Bluffton builder hopes tiny homes will make a big impact

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South Carolinians will long remember the devastating flooding early last October that washed away bridges, swelled creeks and rivers, displaced hundreds from their homes, forced road closures, caused fatalities and wreaked billions of dollars in damage.

Some residents are still living the nightmare that struck the Midlands and Lowcountry on Oct. 4 in the 1-in-1,000-year natural event, living in temporary shelters and hotels.

Ben Kennedy usually thinks big when building homes, but recently he downsized his dreams to think small...as in "tiny homes." "My realization (at the time of the flooding) was there was going to be a need for housing, and there was going to be a lot of people displaced," said Kennedy, a Georgia native who owns Brighton Builders in Bluffton, a high-end builder of residential homes and upscale renovations.

"I realized I wanted to help in some way, and I was ready to take my little boat and go up to Columbia or Charleston and start pulling people out of their houses," said the 33-year-old husband and father of 2-year-old twins.

Within a week after the natural tragedy, he began building a tiny home on May River Road near the Corner Perk. The tiny home movement has been a slowly growing trend in the country in the 21st century, inspired mainly by financial necessity and social reform.

"I thought I could build these little houses here and deliver them to where they needed to go," said Kennedy, who founded his company five years ago. "I made it into a custom home, just on a smaller scale."

After five-and-a-half weeks, he and his team of local volunteers completed construction of his first tiny home, and he has begun work on a second. Some of the money and supplies came from donations; the rest came out of Kennedy's own pocket.

Kennedy's tiny home has one bedroom, a full bathroom, a full kitchen and a living room area.

Sounds pretty much like a normal dwelling except for the fact that it's only 200 square feet of living space - 160 in the living area and 40 in the sleeping loft.

"It has all the features and amenities you would typically need in a basic home with plenty of storage space throughout," he said. Among the features are custom wood flooring and walls in the showers, a full-size refrigerator, a sliding door between the bathroom and living area, a premium gas stove with oven and countertops, a pantry, a wardrobe closet, custom walls and windows, central heating and cooling, a mounted flat-screen television in the living room, a couch, and a sitting area with two chairs. A ladder leads to the queen-size bed in the loft with charging stations on both sides and a reading light.

He believes the home will be transported soon, somewhere within the state. He has been working closely with a non-profit organization in Texas on the logistics and screening of possible occupants. Whoever moves in will only have to pay the utility bill, about $30, Kennedy said.

He envisions the tiny home being repurposed for years to come. Occupants might live in the home for a few months until they find permanent housing, and then the tiny home will become the new temporary home for another family, and so on.

"A tiny house that keeps on giving is my goal," he said.

Giving back is a way of life for Kennedy, who was on the receiving end of support when he endured three rounds of debilitating cancer and its long recoveries.

"I've been knocked down, but I got back up, and I never let it (the cancers) take me out," he said. "As long as I'm alive and kicking and well, I'm going to keep going and doing and trying to give."

Dean Rowland is a veteran senior editor and freelance writer living in Bluffton.

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