More Calgarians are taking downsizing to the next level with tiny houses
Lifestyle and financial freedom. That’s how Kenton Zerbin summarizes tiny house living.
A teacher of sustainable living and proud owner of a 264-square-foot home located just north of Edmonton, Zerbin recently brought his Tiny Home Workshop to Calgary.
Thanks to television shows such as Tiny House Nation and Tiny House Hunters, the minimalist movement has steadily grown in popularity over the years. Zerbin attributes much of it to consumerism.
“Building these bigger and bigger homes and people realizing it’s not making them happy,” he says, adding that despite a growth in popularity, tiny homes are still struggling to find a place among more traditional housing options.
“It’s not from a place of want, that’s from a place of legalities,” he explains, saying there is no building code specifically created for tiny homes.
Permitting varies city by city
The City of Calgary regulates tiny homes the same as any other residence under the Calgary Land Use Bylaw and in some cases, they can be backyard suites.
“These structures are not an official category of housing and can cover a wide range of forms, safety certifications, and functions,” reads a statement provided by Justine Rodrigues, communications planner with Calgary Building Services.
For example, tiny homes constructed on a towable trailer and built to a recreational vehicle safety standard are considered safe for living in on a temporary recreational basis and must comply with the Bylaw requirements for recreational vehicles.
“Tiny homes built on the ground must comply with the rules in the Bylaw for single-detached dwellings or backyard suites and the National Building Code — Alberta Edition and are considered safe to live in year-round.”
Get the fast track to tiny homes
Across Canada, Zerbin says there are 17 different names for variations of self-contained living spaces that are permitted including mother-in-law suites, granny suites, or garage suites.
“In Ontario, it might be called a carriage house, and it has its own definitions,” Zerbin explains.
“What defines a laneway house in Edmonton versus Vancouver is different. So it’s really confusing for the average layperson to figure out how to navigate those rules to get what they want. But there are avenues there for those who are serious about doing their research.”
Zerbin created his cross-country workshops to help those interested get on the fast track to tiny house living by learning the bylaws, building codes, and legalities. He also teaches participants how to design a home and make it efficient, resilient, and an appropriate shelter.
“Students learn how to make the most out of small spaces, how to design a floor plan, how utility systems go together. So, electricity, water, waste, internet, and all of the utility systems that define a house,” Zerbin says, adding he also teaches step-by-step ground to roof construction.
Tiny home demographics
As for the types of people who are interested in tiny homes, Zerbin has noted three key groups.
“The main demographics I find in the movement are young couples who are kind of appalled at the housing market, in terms of trying to find a place in it. And they want a home, a place to call their own, but they can’t afford it. Even if they’re double income, no kids,” he says.
Zerbin has also noticed more young, single women attending his workshops who perhaps can’t break into the housing market on their own and see tiny home living as a way to be independent.
“This suddenly is a very enabling option for someone to have their own life, maybe even get out of a relationship [and get] in their own house.”
The third demographic is older couples, seniors looking to retire, and so-called snowbirds — “those who are looking to retire with some comfort.”
“Not having to spend all their time cleaning their large house. They want to spend their time out in their community, they want to spend time with their grandkids, they want to spend their time on the other half of the planet,” Zerbin explains.
“Having a tiny house is a fantastic way to have a small, functional space that meets their needs on potentially a limited retirement budget, but still live large.”
What the future holds for tiny homes
Since there is no specific housing category for tiny homes in Calgary, Rodrigues is unable to provide specific data on how many there are in the city and what the desirability or demand for them is.
While the housing crisis continues across Canada, inconsistency with tiny home legalities leaves future growth potential uncertain. However, after almost eight years of tiny house living, Zerbin himself isn’t looking back.
“For me, it was about escaping debt. I owned a house in my 30s without any debt. It was about having a house that modelled my values. So I had a house that used very little land and very little resources for its operation. I spent $260 for heating for the entire year.”
Zerbin credits his tiny home for allowing him to do big things in life.
“I get to choose suddenly to invest in myself, in my business, because I believe what I’m teaching adds value to the world,” he says. “I could go back to the school system and make more money, but I don’t need to. I’ve got a house that doesn’t cripple me from making those decisions.”