What is Alternative Living?

Today, many Canadians struggle with the cost of living. House prices continue to rise in most major cities, and people of all ages are coming up with novel ways to make big savings. Alternative living can offer a path to freedom from debts, mortgages, and materialism.

There isn’t exactly a clear-cut definition of alternative living. Essentially, it’s any method of dramatically reducing your cost of living. Since your home is one of the largest expenses you’ll incur in life, cutting costs such as mortgage payments, rent, and utilities is one of the most effective ways of freeing yourself from large financial commitments.

Creativity and out-of-the-box thinking are crucial for alternative living. Virtually anything can be converted into a home. Alternative housing options have been created from repurposed shipping containers (yes, you read that correctly) and luxury tree houses to refurbished boats and upgraded sheds. From living in a customized van or bus to building your own cob house or pallet home, alternative living can take on many shapes and forms.

Repurposed Shipping Container. Photo Credit: MorningChores.com

Repurposed shipping container / Photo Credit: MorningChores.com

What Are Tiny Houses?

Tiny houses are a type of alternative living home. As the name implies, tiny houses are notably small dwellings. Usually, a tiny house size is around 400 square feet. The small size frees occupants from the big costs and complexities of large homes.

The ‘tiny house movement’ is a social trend whereby people are choosing to downsize their living space to simplify and live with less. As the rent vs buy debate rages on, more and more people are opting out of paying extortionate rent and mortgages in favour of settling in a tiny home.

You might think that tiny houses are too small to be comfortable. However, many people following this movement are actually building quaint and luxurious tiny homes that contain all the essential elements of a traditional home.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Living in a Tiny House in Canada

Alternative living is a lifestyle choice as well as a financial choice. The alternative living lifestyle is not for everyone. Let’s explore some pros and cons of alternative living to get a better idea of whether this lifestyle choice is right for you.

Advantages of Tiny Homes

  • Lower cost. The most notable advantage of tiny houses is the lower costs. Many tiny homeowners fully own their home without a mortgage and are able to save money.
  • Small accommodation equals big savings. Rather than pay rent, millennials are opting for tiny homes to save for bigger homes in the future.
  • Less space equals less maintenance. Logically, the less space you live in, the less you need to maintain.
  • An alternative to the overpriced housing market. Particularly in cities, the housing market is overpriced making it challenging to save. Indeed, the general cost of living in major Canadian cities can burn a hole in your pocket.
  • Environmentally friendly. Smaller homes mean improved energy efficiency is used and your footprint is smaller. These eco-friendly homes can also be supported by alternative sources of energy such as solar power or wind power.
  • Mobility. Some tiny houses are mobile homes, such as a trailer or boat home. This means you can travel and change locations as you please.
  • Investment. If you have an alternative living home in addition to another home, the property can be sublet or rented for extra money.

Tiny House on Wheels Photo Credit: Macy Miller / minimotives.com

Photo Credit: Macy Miller / minimotives.com

Disadvantages of Tiny Homes

  • Less space. Simplifying and downsizing isn’t for everyone. Some people find it hard to give up the lifestyle that a standard-size home offers.
  • Financing. Even though a tiny home is less expensive than standard homes, it can still be costly to secure land and building materials. It may be harder to secure financing for a tiny home as banks will evaluate the collateral differently.
  • Entertaining. Entertaining friends and family is challenging with the space of a tiny home.
  • Family constraints. Living by yourself or with a significant other is relatively easy in a tiny home compared to with a family. As children grow older, they will want their space to grow which is not viable in a tiny home.
  • Canadian weather. Designing your dream tiny home can be difficult in cold-weather climates, and it’ll take some extra ingenuity to insulate your home and protect it against traditional Canadian winters.
  • Zoning laws. Although some municipalities are starting to come around to the idea of tiny house living, many Canadian towns and cities have strict zoning laws against tiny homes, which means you’ll likely have to relocate rurally to take advantage of this new way of life.

Legalities of Tiny Houses in Canada

A major hurdle for Canadians is finding an actual address for their tiny home. Unfortunately, most cities and towns do not allow tiny houses according to their zoning rules and laws. In past years, there was not enough of a demand for tiny houses to make a change to the rules and regulations.

