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Tiny home, big living

Affordability and living with less--just a couple of the reasons more people at all life stages are looking at a tiny home.

Bev Adams's dream home is tiny.

At 360 square feet it's a third the size of the traditional house she and husband Kevin shared with their three children, but it's just right for the 56-year-old registered nurse and empty nester.

Michelle Holland's home is also a 'just-right' 360 square feet, perfect for the 29-year-old biologist and her boyfriend, Matt.

Both women are part of the tiny house movement that advocates living simply in homes under 400 square feet. Popularized by the HGTV show Tiny Homes, Big Living, it's how Adams came to fall in love with tiny homes.

With the kids grown, the Adams' house started to feel too big and got the couple thinking of downsizing to a condo.

"We were basically living in just the kitchen, the bathroom and the bedroom anyway," said Adams. "We had too much stuff we didn't need. We knew we could be minimalists and be comfortable in a tiny home."

Sturgeon County's Finished Right Contracting-- now FRC Tiny Homes-- framed their house, which sits on a trailer, and put in the doors and windows. Adams and her husband, who was a painter/carpenter, saved about $55,000 by finishing the inside themselves.

The home has two lofts - one leading to the bedroom accessed by stairs; and another reached by a ladder. There's a living room with sectional couch that opens into a queen-sized bed, a bathroom with a full-sized tub and waterless toilet, and a galley kitchen with a six-foot bamboo counter and four-burner propane stove. A pantry and more storage space is hidden under the staircase. The final tally? $75.000.

Adams cautions those interested in a tiny home to gather plenty of information. In her case, she and husband Kevin put money down on a tiny home with a company in Innisfail that then went out of business. It cost the couple a $45,000 down payment. The house frame, trailer and wheels were all they were able to salvage, she said.

"We contracted FRC Tiny Homes to finish the job," she said. "Research the company you plan going with, talk to people who had their homes built by that company, tour their workshop if possible, and see their builds at various stages."

Adams said her dream, after she retires, is to hitch her tiny home to a one-ton truck and take it to Arkansas for the Tiny House Jamboree held every October. It was something she had planned to do with her husband. Sadly, though the couple lived happily in their tiny home for two months, Kevin was killed in a road accident in January.

Affordability and lifestyle

For Holland, also a minimalist, a tiny home is what she could afford.

A super-modern design and choices like a dishwasher, quartz countertops and radiant floor heating cost $125,000, which Holland expects to pay off in six to seven years. "That's a heck of a lot better than 30 years paying off a traditional house mortgage," she said.

"We land-share with the property owner and pay low rent in exchange for helping to pet-sit the animals," Holland said. "There's no way I could afford an acreage anytime soon, but here I am living on one right now. We have a huge garden and back onto a ravine. It's a beautiful location."

Appeal for all ages

Kenton Zerbin runs tiny house workshops that teach people how to design and build their own tiny house. He also goes over building code options, zoning and bylaws, addressing "where there's wiggle room in some of those things."

Affordability and living debt-free are big drivers for many tiny home owners, Zerbin said, pointing to 24-30 year-olds just entering the housing market as the biggest demographic. Middle-agers who don't need as much space are also attracted to homes that allow them to "live for a lot less, and live a little more," he said. 

For retirees, the appeal of a tiny home is affordability on a low income. For travelling retirees, a tiny house can come along with them, and that can be an option for snowbirds, who don't have to leave behind a huge home filled with stuff that costs a lot to heat.

Zerbin's own tiny house, which has a wood stove and automatic propane, cost $260 to heat last year.

The first thing everyone says on stepping into his home is how much bigger it looks than they imagined, he said. Zerbin is 6-foot-four, but feels comfortable in his 380 square foot home. The 29-feet long, nine-feet wide unit cost Zerbin $90,000.

"I love being able to afford my house and not have to work my life away for it," he said.

Zerbin's house is parked on a farm, and while he doesn't pay rent, he helps the farmer when needed and pays the farm water bill.

Zerbin said there things he would have done differently when building his own tiny home: the rungs on the ladder leading to a second loft would be closer together and wider, making them easier on the feet; and there would be just a single pull out pantry shelf, making it easier for two people to move around the galley kitchen at the same time.

"I'm not saying a tiny house is for everyone--it isn't--but it's more sensible than moving in the direction of the 5,000 square foot McMansions," he said, pointing to one he's done for a family of six. "They went extra wide, 34 feet long and with four bedrooms in the lofts."

Kenton Zerbin offers online and in-person tiny house workshops. The next is in Calgary, Oct. 9-11. See