February 9, 2018

BC Home + Garden Show: Big time downsizing


Tiny homes offer housing solutions for would-be homeowners young and old

By Shawn Conner

Owners aren’t the only ones loving their tiny homes. Apparently, the mini domiciles are a hit with children and pets, too.
“The cat loves it,” Valerie Berkenpas says of her 354-square-footer, which has three lofts. “He has a catwalk so he can get from loft to loft. And we have a litter box that’s hidden in the stairs, so you can’t see it. And every little kid wants to go into the loft.”
They may be little—usually between 210 and 400 square feet—but tiny homes are a big and growing trend in North America.
In the Lower Mainland, Mint Tiny House Company is filling the needs of many homeowners who want to go small. The curious can check out some Mint homes, with their unique design features, inventive use of space and upscale finishes, at the Tiny Home Village at this year’s BC Home + Garden Show (February 21 to 25 at BC Place Stadium, bchomeandgardenshow.com).
Shannon Persse co-founded Mint Tiny House Company with her husband Brian four years ago. “He’s the construction brains behind everything,” Persse says. At the time, Persse was working in real estate and saw tiny homes as a possible solution to the Vancouver housing shortage.
“We had Vancouver in mind primarily, but in the beginning it was the U.S. market that gave us some traction,” she says. “They were 90 per cent of our sales. Now, everything in our workshop is a Canadian build.”
The homes are built on a flat-deck bumper-pull trailer, but still follow the same specifications as a traditional home on a concrete foundation. They are insulated, just as a traditional home would be. Appliances are full-size. Bedrooms can be on the main floor or in a loft. And nearly any feature can be customized—even deck installation is an option.
The homes are designed to be mobile, but not every vehicle can pull one. A Prius, for example, would be outmuscled. “We recommend a one-ton truck,” Persse says. “The homes range in size and weight, but the smallest size still weighs in around 9,000 pounds. They’re by no means light.”
It’s also still a challenge to find a place to park a tiny home as parking bylaws in many areas have yet to catch up to the phenomenon.
“We’ve been certifying them as RVs,” Persse said. “They are CSA-approved, so it’s easier to find financing for them, they’re easier to insure, and they’re a lot easier to park legally. Not everywhere is zoned for an RV to be lived in, but it does allow for more options. The city can approve them in more rural areas and recreational zones.”
Most people who own tiny homes live in them full-time, though some use them to travel. One popular market is people in the military who don’t want to live on the base. Tiny homes also appeal to people who care about sustainability: they have a smaller carbon footprint than traditional homes, and specifications include options for grey water tanks or filtration systems. And, as base prices begin at $40,500 for a standard 20-foot home, they’re a big draw for those looking for a smaller financial burden.
“A lot of it comes down to a better lifestyle,” Persse says. “You can afford to travel or put money towards the kids.”
For younger buyers, a tiny home is not only less costly, but also less of a commitment than a larger, stationary home. For empty nesters, a tiny house lets them cash out on their equity and move closer to their children and grandchildren.
That’s the Berkenpas’ plan. They’ve only spent a few weekends in their tiny home so far, but they plan on giving up their Maple Ridge home soon to move up to Prince George, where the tiny home is parked, to be closer to their children and grandchildren. And then they may travel.
“The biggest challenge is finding a place to put it,” says Val Berkenpas. “The municipalities are really behind on this. The movement is huge, people want it, and municipalities don’t have a clue.”
Recently, the Berkenpas opened up their tiny home to the public at the Maple Ridge Country Fest.
“We had hundreds and hundreds of people come through. Every single young couple saw it as a really viable option to live affordably, to even put it in their parents’ or grandparents’ backyard,” Berkenpas says. “We even had a lady come in who has an aunt looking for a basement suite. She said, ‘If we could build this and put our aunt in the backyard, that would be the perfect solution.’ ”

For tickets and information, visit bchomeandgardenshow.com

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