Live big by going small
When it comes to housing, simplicity can be the ultimate luxury—and simplicity can be realized by being small. The tiny house movement, or micro-living, is inspiring increasing numbers of people to downsize their homes, often to under 400 square feet.
Bigger is better, admonishes the age-old adage. But when it comes to housing, “big” can also mean constant maintenance, expense, and clutter. Inspired by a rising disenchantment with housing-related stress, tiny houses are spearheading an architectural and social revolution toward simpler, more sustainable living.
Tiny houses are usually defined as those measuring less than 400 square feet (37 square metres), and they can be either on wheels or on a foundation.
“The basic premise of the tiny house movement is to live intentionally and simply,” says Anderson Page, lead builder and founder of Tiny House Crafters in Vermont.
Page spent the spring of 2013 building his own tiny house, as featured in the documentary Living Small: Tiny House Documentary. He believes the far-reaching influence of the internet is inspiring a generation of creative thinkers to step out of the big shoes society often pressures us to fill.
“I first started looking into tiny houses when I was laid off during the recession,” says Ryan Mitchell, owner and founder of thetinylife.com. “It was really new at the time; there wasn’t a lot about it out there, or many people writing or talking about them. My blog began gaining popularity very quickly.”
With the modern world’s constant emphasis on upgrading, downsizing can seem counterintuitive. However, by forgoing a large living space, tiny house owners can reduce their environmental impact and living expenses, while dedicating more time to activities that matter to them.
A smaller home means a smaller carbon footprint. Tiny homes can easily be built with sustainable materials, such as reclaimed wood and glass. Once set up, they require far less energy to heat and cool than a typical home.
It’s estimated that a quarter of Canadians are going beyond their affordability threshold—defined as 30 percent of household income—to cover housing costs.
“The pendulum has swung too far in one direction—we work long hours to pay for a large home, where we then only have time to sleep,” says Ryan Mitchell.
A tiny house can usually be purchased for $30,000 to $50,000—significantly less than the hefty $439,144 price tag attached to the average Canadian home. For many, this can mean freedom from a mortgage, and more financial resources to dedicate to other aspects of their lives.
“For me, moving into a tiny house was the catalyst to start checking off my bucket list,” says Mitchell. “Without the pressure of paying rent, I was able to travel; I wrote a book; I started a business.”
By matter of necessity, having less space means owning less stuff. Paring down on non-essential material items—otherwise known as minimalism—can mean less clutter, less stress, and an enhanced sense of well-being.
“Many people seem to enjoy the Zen of minimalist living,” says Page. “It can be challenging at first, but once you get a few miles away from all your ‘stuff,’ I bet you’ll forget you ever had it.”
If you’re thinking of going tiny, knowing what to expect can make the process seem less overwhelming.
Although each tiny home is different, building tends to take anywhere from four months to a year. Page says he tends to spend a month or two engaging in conversation with a client before getting started.
It’s estimated that you’ll need to put at least 360 hours of work into planning, design, and building if you’re taking on the task yourself.
Tiny houses lack superfluous storage, so each square metre is designed for maximum use.
“The smaller you build, the smarter you have to build,” says Seth Reidy, lead builder and designer at Nelson Tiny Houses in Nelson, BC. “I like helping people with their specific needs. For some people, entertaining is important—so we make sure they can fit five people in the kitchen for a dinner party.”
Climate should also be taken into consideration. If you’re an East Coaster, it’s wise to ensure that your tiny home has adequate insulation for the winter. Using water-resistant caulk around cracks of windows and doors can also stop chilly air from seeping in.
Appealing as a pint-sized cabin perched on a mountainside may look on Pinterest, it’s important to remember that the reality of tiny living extends far beyond aesthetics.
“Most people who are lured only by the ‘trendy’ aspect of the movement will not end up making an actual purchase,” says Page.
That said, tiny house ownership is open to people from all walks of life. At Nelson Tiny Homes, Reidy’s clients have varied wildly—from a young woman looking to buy her first home, to a retiree wanting to relocate out of Calgary into “the middle of nowhere.”
“If a tiny house will excite you, empower you, and help you follow your dreams, then go for it,” says Mitchell. “A tiny house is really just a tool to live your best life.”
On the fence? Attending a tiny house workshop is a great way to test out tiny living without commitment.
“A workshop allows you to actually envision yourself inside a tiny house,” says Page. “You will also be able to familiarize yourself with the basic tools and steps for building.”
Can’t find a workshop in your area? The website designbuilddownsize.com offers virtual tiny house workshops with a live Q & A session, guiding you through everything from buying a trailer to using sustainable building methods.
Finding space for a tiny house is one of the greatest challenges faced by homeowners.
“In many places, tiny homes on trailers currently exist in a regulatory grey zone,” says Page. “People can park their homes in many places without too much hassle.”
However, many campgrounds and RV parks will no longer accept a tiny house (even if it is on wheels); some cities have bylaws limiting where they can be placed and what kind of plumbing they can use. As more and more tiny house owners reach out to their local municipalities, Mitchell thinks this will begin to change.
“When city officials become invested in a concept like tiny houses, they’ll lend their support,” he says. “We’re already starting to see that, which is promising for the future.”
If you’re having trouble finding a place to park, checking with local farmland or posting an ad on a tiny house classified site is a good start.
For more information about tiny houses, check out these additional resources: