Lo­cals big on tiny houses

The Georgia Straight - - Urban Living -


What hap­pens when a real-es­tate agent and a con­struc­tion worker get to­gether in the midst of Van­cou­ver’s hous­ing cri­sis? In the case of Shan­non and Brian Persse, the an­swer came in an en­vi­ron­men­tally con­scious, down­siz­ing move­ment that’s been sweep­ing North Amer­ica in re­cent years: tiny houses. Or, more specif­i­cally, mo­bile de­tached homes gen­er­ally less than 500 square feet in size that may be used as pri­mary res­i­dences, rental suites, of­fice spa­ces, and more.

A Van­cou­ver na­tive, Shan­non says her Irish-born hus­band, a gen­eral con­trac­tor, was “gob­s­macked” by Van­cou­ver’s real-es­tate prices when he moved to the city in 2013. (He’s likely even more taken aback now.) So when they spot­ted a tiny house in Point Roberts, Wash­ing­ton, where Shan­non’s brother owns a va­ca­tion home, the cou­ple were in­stantly in­trigued. “We thought it was the cutest thing we’d ever seen,” she re­calls by phone.

Af­ter con­duct­ing some re­search, the pair got to work on their first minia­ture house in 2013: a 210-square-foot abode that Shan­non’s brother would use as a guest­house at his southof-the-bor­der prop­erty. Soon, they be­gan field­ing inquiries from oth­ers. “We started off build­ing one and then an­other one and an­other one,” Shan­non ex­plains, “and then we started get­ting a bit of trac­tion. So it was some­thing that we sort of de­cided we were go­ing to do full-time.”

The pair launched Mint Tiny House Com­pany in 2014, and four years later have pro­duced over 100 homes. The Delta-based busi­ness builds four “edi­tions” of tiny houses, rang­ing from 200 to just un­der 400 square feet, though Shan­non says the Loft model, avail­able from 24 to 36 feet in length, has proven most pop­u­lar with clients, many of whom hail from B.C. and On­tario. Boast­ing a liv­ing room with a 10-foot-high ceil­ing, a fully out­fit­ted kitchen, a bath­room, and three sep­a­rate sleep­ing ar­eas, the house—the big­gest of Mint’s of­fer­ings—helps make down­siz­ing a lit­tle eas­ier. Prices start at $50,500. “A lot of the larger ones kind of help peo­ple tran­si­tion from, say, a 3,000-square-foot house down to 380 square feet,” says Shan­non.

Built to be cer­ti­fied as RVS so that they may be parked wher­ever by­laws al­low it, all Mint struc­tures come equipped with mod­ern con­ve­niences and fea­tures like at­trac­tive wood pan­elling, soft-clos­ing doors and draw­ers, and lam­i­nate floor­ing. Many of Mint’s cus­tomers, who range from young cou­ples and fam­i­lies to re­tirees look­ing to sim­plify their liv­ing sit­u­a­tions, are choos­ing green el­e­ments to re­duce their eco­log­i­cal foot­prints even fur­ther. “A lot of our clients are go­ing more off the grid,” Shan­non shares. “We do in­stall a lot of com­post­ing toi­lets, rain­wa­ter-col­lec­tion sys­tems, and some homes are go­ing so­lar.”

Although diminu­tive houses have their pros—they’re cus­tom­iz­a­ble and mov­able, and use sig­nif­i­cantly less en­ergy and pro­duce less waste than tra­di­tional homes—mu­nic­i­pal by­laws and gen­eral un­fa­mil­iar­ity with the struc­tures have pre­vented them from be­com­ing a vi­able main­stream hous­ing op­tion in many ur­ban cen­tres, notes Shan­non. In Van­cou­ver, res­i­dents are for­bid­den from liv­ing in such “Rvs”—one of a hand­ful of by­laws that lo­cal ad­vo­cacy groups such as the B.C. Tiny House Col­lec­tive have been work­ing to over­turn— lead­ing many to place them in more ru­ral ar­eas or recre­ational parks.

For the Persses, who hope to move into a tiny house in the near fu­ture (the pair had con­structed their own, but then de­cided to sell it to a client who wanted one right away), the homes are worth em­brac­ing. And not only be­cause they of­fer one so­lu­tion for tack­ling Van­cou­ver’s hous­ing prob­lem: “You can take them any­where, right?” says Shan­non. “And that’s sort of what tugs at our heart­strings a lit­tle bit: you’re not stuck in one lo­ca­tion. Of­ten­times, you have to set down roots…whereas with this, you can de­sign a house that works for you—or you and your sig­nif­i­cant other or whomever—and you can take it any­where.”

At the B.C. Home + Gar­den Show, which hap­pens at B.C. Place from next Wed­nes­day to Sun­day (Fe­bru­ary 21 to 25), Van­cou­verites will be able to see and walk through three of Mint’s small houses, each of which will be fully fur­nished. They’ll also be able to ask the Persses any lin­ger­ing ques­tions they have about small-scale liv­ing. It’s all part of Mint’s plan to get more peo­ple talk­ing about and into tiny homes. “It’s hard to kind of pic­ture ‘Could I ac­tu­ally live in that?’ ” says Shan­non. “So this kind of gives you the chance to see that and find out that they’re not ac­tu­ally as small as you think they are.”


Com­pact homes may of­fer dwellers more free­dom. James Al­fred photo.

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