Summit Tiny Homes, located in Vernon, was named as a finalist for a provincial small business award. (Summit Tiny Homes)

Summit Tiny Homes, located in Vernon, was named as a finalist for a provincial small business award. (Summit Tiny Homes)

Tiny home demand up during pandemic as people seek change

Canadians re-evaluate how they live after COVID-19

By Brenna Owen

THE CANADIAN PRESS

The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted many Canadians to re-evaluate their housing and work arrangements, spurring some to think not big, but tiny.

Pamela Robertson builds tiny homes in Gibsons on B.C.’s Sunshine Coast and said she couldn’t keep up with requests for quotes after the pandemic hit.

“Everybody wanted a tiny home that was built in stock and I build to order,” said Robertson, whose tiny homes on wheels are inspected to meet the Canadian Standards Association specifications for recreational vehicles.

While many people are dreaming of making the move, Robertson warns that building code requirements and regional rules can pose major hurdles.

“There are tiny houses on wheels out there and they’re all living under the fear that somebody is going to call them out.”

Like many jurisdictions, B.C. prohibits year-round living in RVs outside designated parks. Neither the provincial nor national building codes covers mobile homes and they present challenges related to lofts, ladders, small stairs and other features characteristic of tiny homes, she said.

Robertson said her company, Sunshine Tiny Homes, adheres as much as possible to the codes, as well as the international residential code that has specifications for tiny homes, in hopes Canada’s codes will one day differentiate tiny homes from RVs and other prefabricated houses.

She’s advocating for a pilot project that could see tiny homes on wheels temporarily permitted on property that’s already allowed a second dwelling, but the Sunshine Coast Regional District has yet to give the green light.

Robertson is also saving to build a tiny home of her own in the area that she said is hard-hit by low vacancy rates and high rental costs.

“It’s very dire here. It’s basically becoming unaffordable for people, for single people. So, tiny homes are definitely one of a multitude of solutions.”

The Canadian Home Builders’ Association joined calls for a friendlier regulatory landscape for tiny homes in 2017, requesting a number of changes to the national building code related to construction on a chassis or trailer, ceiling heights, stairs, escape windows and other features.

It can take years for code changes to be approved, if at all, said Bob Deeks, president of RDC Fine Homes in Whistler, B.C. He’s been a committee member with the homebuilders association and with Codes Canada, which is responsible for developing the national building code.

There’s a diversity of perspectives at the table, he said, noting the health-care sector advocates for changes, such as minimum stair dimensions, that could prevent injuries, but those changes could curtail smaller homes.

“That person living on the street? They don’t care what those stairs look like,” said Deeks.

“We’re going to design the very best housing that the world has to offer, but nobody can afford,” he added.

Elsewhere in B.C., Jessika Houston is preparing to move into her new tiny home on wheels in early February after it’s finished.

Houston, 42, had been thinking about tiny living and initially planned to rent after selling her four-bedroom house in Surrey.

When the pandemic hit and her rental circumstances changed, she said it was time to make the move to a more stable home that’s easier to maintain.

Houston said she went from working 60 hours a week and commuting two hours each day to starting her own business with more flexible hours and commissioning a tiny home from a Vancouver-based builder.

“My whole intention behind all of it is to be able to live a lifestyle that I can go and experience life instead of being stuck in the rat race and working 9 to 5 and coming home and cleaning on the weekends,” she said.

Like Robertson’s homes, Houston’s farmhouse-style tiny house is built to CSA standards for RVs. A bedroom on the main floor will boast a king-sized bed, she said, while a loft is accessible by stairs with built-in storage.

Houston found someone to lease her a spot to park her tiny home in the Lower Mainland, but she said others aren’t so fortunate, given bylaws that restrict living in a tiny home on wheels throughout the region.

“When you’re in the city, you have to worry about the neighbours and somebody reporting it,” she said. “Right now, the way the landscape is set up, you have to go out into the country so that nobody can see it.”

Houston bought her home outright, but financing is another major hurdle for many tiny-house hopefuls.

The company that’s building Houston’s home, Mint Tiny Homes, lists the price for a 6.7-metre home at $92,500, while larger models with more features and customizations can top $130,000.

Banks are wary of lending money to people building homes without sufficient comparables, said Daniel Ott, president of True North Tiny Homes. The company builds and designs tiny and modular homes and garden and laneway suites across Ontario’s Golden Horseshoe.

