Home Building

Bungalow in a Box

Photograph by Rachel Sieben

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Home Building

This affordable, efficient, Maine-made home was assembled in a matter of days.

By the time Bert Jongerden’s dad gave him the A-frame he’d purchased for $2,500 in 1968, its best assets were the memories: Jongerden, his four siblings, and their parents had filled the small ski camp in the woods of Carrabassett Valley with boisterous good cheer for more than four decades. The building itself, however, didn’t live up to nostalgia’s glow. “It stunk,” Jongerden says bluntly. “And it was cold and hard to heat.”

Despite his father’s resistance, Jongerden went online in search of ideas for a replacement and landed upon Raoul and Vicki Hennin’s Bungalow in a Box. If the Hennin name sounds familiar, it’s probably because Raoul’s parents are Pat and Patsy Hennin, founders of the pioneering house-building school Shelter Institute. Raoul and Vicki have put a different spin on the DIY home: they design and build components at their Woolwich headquarters and then erect the shell on site, typically in just a few days. After that, the homeowners take over, hiring subcontractors to install flooring, plumbing, wiring, tile, and other finish work — or doing it themselves.

“It made a lot of sense,” says Jongerden, who welcomed the opportunity to save a bundle on construction costs, not to mention the promise of a warmer home offered by structural insulated panel (SIP) walls, which consist of an insulating foam core sandwiched between layers of engineered wood. He settled on the 14-by-24-foot Alpine, one of 15 Bungalow in a Box kits, and then set to work demolishing the A-frame. (“It was so rotted out it practically fell apart by itself,” he says.)

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Some people choose kit houses because they have more control over the final result. “The SIP enclosure offers a mostly blank canvas for window and door placement,” says Bungalow in a Box owner Raoul Hennin. “No matter how carefully we study a site or a house design, there’s no substitute for standing in the actual building in real time and space.” Photograph by Bert Jongerden.

The Alpine is a timber-frame home, which requires a little more finish work than the panel- and SIP-frame structures the Hennins also build. With a timber-frame kit, for example, the homeowner decides window and door placements after the shell is erected — a plus as far as Jongerden is concerned, because he was able to see exactly where furnishings should go and what the views would be before committing to an opening in the SIP. “You measure a hole for the window, take a chainsaw and vroom! Then you insert this heating iron and it just melts it out,” he says.

Built on a pier foundation and insulated floor, the single-story house with a sleeping loft went up in five days. Jongerden hired a neighbor to do the site work, and then the Hennins erected the shell. For Jongerden, they customized the design to give the loft a little more height — nine feet instead of seven. Meanwhile, Jongerden, his son Kyle, his brother Robbie, and a local carpenter attached drywall, installed kitchen cabinets, and laid down a tongue-and-groove Southern yellow pine floor.

Two years later — in 2014 — Jongerden invited the Hennins back to build a 12-by-16 addition, which went up in a day. Jongerden, who lives in Portland with his wife, Josette Barbarite, has since picked away at finishes in his spare time, incorporating some salvage from the A-frame, like shiplap pine paneling. All that remains now is staining the siding.

He estimates the entire project cost just $75,000. The only thing sweeter is the memory of his late father boasting to his buddies, “I finally convinced Bert to build a new camp.”


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