ORLAND, Maine — As winter sets in, bringing with it freezing temperatures and snow and ice storms in rapid succession, Jennifer Jacques and her two daughters inch closer to moving into the small garage that they are converting into a home.
Pink insulation material on the exterior is almost completely covered by new wood shingles. The skeletons of walls are up on the inside so Jacques and her daughters can imagine where they will soon sleep, eat and conduct home school. Kitchen and bathroom appliances rest on the floor near the places where they will be installed, giving the house a feeling of organized chaos.
Though the house is not yet finished, the family moved in temporarily last week because the ice storm left the place they are house sitting without heat or electricity.
“We had a very beautiful Christmas day there,” said Jacques.
The small family has embarked on an endeavor that is unique today, but draws upon a local tradition of work parties and shared resources. Calling it the Itty Bitty House Project, Jacques posted fliers and used social media to ask friends, acquaintances and strangers to donate labor or materials to help her transform the once abandoned garage into a house.
So far the plan is working. Already, Jacques, a single mom who works two jobs and home schools one of her daughters, has hosted several work parties where up to 15 people showed up to lend a hand removing old shingles, installing windows, putting up walls and laying the floors.
More people Jacques didn’t know began donating supplies after an article about her project ran in the Bangor Daily News in October. A dishwasher was given to her by a family from Southwest Harbor. A pressure tank was donated by folks from Bangor. At different times, different people have stopped by to drop off a kitchen sink, a table, a toilet with a brand new seat, lighting fixtures, a bag of caulking and more. Often they stick around to help out.
Jacques has also set up a website where people can contribute money. She has received donations from as far away as the Netherlands.
The holiday, a recent storm and power outages have kept many of her regular volunteers away over past week, slowing down construction. Jacques is on her own trying to finish insulating the last portion of her roof so she can heat the house full time and turn on the water, which was hooked up right before Christmas.
Once that’s done, she and her daughters will finish moving in.
Jacques has a wood stove, and a corner of her house is fully tiled to protect the floor and walls, but she’s waiting for good weather before she will cut a hole in the roof to install the chimney. For now, she uses a propane heater to warm the space when she’s working inside.
Though she may be behind the schedule she set for herself, Jacques is well on her way to meeting the terms of the agreement she set up with the former owner of the property. After a year of back-and-forth communication during which Jacques supplied the owner with her tax information, phone numbers for her parents so they could speak to her character and a 23-page proposal which explains her life history and a plan for what she will do with the property, the owner agreed to give her the title under the condition that she make it liveable and occupy within two years.
Jacques has drawn upon friends, family and especially her father for support.
She uses a Facebook page to keep those involved updated on her progress and to solicit advice.
On Friday night, she wrote a panicked post that described icicles hanging from the air vents in her roof. Soon, five different people had responded with explanations for why it might be happening.
“Insulation and vapor barrier and sheetrock/wall. Finish before heating!” responded one commenter.
Jacques is eager to thank those who have helped her. She plans to honor their contribution to her project by looking for ways to help others once she is in a stable position financially.
“So many of the people that have come to help have received help in their lives and have gotten to a place of being comfortable and have time enough to share,” she said. “Of course I would help them if they would need, but I think the idea is to take what I’ve been given and to pay it forward.”
To find out more or to get involved, go to theittybittyhouse.com.