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

Bears are waking up hungry and starting to forage, Conservation Officer Service said on April 9. Prince Residents are advised to keep garbage in sealed containers to lessen bear attraction. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
Keep bears wild – they are not teddy bears

Conservation Officer Service warns bears are waking up hungry

Prince Rupert couple Alvin Tait and Loni Martin have postponed their wedding two times due to COVID-19 affecting the marriage rates in Prince Rupert. (Photo: supplied/L.Martin)
No marriages in Prince Rupert in 2021 so far

Weddings down 23.9% in P.R. since COVID-19 with B.C. wedding industry loss at $158 million

Three North Coast organizations are granted funding to promote multiculturalism and support anti-racism, Jennifer Rice MLA announced on April 8. Conrad Elementary School students recognized the first Black Shirt Day on January 15, 2021, to advocate for anti-racism. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
North Coast organizations to benefit from anti-racism funding

$944,000 granted in provincial funding to aid multiculturalism

Restaurant patrons enjoy the weather on a patio in Vancouver, B.C., Monday, April 5, 2021. The province has suspended indoor dining at restaurants and pubs until at least April 19 in B.C. due to a spike in COVID-19 numbers. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. sets new COVID-19 daily record with 1,293 cases Thursday

New order allows workplace closures when infections found

The new 3,500 hectare conservancy in Tahltan territory is located next to Mount Edziza Provincial Park. (BC Parks Photo)
New conservancy protects sacred Tahltan land near Mount Edziza Provincial Park

Project is a collaboration between Skeena Resources, conservation groups and the TCG

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Premier John Horgan describe vaccine rollout at the legislature, March 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
1,262 more COVID-19 infections in B.C. Friday, 9,574 active cases

Province’s mass vaccination reaches one million people

Tyson Ginter, 7, is proud of his latest Hot Wheels he recently received by Quesnel RCMP Const. Matt Joyce. (Photo submitted)
B.C. Mountie handing out toy cars to light up children’s faces

‘A lot of times it will be the only interaction they have with the police,’ says Const. Matt Joyce

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam speaks during a technical briefing on the COVID pandemic in Canada, Friday, January 15, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s ICUs see near-record of COVID-19 patients last week as variant cases double

Last week, Canadian hospitals treated an average of 2,500 patients with COVID-19, daily, up 7% from the previous week

University of Victoria rowing coach Barney Williams at the University of Victoria in Victoria, B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
UVic, women’s rowing coach deny former athlete’s allegation of verbal abuse

Lily Copeland alleges coach Barney Williams would stand close to her and speak aggressively in the sauna

Librarian Katie Burns with the Fraser Valley Regional Libraries poses for a photo in Chilliwack on June 18, 2019. Monday, April 12, 2021 is Library Workers’ Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of April 11 to 17

Library Workers Day, That Sucks! Day, and Wear Your Pyjamas to Work Day are all coming up this week

Robinson Russ, 37, was fatally stabbed on April 4, according to a statement from police. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Vancouver police name victim following city’s fourth homicide of 2021

Robinson Russ, 37, was fatally stabbed Sunday in the Downtown Eastside

A man wears a face mask past the emergency department of the Vancouver General Hospital. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)
Calls for stricter action in B.C. as COVID-19 variants projected to climb

Jens von Bergmann says the province has taken a ‘wait and see’ approach when early action is needed

Vancouver’s park board general manager issued a new order Friday restricting tents and other temporary structures from being set up in Strathcona Park after April 30, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Vancouver park board issues order to restrict tents in Strathcona Park

The order issued Friday restricted tents and other temporary structures from being set up after April 30

Most Read