Think­ing big by liv­ing small

The Prince George Citizen - The Citizen - Real Estate Weekly - - Front Page - Kim Davis for Can­west News Ser­vice

What pack­ing-chal­lenged, or­ga­ni­za­tional junkie hasn’t fan­ta­sized about some­thing that can hold all the com­forts of home in a small and por­ta­ble pack­age-say, like Mary Pop­pins’ mag­i­cal bot­tom­less bag?

James Stu­art, founder of Nanaimo-based Twelve Cubed Homes, wasn’t think­ing of Mary Pop­pins when he be­gan doo­dling his de­signs for a mi­cro-home.

Still, he was look­ing to make some­thing big in a small pack­age.

Af­ter read­ing a disturbing story about a Van­cou­ver home­less woman who had burned to death try­ing to keep warm, Stu­art and sev­eral friends be­gan dis­cussing how small one could make a house. And not just a shel­ter, rather some­place a per­son could call a home.

A stack of nap­kins and sev­eral pro­to­types later, Stu­art emerged with two sur­pris­ingly spa­cious, but re­mark­ably small, homes: the Cap­puc­cino, mea­sur­ing 12 cu­bic feet and, af­ter a bit more care­ful trim­ming, the Pure at 10-by-10-by-12.5 feet. As far as he knows, his cubed con­cepts are the small­est com­plete homes on the mar­ket to­day.

Stu­art says that when they sat down to de­sign the cubes, the goal was to come up with a cost-ef­fec­tive plan that would pro­duce the least amount of waste pos­si­ble, be en­vi­ron­men­tally con­scious and house two peo­ple in as small a space as would be prac­ti­cal and com­fort­able.

By choos­ing a 12x12 size, they were able to cap­i­tal­ize on the fact that many stan­dard build­ing ma­te­ri­als come in eight-or 12-foot lengths. The cubes ex­ceed code re­quire­ments for in­su­la­tion, uti­lize FSC-cer­ti­fied wood wher­ever pos­si­ble and in­clude other eco-friendly sta­ples such as low-flow fix­tures and on-de­mand hot wa­ter. They use no par­ti­cle board.

From the out­side, it is dif­fi­cult to imag­ine how the lit­tle houses, which are quaint and con­tem­po­rary, can pos­si­bly ac­com­mo­date a liv­ing space, kitchen, bath­room and bed­room, let alone pur­port­edly gen­er­ous amounts of stor­age in 144 square feet. Closet kitchens and air­plane bath­rooms im­me­di­ately come to mind.

As Stu­art notes, though, the trick is to think cu­bi­cally. Us­ing an in­no­va­tive sys­tem of mov­able f loors, the cubed homes suc­cess­fully pro­vide two f loors with ap­prox­i­mately 288 square feet (for the Cap­puc­cino) of liv­able space be­neath a 12-foot high roof.

“It’s a sim­ple de­sign that can be eas­ily tweaked,” says Stu­art, who swears that by con­vert­ing the liv­ing area and stor­age, one could even sleep up to five peo­ple (very co­zily) in a pinch.

Stu­art moved into the pi­lot 12by-12-foot cube in Nanaimo sev­eral months ago to do a six-month test to prove just how com­fort­able and cosy the home could be, dur­ing even the cold­est part of the year.

“I rented my house, put most of my stuff in stor­age, and have be­gun to adapt to my ‘cu­bic’ life,” says Stu­art. “It’s a space I’m proud to bring peo­ple into.”

Hav­ing made a wa­ger with sev­eral friends who doubted he could live in a space that small, Stu­art says he is look­ing for­ward the ap­prox­i­mately $4,000 he will have to do­nate to the Sal­va­tion Army at the end of the six months.

While each mu­nic­i­pal­ity has its own re­quire­ments around build­ing sizes, set­backs and the like, ini­tia­tives and in­cen­tives around eco­den­sity, which are en­cour­ag­ing car­riage and laneway homes, make the cubes a con­ve­nient way to cre­ate much-needed hous­ing and rev­enue sources for home­own­ers.

For ex­am­ple, the City of Vic­to­ria is con­sid­er­ing a by­law that would al­low car­riage homes and de­tached suites.

Due of the cur­rent short­age of af­ford­able hous­ing, the city is of­fer­ing a sub­sidy of up to $5,000 to peo­ple who will put in le­gal suites and then agree to rent them for five years.

In the city of Nanaimo, the 10by-10 Pure unit can be in­stalled without a build­ing in­spec­tion or per­mit on city lots that al­ready have a pri­mary house.

The more spa­cious 12-by-12 Cap­puc­cino unit re­quires a fully in­spected foun­da­tion and per­mits and falls un­der the cur­rent car­riage house reg­u­la­tions, al­low­ing it to be con­structed on a cor­ner lot, a lot with laneway ac­cess or on prop­erty over 10,000 square feet.

The cubes can be built in part-or in the case of the 10-by-10 Pure model, en­tirely off-site, mak­ing it pos­si­ble to de­liver them on a flatbed truck, and in­stalled in min­i­mal time.

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