 500 homes that range from 600 to 1,000 square feet.

Caroline Pryor, co-founder of Material Research, told the Maine Monitor the typical price point for such homes is cited at roughly $130,000.

The factory’s most likely launch date would be 2022, Pryor said. It would be similar to VerMod Homes in Vermont, with a key difference being that while many of those homes use vinyl and metal materials, the Millinocket counterpart would rely on wood products from Maine.

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