Source: Mint Tiny Homes

Tiny homes are quickly gaining traction in Canada. What initially began as a reaction to the United States housing crisis of 2007-08 has now made its way further north, attracting the attention of homeowners across the country.

Currently, there is no set definition as to what constitutes a tiny home; however, a residential structure under 500 square feet is now generally accepted to be a tiny home.

Because tiny homes are so versatile, they cater to the needs of a variety of demographics. They are especially well suited to singles, young couples, empty nesters, and those who enjoy a nomadic lifestyle, however even small families can live comfortably in tiny homes. University of Alberta students could soon have the opportunity to live in tiny housing as well, as projects designed by firms such as Maltby & Prins’ Nano Apartments have begun popping up in Edmonton’s Old Strathcona neighborhood.

Are you contemplating a tiny home? Given that Canadians spend an average of 43% of their annual income on housing-related costs, it should come as no surprise that many are considering downsizing. One look at the nation-wide tiny house listings shows just how popular the tiny home trend is becoming. However, cutting back from a typical 1800-square foot home to something significantly smaller is a drastic change that may not be suitable for everyone.

Who is best suited to tiny home living?

Tiny houses are best suited for people comfortable with living in close quarters and with few possessions. You may be in love with the idea of a tiny home, but could you actually live in one? As with any major purchase, try before you buy. Look for rentals that you can test out for a week or two. An RV or similarly sized space will also do the trick. Reducing your space will help you determine what you can and can’t live without.

Single people and couples can benefit from the affordability of tiny homes compared to traditional housing. Tiny houses give young professionals, starting their careers later in life and often burdened with student debt, the option to own property at a comparatively low price.

Empty nesters tend to find themselves with large houses and no one to fill them. Some choose to downsize to a nano home and sell or rent out their previous home, using the money they make to pay off mortgages or contribute to their retirement fund.

For those who feel the itch to always be on the move, a tiny home caters to the nomadic lifestyle. Many tiny homes are portable, meaning as long as you can find some place to park it, you can take your house with you wherever you go. Freedom from being tied down is a major selling point.

Tiny houses have a much smaller ecological footprint than traditional houses, which has proven to be an important factor in their popularity among environmentally-conscious homebuyers. Tiny homes make living off the grid a reality. If you want to minimize your impact on the planet, a tiny house could be something to consider.

Stationary vs. Mobile

alt Source: Finished Right Contracting

If you have your heart set on a tiny home, the first thing you should consider is whether your home will stay in one place or be available wherever you go. The advantages of a stationary home are that the foundation can be inexpensive to build (especially if you are converting or adding to an existing dwelling) and your home is much more customizable in terms of shape and size. The main disadvantage is that if you decide to move, your home cannot follow you.

Mobile homes, on the other hand, provide significantly more freedom. It’s certainly liberating to not be limited to just one location. Mobile tiny homes can be parked in RV parks, backyards, or pretty much anywhere they’ll fit. In comparison to stationary homes, problems arise when it comes to finding a place to park your mobile tiny home permanently. Another drawback is the cost: trailers can set you back a few thousand dollars.

Popular stationary tiny homes

alt Source: Home Patterns

Garage suite - a dwelling located above or attached to the side or rear of a detached garage. In other words, the garage is an accessory to a single-detached house. The suite has cooking, sleeping and bathroom facilities, and any access to living space is separate from the vehicle entrance. Check out our guide to garage suites here.

Garden suite - a single-story accessory dwelling located in a building separate from the principal single-detached home.

Nano apartment – very tiny apartments targeted as student housing in most instances.

Shipping container – either as a standalone unit or garage suite. As the name states, these units are made of recycled steel. They’re cheaper than other options, compact and eco-friendly.

Budgeting for your project

The next step is to decide how much you want to spend. A tiny home doesn’t necessarily mean a cheap home. It’s true that many tiny homeowners opt for a small dwelling because of the low price tag, but there are many others who live in luxury. Tiny houses vary widely in price, with some people managing to spend as little as $10,000 and others as much as $100,000. The cost will depend on a number of factors including type of construction, materials utilized, furnishings and interior appliances.

First, decide whether to build your home yourself or with the help of a contractor. We strongly recommend the latter. Not only will hiring a professional save you time, but mistakes could be costly. You want to ensure your house is structurally sound and can stand up to the elements. In such small quarters, there is little margin for error.  TradePros can connect you with qualified professionals capable of making your dream home a reality.

