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Tiny Houses for the Big City

Who hasn’t fantasized about living in minimalist elegance or bohemian splendour in one of those minuscule cabins or wee wagon homes that tiny-home enthusiasts tout as the solution to consumer overload and urban angst? Trouble is, they’re not allowed in every jurisdiction.

Most Canadian municipalities enforce minimum dwelling sizes—often 800 square feet or more. Even the City of Vancouver, famous for its laneway houses, sets a minimum of 380 square feet.

“Where you’re seeing these 100 square-foot homes, they’re completely illegal,” says Graham Smith, managing partner of Altius Architecture, Inc. in Toronto, who notes that there are also mandatory minimum sizes for septic systems and tile beds.

As for those charming caravans? Ian Kent, founder and CEO of NOMAD Micro Homes Inc. in Vancouver, says people are “having difficulties with the tiny homes on wheels; only some municipalities allow them; even some parks don’t allow them.”

Where they do make sense is on a cottage property, and prefab structures are a popular option for sleeper cabins or bunkies. “In southern Ontario, most municipalities will allow anywhere between 450 and 650 square feet for an ‘accessory structure,’ and that’s really a perfect size for a single module prefab,” says Smith.

Smith’s company ships and installs homes made of one or more prefabricated modules under the Altius Prefab brand. Once foundations are installed, construction can take as little as three days, and the prefab building approach cuts down on travel time for tradespeople, resulting in a “dramatically reduced construction schedule,” he says.

“The consumer is looking for smaller, better quality, so there’s definitely a movement towards smaller buildings,” says Smith, whose most popular model is the 480 square-foot “Solo 40” with an indented “butterfly roof.”

NOMAD Micro Homes offers its prefab “Cube” as a backyard or laneway house, and Kent says the company is also working on what he calls “float homes”: scaled-down modular boathouses. Despite its limitations, Kent believes the tiny home movement is growing.

“I think that’s the answer to urban density problems,” he says, “because it’s affordable and it has such low impact.”

Photos by Altius Architecture Inc