But there has been a shift in current trends. It is entirely possible that the current zoning laws could change drastically. Not only for the cost of housing purposes but for environmental purposes as well. Victoria is a step closer to embracing the tiny home movement, and Edmonton may amend its zoning bylaws to accommodate tiny living. Someday soon, you might start to see tiny homes spring up in Toronto and Vancouver!

Tiny Homes on Wheels: Portable versus Foundation

When buying or building an alternative living home, you will need to decide between portable and fixed. Portable homes are great if you like to stay on the move and want your freedom. On the other hand, mobile tiny homes need to be parked legally. There may be some extra costs to consider with a mobile tiny home, such as the cost of accommodation at an RV park or tiny home community.

If you want to set your roots down, fixed homes are ideal. With a tiny home on foundation, you’ll need to acquire land whether you decide to build in your backyard or buy a small plot cheaply in the boonies. Remember, zoning laws govern what can be built, even if it’s your property, so make sure you understand exactly what you’re allowed to build in your preferred site.

A Tiny home on wheels / Photo Credit: ViewPoint.com

A tiny home on wheels / Photo Credit: ViewPoint.com

What is the Cost of Building or Buying a Tiny House

According to thespruce.com, if you want to build the house yourself, the average cost of a tiny home in 2015 was around $31,000 CAD (we did the USD conversion.)

A tiny home can cost anywhere between a few thousand dollars to well over $100,000. Obviously, if you’re in this game to save money, spending over $100,000 defeats the purpose of alternative living. But the amount you spend will depend on whether you choose to:

  • rent, buy, or already own the land your tiny house will be situated on
  • opt for fixed or mobile accommodation
  • build the house yourself, hire a builder, or buy it premade
  • add basic or luxurious details to your home’s design

The DIY approach is advantageous because you can customize your home to your unique needs. However, customization can be time-consuming and expensive depending on what you want. And not everyone has the time or skills to complete such a project. You can hire a builder to do the project for you instead, but your costs will rise.

If you do choose to design your tiny home from scratch, you might need some assistance with at least part of the construction. You may want to research tiny house builders and tiny house floor plans before making any final decisions. You can even get tiny house kits that make it easier for individuals who want to build their own micro home.

Buying a premade or prefabricated home is more convenient, but it may not be as original as you’d like it to be. If you want to move as soon as possible, buying your tiny home premade or prefabricated is your best option.

When buying a prebuilt home, there is a peace of mind that comes with knowing what you are purchasing before you purchase it. The cost might be higher at first, but you don’t need to worry much about renovations and building if the home is ready to live in.

Is Alternative Housing Right for Me?

Tiny houses are beneficial in a lot of ways, but that does not mean they’re the right choice for everyone. When deciding on whether alternative living is right for you, consider a few of the following factors.

  • Family. Living in a tiny house with a big family is not advisable. In addition, given the remote location of tiny houses, your children may not have great school or extracurricular activity options.
  • Land. Having land that is free or cheaply available to you with lenient zoning laws is an important factor to consider. If you can’t make big savings on downsizing, you’re going against the philosophy of the tiny house movement.
  • Employment. It is ideal if you’re retired or can work remotely when living in a tiny house. Tiny homes are often in remote locations and outside all major towns and cities due to zoning laws.
  • Country living. For urban dwellers, it can be a shocking change to move out of the city. It is important to consider whether you would be content living the small-town lifestyle or not.
  • Minimalism. Some people enjoy extra space and big home comforts, and there’s nothing wrong with that. If that’s you, a tiny home might not be the right choice.

Can I Afford a Tiny House?

The transition from your house or apartment to a tiny home can take more time and money than you’d expect at first. You will need to consider the initial costs, including building costs, land acquisition, or down payments. It’ll take some creative planning and out-of-box thinking but, as with any passion project or dream, where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Ready to Buy a Tiny House?

If a tiny house is right for you, Fresh Start Finance can help! Whether you need assistance securing building materials, obtaining a down payment, or paying moving expenses, Fresh Start Finance has you covered. Apply today to become a part of the tiny house movement!

Header Photo Credit: David Hillegas / CountryLiving.com