Versatile tiny homes provide unique lifestyle on a limited budget
Mark Kirk sold his house, moved to Calgary, and only then realized how much stuff he really owned, and how little of it he regularly used. This revelation – along with his desire for a career change – led Kirk to start his own tiny-homebuilding business, Blackbird Tiny Homes.
These homes are called “tiny” for a reason, measuring between 120 square feet and 420 square feet. Kirk says that while tiny homes have been around for close to a decade in the United States – and are the subject of more than one HGTV series – they’re a relatively new option for Albertans.
“You can hook your home up to the back of a truck,” said Kirk, adding that tiny homes are built on trailers and, unless you are looking to build an oxymoronic, oversized tiny home, you don’t need a special permit to haul one.
While tiny homes could be considered akin to recreational vehicles – and require the same electrical, sewer and water hook-ups that are available in RV parks – Kirk says there are some important differences. For one, tiny homes are custom made to a buyer’s specifications. They come with full kitchens, appliances, bathtubs and showers. They’re also framed and insulated like regular houses and have the same R-values.
“RVs are like all-season tires,” said Kirk. “You wouldn’t want to use them in January.”
However, there are limits when it comes to the number of features and appliances that can be crammed into a single tiny home.
“I don’t think there’s much you can’t put in a tiny house, but there’s only so much you can,” said Kirk, citing electrical-load constraints, as most RV parks offer 30-amp services. For this reason, most appliances in tiny homes are propane powered.
Kirk says most people who have expressed interest in tiny homes thus far are either young people or those who are ready for retirement and want to travel. In fact, Blackbird recently built a tiny home for a young couple in Cochrane.
“Your only limitations are money and imagination.” – Mark Kirk, Blackbird Tiny Homes
“They’re just out of university,” said Kirk. “They considered getting a condo, but they didn’t want to spend $300,000, and they want to travel.”
Tiny homes can range in price from $50,000 – $100,000, with the average cost falling somewhere in between. While it’s possible for families to live in tiny homes, Kirk says “you must be in the mindset of small living, as there’s not a lot of room.”
As with standard-issue homes, Kirk says there are a variety of floor plans to choose from when it comes to tiny homes. While most tiny homes have loft bedrooms, there are others that have a bedroom on the “main” floor, and some have up to three. Some models have drop-down decks, while others have wood stoves and in-floor heating. And many tiny homes have a second loft that can be used for storage.
“Your only limitations are money and imagination,” said Kirk.
Kirk says the biggest hurdle facing would-be tiny-home owners is finding a place to park it.
Typically, most tiny-home owners in Alberta live outside city limits. They either rent land from a farmer or have purchased their own plot where they can park their house.
That was the case for one of Kirk’s colleagues (who has asked not to be named in this article). He built two tiny homes for his family on their property in Bragg Creek.
While he says it’s a temporary housing measure, as their new, standard-size home is under construction, the family has fared “surprisingly well,” though there’s daily competition for each house’s single bathroom.
“Storage is an issue, and overall family dynamics have changed a little because we’re always on top of each other,” he said. “It’s definitely a lifestyle change. You have to try it out and see if it works for you.”
Besides offering people an affordable housing option, Kirk says tiny homes are also environmentally friendly. In fact, he says you can almost live “off the grid” if you get a full set of solar panels and composting toilets. A clean water source, however, is still necessary.
Tiny homes can also have other applications. For example, among the nine homes Blackbird has built thus far, three are for Theatre Calgary’s summer Shakespeare By the Bow productions in Prince’s Island Park. They house sound equipment and merchandise, and offer a place for the actors to change.