Alternatively, it is possible to purchase a shell which includes a finished exterior but leaves you to tackle the interior furnishings yourself. This is an option for those wishing to take a more hands-on approach in the construction process. For inspiration on how you can give your tiny home a polished finish, take a look at our post on tiny kitchens.

Because tiny homes vary so greatly in price, it’s best to decide what features you want first then request a quote from a local builder or utilize TradePros to get in touch with an expert to determine how much it will cost you. The biggest expenses will likely be the trailer (if you go that route), materials, appliances, windows, and labour. It’s worthwhile to spend more on high quality materials and appliances when you consider the money you’ll be saving on utilities in the long run.

Tiny homes in cold climates

alt Source: Honomobo

If you’re skeptical about how a tiny home will hold up in the harsh Canadian winter, rest assured that you’ll be warm and cozy no matter how much the temperature drops.

Good insulation is paramount to keeping your house warm. A prime example is the Leaf 3, a 97-square-foot nano home situated in the Yukon. Few places on Earth are colder, yet Leaf 3 withstands the extreme climate thanks to its first-rate vacuum insulated panels. Since the vacuum panels alone do such an exceptional job (each one has an R value of R60 per inch), Leaf 3 only requires two radiant heating panels to keep warm.

Of course, most tiny homes won’t need to go to such extremes. Adequate insulation paired with electric, gas, or wood heaters should do the trick.

Utilities in your tiny home

alt Source: Tiny House Listings

Tiny houses that remain on the grid can hook up to standard utilities. For mobile homes that may be without access to water, sewage and power, consider the following solutions.

Use a tank to store water and a pump to circulate it through your home. The major downside to this system is that the tank requires refilling. A bigger tank means less frequent filling, but it also takes up more space. Another option is to create a hybrid system in which your tiny home can operate on either a tank and pump system or hook up to a water supply. This way, you have the freedom of living on and off the grid.

When it comes to waste disposal, a composting toilet is one of the most popular choices for mobile tiny homes. It requires no power and is environmentally friendly and easy-to-use. However, this option is expensive. An alternative is a holding tank like those used in RVs. Because it uses an actual toilet, the holding tank will require plumbing and some power. It will also need to be emptied in a designated disposal area.

Many off-the-grid tiny houses are powered by gas generators. As long as you have gas, the generator should provide enough energy to power your appliances. The downside is that generators are noisy and require that you always have gas on hand. Another way to power your tiny house is with the help of the sun and wind. Installing solar panels and wind generators is costly, but once it’s done, the energy you produce is free.

The decision to move to a tiny home calls for thorough research and a willingness to live simpler. It’s not the right choice for everyone, but if financial freedom, mobility, and a minimalist lifestyle sounds like music to your ears, a tiny house may be just what you need.

Considering building in Alberta? Here are our top picks!

Finished Right Contracting - a custom builder of tiny homes, micro cabins, ice shacks, sheds and more. They have a great selection of in-house designs or allow customers to build to their specifications. Check out some of their mobile units.

Honomobo - offer a great collection of flexible, multi-use living units made out of reused shipping containers. You can use these units as a carriage/laneway home, garage suite, office, studio, cottage, tiny house, or stacked as an apartment or multifamily complex. These units can be shipped across North America and once ordered will be ready in only 10 weeks.

Blackbird Tiny Homes - builds quality homes for part-time or full-time living, on-grid or off-grid, and built for cold Canadian winters. If a unique look is what you're after, check them out.

Studio North Calgary - create beautiful laneway housing. Their work has been featured in a growing number of local and international publications, including Western Living, Canadian Architect Magazine, and ArchDaily.

Modern Huts Calgary - builder of custom modern shipping container homes. They can deliver a finished home to any site, on any terrain, in any climate zone in North and Central America.

Looking for more information? Get involved!

Municipal regulations are always changing and depending on the form and location your tiny home takes it’s important to check your city’s zoning bylaws. Mobile tiny homes can park anywhere an RV can, but bylaws generally state a maximum amount of time that they may remain on and off the street.

The tiny home movement doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon. For Edmonton residents, if you’re interested in learning more about tiny homes check out Kenton Zerbins Tiny Homes 101 Workshop in June.

To meet other likeminded people also passionate about Tiny Homes, check out the YEG Tiny Home group on Facebook or join the Edmonton Tiny House Movement group on Meetup.com.

Source: KZ Permaculture

To see just how versatile tiny homes truly are, pay a visit to University of Alberta researcher Tim Antoniuk’s constantly changing tiny condo.