Tiny home business 'rolls' in to Townshend

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TOWNSHEND — Over the years, Greg Durocher has built everything from skateparks to recording studios to houses.

"So this business kind of wraps all that into one," he said about Roll'en Homes.

He started the tiny home construction company in July in about 6,000 square feet of leased space at 1233 Route 30 formerly known as Townshend Furniture. He had been hired to work on the facade and change window layouts when the idea for the business came to him. The building is owned by the Lyons family.

Durocher worked for more than five years at Jamaica Cottage Shop, where he built tiny homes, sheds and other structures. Then he ran a contracting business prior to starting Roll'en Homes.

Earlier in his career, Durocher owned Catamount Ramps with friends. He built features such as ramps and rails for skateboarding and snowboarding. He compares the curved roof systems on his tiny homes to halfpipes, which are u-shaped structures used by boarders and other athletes to perform tricks. He said other people say the roofs give the tiny home a gypsy wagon or caboose look.

Durocher said the new company required a large investment. He needed to lease the space, purchase insurance and build a promotional model. Insurance is especially complicated, as it needs to cover construction and transportation.

The business did not attract much interest at first. Durocher said he could not show his work from Jamaica Cottage Shop so he had to develop his own promotional models.

"But the last two months," he said, "it has just turned and blown up."

If he can line up some more sales, he plans to hire carpenters. He currently has one employee, an office manager.

The state of Vermont "really likes" tiny homes, Durocher said, because they are "efficient and affordable."

"Assisted living is tough in this area," he said, adding that a lot of retirement homes are full.

Durocher said tiny homes can be good for people who want to live on their own but may need help from a family member. They can put the structure on their family member's property. That can work well for senior citizens and individuals with special needs as they grow into adult ages.

Air bed and breakfast units are another part of the market. They are rented out for short-term stays.

"More and more towns are accepting these," Durocher said. "So people can have a little extra income with these units sitting on their properties."

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He said his tiny homes are made differently than others.

"They're built to handle the elements in New England, the freezing temps," he said.

The homes are custom built on trailers made in Winchester, N.H., to height and weight specifications. The trailers act as foundations and come with vehicle identification numbers. The buildings and trailers come with five-year warranties.

Customers choose what they want their tiny home to look like, picking out things such as flooring, siding, appliances and cabinetry.

"It takes some time," Durocher said. "There's some back and forth."

He said he puts all designs through computer-aided design and drafting software so customers can get a feel for the tiny home. Builds also will vary based on sewer and power needs. And customers are offered homeowners insurance and financing.

Estimates for the tiny homes range from $22,500 for a "basic cabin model" to $68,000 for a tiny home to fit a family of four, according to rollenhomes.com. But Durocher said it is difficult to "nail down pricing" until a design is created.

His favorite part is bringing someone's idea to life.

"Just the feeling of making that happen is incredible," he said. "And it's their home. It's something they're going to live in most of the time. And craftsmanship is big with me."

He said the company favors quality over quantity. It also sells farm and concession stands, and promotional and vending booths.

Durocher grew up in Townshend.

"So to bring the facility back to life and put something in the area is pretty gratifying as well," he said, referring to the space that had been vacant for about 13 years. "I want it to benefit the area. I'm not trying to make millions of dollars. I'm just trying to give some employment to the area and to put this old place back into shape."

He works with students from an internship program at the nearby Leland & Gray Middle and High School who want to learn the trade. He also coaches the high school's snowboard team.

Durocher recently attended the Tiny House Fest Vermont at Sugarbush Resort, which had previously been held in Brattleboro. He said more than 2,500 people walked through his promotional build. He hopes to get to more events around the country this year. His two daughters help with promoting the company.

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com, at @CMaysBR on Twitter and 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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