“Pre-COVID, I was having some decent conversations with credit unions,” he said. “As soon as COVID hit, even they said, ‘Nope, don’t want to touch it.’

So, Ott looks for creative solutions for clients who can’t buy outright.

“I actually drive them to go talk to a Realtor and buy a piece of property. Even though it sounds like you’re spending more money, you’re actually able to finance it so you need less money down,” he said, noting banks are more likely to finance a home mortgaged in combination with the land.

Ott’s company was recently involved in the purchase of a mobile home park west of Toronto on the shores of Lake Huron.

The goal is to create a tiny home village of sorts, he said, where plots of land can be bought and sold like condo or strata title rather than leased.

While others push for building code changes, Ott said he’s most keen to see municipalities update their zoning and other bylaws to recognize growing interest in tiny homes as a solution to housing affordability woes.

Otherwise, said Robertson, “We’re restricting ourselves out of living.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 25, 2020.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

READ MORE: ‘Plant boom:’ Working from home, pandemic stress has people turning green

READ MORE: Santa keeping Christmas spirit alive in Okanagan through virtual visits

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Cedar Valley Lodge, LNG Canada’s newest accommodation for workers at the LNG Canada Project site in Kitimat. The most recent outbreak among workers at the project site was just declared over. (Photo courtesy of LNG Canada)
Second COVID-19 outbreak at LNG Canada Project site declared over

The outbreak was first declared on Dec. 16, 2020

CGL has closed down the two lodges affected to everyone except the essential staff. (Black Press file photo)
All COVID-19 cases associated with Coastal GasLink outbreak deemed recovered

Outbreaks occurred at CGL project accommodation sites in Burns Lake and Nechako Local Health Areas

Prince Rupert Branch of BC SPCA has partnered with the Greater Massett Food Bank to provide pet food to guardians in need during the pandemic, Joe Griffiths manager of BC SPCA said on Jan. 6. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
Greater Massett Food Bank partners with BC SPCA

Greater Masset Food Bank has recently received more than 800 kg of pet food for those in need

Northern Health said their new portal can be used by Northern B.C. patients to access various health-based information and results, including COVID-19 test results. (K-J Millar/Black Press Media)
New digital portal available for Northern Health patients

Northern B.C. residents can use HealtheLife to access various health-based information

Keith the curious kitten is seen on Nov. 4, 2020 at the Chilliwack SPCA. Friday, Jan. 22, 2021 is Answer Your Cat’s Questions Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Jan. 17 to 23

Answer Your Cat’s Questions Day, Pie Day and International Sweatpants Day are all coming up this week

(Phil McLachlan - Capital News)
‘Targeted’ shooting in Coquitlam leaves woman in hospital

The woman suffered non-life threatening injuries in what police believe to be a targeted shooting Saturday morning

JaHyung Lee, “Canada’s oldest senior” at 110 years old, received his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. He lives at Amenida Seniors Community in Newton. (Submitted photo: Amenida Seniors Community)
A unique-looking deer has been visiting a Nanoose Bay property with its mother. (Frieda Van der Ree photo)
A deer with 3 ears? Unique animal routinely visits B.C. property

Experts say interesting look may be result of an injury rather than an odd birth defect

Standardized foundation skills assessment tests in B.C. schools will be going ahead later than usual, from Feb. 16 to March 12 for students in Grades 4 and 7. (Black Press Media file photo)
B.C. teachers say COVID-affected school year perfect time to end standardized tests

Foundational skills testing of Grade 4 and 7 students planned for February ad March

Sooke’s Jim Bottomley is among a handful of futurists based in Canada. “I want to help people understand the future of humanity.” (Aaron Guillen - Sooke News Mirror)
No crystal ball: B.C. man reveals how he makes his living predicting the future

63-year-old has worked analytical magic for politicians, car brands, and cosmetic companies

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Terry David Mulligan. (Submitted photo)
Podcast: Interview with longtime actor/broadcaster and B.C. resident Terry David Mulligan

Podcast: Talk includes TDM’s RCMP career, radio, TV, wine, Janis Joplin and much more

Seasonal influenza vaccine is administered starting each fall in B.C. and around the world. (Langley Advance Times)
After 30,000 tests, influenza virtually nowhere to be found in B.C.

COVID-19 precautions have eliminated seasonal infection

Most Read