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Tasha and her daughter have been living in their tiny home for a year and a half. Jenny Holden/The Discourse Cowichan

Tiny home stories: 'It's a freedom'

Meet three Cowichan Valley residents who choose to live in a tiny house on wheels.

In the midst of an affordable housing crisis, more and more people in the Cowichan Valley are choosing to live in tiny homes on wheels. Tiny homes offer flexibility and independence at a cost that’s affordable compared to many of the alternatives. But it’s still, in almost all circumstances, against local bylaws to live permanently in a tiny house. The Discourse Cowichan has looked into the local growth of tiny home living in Cowichan and the push to have this choice acknowledged in building codes and bylaws. (Read that story here.)

Why choose the tiny home life? Here are the stories of three people in the Cowichan Valley who say this minimalist lifestyle works for them. I’m only using their first names, and in one case a pseudonym, to minimize the possible risk that their housing could be jeopardized as a result of speaking with me.

Tasha

“Make sure you get it professionally built. Mine ended up costing me quite a bit because I went with a contractor locally who had the skills but never actually built a tiny home; he built sheds. I had to redo some of his work because he just did it all himself–he did the electrical, he did the water, he built everything himself within five to six months and then delivered it as a skeleton. Whereas when you get it professionally done, it’s RVIA-certified. Everything is to code. You don’t have to worry. It’s delivered finished.”

“I spent about $100,000, which is all my savings that I had. The first version was $50,000. It wasn’t supposed to be much more than that. I was only supposed to put in about $10,000 to $20,000 more in appliances, But it ended up being structural things that needed to get changed. The floor in the loft had to get redone. [The roof also need to be replaced.] I had to pay four different contractors, including my partner.”

“With my daughter, it’s the perfect size for the two of us. … I can feel my daughter growing in it for the next — I don’t know how long. Until she can’t fit in her loft anymore.”

“I had nightmares of it falling apart [when I moved the home to a new location earlier this year.] I had to insure my tiny house to move it for that day. Getting out of the driveway was the hardest part, and parking. But on the highway, it was smooth sailing. It moved all in one piece.”

“We have been preparing a lot and I feel like I’m set for winter. I’ve got two heaters. We dug trenches, we buried water lines. We’ve got heat tape around all our water pipes right now. And last winter it was fine. A few times, my water froze, but it was because I didn’t leave it dripping and it was a very easy fix. That was only because the builder didn’t install the water lines properly. If they were installed properly by a company that professionally makes them, that wouldn’t have happened.”

“Back in the day, we used to be able to build our own homes and somewhere along the line we lost that concept. It’s a right, so I will fight for my right to live in a house that is for my future generations, or whatever I want to do with it. It’s a freedom. It really does feel like a freedom to have it.”

Sandra lives and works out of this 10-by-20-foot tiny home. Jenny Holden--The Discourse Cowichan
Sandra lives and works out of this 10-feet-by-20-feet tiny home. Jenny Holden/The Discourse Cowichan

Sandra

“I was living on Gabriola Island and I owned this small cabin. There were a lot of restrictions on what I could do with it. And I saw how kind of crazy it is to be one person living on half an acre of land. I wanted to live in a more of a community sort of situation and live more sustainably. … A friend of mine had a caravan on Denman Island and she showed me pictures and it really struck a chord with me. Around that time, [friends] said, ‘You should come and move in with us.'”

“Some houses are built for next to nothing. Mine is kind of on the other end of things, because it was custom built. It was about $70,000, which was about twice as much as I thought it was going to cost. I used a lot of reclaimed materials and that actually increases the costs of building. It’s not like just going out and buying a load of two by fours or one by fours. I have all these barn boards from a 100-year-old barn in Langley.”

“I live and work here, so my table is my office. I always look around and kind of go, ‘Am I really weird to be able to live in such a small space?’ I do appreciate being able to spread out in someone else’s house every once in a while.”

“What makes me not go crazy is not having it filled up with too much stuff. … It is a big process to downsize all your stuff and really figure out what you want and what you need. I get comments like, ‘There’s no way I could live without this.’ And then I have other people who are like, ‘Oh my god, I just can’t imagine how freeing it is to imagine getting rid of most of your stuff.’ I think we’re slaves to our stuff.”

“I have a storage locker so it’s not like everything I own is here. … I don’t have any room for certain things, like tires. There are things in there that I don’t know what I would do with them if I didn’t have the storage locker.”

“Because I built this house really beautifully, it makes a big difference with being here all the time. I have a lot of windows. I lived in a mobile home once, for a while. Lots of people have said, ‘Why didn’t you just buy a trailer?’ But it’s not beautiful and it’s not well made. It’s nice to live in a place with mostly reclaimed materials and wood, and no materials that are off-gassing. So it’s actually a really healthy home.”

Sarah (not her real name)

“It is really expensive to build a tiny house. I spent a lot of time doing drawings of what I would like to have or a layout that would be of interest, but I couldn’t get my head around the cost. So when this house was up for sale, it was quite a bit cheaper than what a custom build would be. … I paid about $63,000. … It was probably close to half of what it would cost to build this.”

“Now that I’m in it, I see all the things that actually need to be rebuilt to fit me. This is normal for a lot of people that buy a normal house. Like, ‘Oh, we see the kitchen doesn’t suit us so we’re going to probably redo the kitchen,’ that kind of thing. When you’re in a tiny house, the kitchen is three quarters of the actual house.”

“This space, when I’m in it alone, feels like I’ve died and gone to heaven. Like I’m living in a luxury condo in the woods. With a five-year-old with a lot of energy, it’s really tight and a little bit tough. … [My son] loves the coziness of it, the closeness of it. Like, I’m right near him at all times. Which is really hard for me, but great for him.”

“We’re working with a contractor. … He’s helping me build an outdoor space, which is gonna help. You spend more time in the outdoors. In fact, up until it got cold, I would say we barely went inside, ever.”

“It works really well if I understand the systems really well, and the rhythm really well which I think I’m just kind of getting a sense of. I actually see it as probably my biggest creative challenge right now — how to make our life work in this space. I’m running a business too. I’ve got files, textbooks, charts.”

“We’ve hit winter, and it’s hard. … I don’t have laundry. I don’t have recycling. I don’t have garbage. I’m on wood. I’m on propane. I have to do all that myself. I mean, I knew those things, but I don’t think I knew how many daily hours that it would take.”

“[I’m surprised by] how much work it still is. I had guessed because the square footage is tight it would be less cleaning. But the thing is, I actually still have too much stuff. I literally got rid of everything I owned to move my life from the house and business into this tiny place, and I still have too much stuff. And I thought I was pretty organized. It’s really showing me the places I’m not organized. I guess it’s really showing me myself.”

“I’m proud to be part of the underground movement. I’m sorry that it’s underground. I’m sorry we can’t be more loud and proud about it.”