A compact home in Oak Island is changing people’s perceptions about homebuilding.
Something little has been making a big splash in the seaside town of Oak Island. Last year, KPS Construction, LLC completed construction of a 475-square-foot home on NE 45th Street. Although officially too big to be classified as a “tiny home,” this small home has a lot to offer in terms of energy efficiency, durability and ease of living, and many hope it will be the first of several small homes to come in Brunswick County.
Before relocating to Boiling Spring Lakes, KPS Construction owner Steven Stegman spent the first half of his career as a high school math teacher in Connecticut. When he wasn’t working with students, Stegman filled his free time doing renovations and small additions to residential homes. Having previously vacationed on North Carolina’s coast and fallen in love with Brunswick County’s beaches, Stegman decided to move his family to the area in 2015 and pursue his passion for construction full time.
“KPS Construction, LLC is a small custom-home building company consisting of myself and two employees,” Stegman says.
“We do one house at a time and specialize in providing a very organic process from start to finish, while minimizing square footage, increasing energy efficiency, minimizing maintenance and increasing the ability to live.”
One thing Stegman noticed soon after creating his business was the amount of people coming to the Brunswick County area with a desire to downsize. From retirees and empty nesters to the younger, more independent demographic, many of Stegman’s customers wanted more efficient and maintainable living spaces, a trend he fully supported.
“I personally feel we’re living in homes that are way too big for our needs,” he says.
“My niche is 800- to 1,800-square-foot homes, which are much smaller than the average homes being built today. More square footage just means more work for homeowners to clean and maintain, so they’re spending less time living and more time cleaning.”
Stegman got the chance to build his smallest home yet shortly after Hurricane Florence. He took on a home repair job for a customer in Oak Island, but soon after work began, he realized the damage was much worse than originally thought.
“I stopped what I was doing and called the homeowner, who lived in Maryland at the time, and told him it would be easier to tear the home down and rebuild,” Stegman says. “It turned out his sister, a single retiree, wanted a small home just for herself, so we ended up building them a 475-square-foot, super energy-efficient house on a typical foundation. We were able to turn an absolute disaster into exactly what they were looking for.”
The home took less than three months to build and cost $140,000, although Stegman says it could have been built for around $110,000 with some modifications to the materials and mechanical systems. The floor plan includes the 475 square feet of heated and cooled space, a 226-square-foot, three-season room in the back and a 113-square-foot covered porch in front. Bells and whistles include a staggered 6-inch exterior framing to create a thermal break, blown in blanket insulation (BIBs), Zip System roof and wall sheathing, impact windows, cellular PVC exterior trim and a high-efficiency heat pump water heater.
One of Stegman’s primary focuses is building a home his customers can live in and not have to constantly maintain. That means using very little exterior paint, none if possible. To achieve this, Stegman opts for solid and cellular composite siding, as he did with the Oak Island home, instead of the more traditional vinyl siding. His goal is always to make each home high in efficiency and low in upkeep.
“Another great benefit of building small is that the upgrades don’t cost a lot,” he says. “You’re not adding hundreds of square feet, so whether it is siding, shingles, flooring or windows, the cost to upgrade is minimal.”
As for the perks of living in such a small space, homeowner Pam Dover loves that her new Oak Island home uses less electricity and requires less cleaning than her previous houses.
“It’s plenty of room for myself and my two dogs,” Dover says. “It also makes me think more about what I buy, because there’s only so much room for stuff. I know a house like this certainly isn’t for everybody, but it’s a good fit for me.”
Although Stegman looks forward to continuing his passion for small homes, he has run into some issues with building more houses as small as Dover’s. He says financing is tricky, and customers often struggle to secure lending.
“There are very few homes around this small, and lending agencies have a difficult time finding comparable homes to work an appraisal,” he says. “This means that unless there’s a small home in the neighborhood, you’ll most likely not be able to get financing.”
Dover’s new neighbor, Patsy Jordan, has no problem with the compact new addition to her neighborhood.
“Everyone I’ve talked to around here loves her little home,” Jordan says. “Although it’s small, it’s also very neat and well kept up. It looks like a perfect little cottage.”
Stegman has appreciated all the positive feedback he’s received on the first of what he hopes to be many tiny home projects. One thing he has especially enjoyed is seeing the change in people’s perceptions of what a great home can be, and what it doesn’t need to be.
“The most frequent question I heard when the house had only its foundation was, ‘How could someone live in a home this small?’” Stegman says. “But once the home was complete, they started to question why their homes were so big with so much wasted space.”