By Rachel Fraser

Despite the regulatory obstacles to owning a tiny home in the Robson Valley, McBride resident Dan Read thinks it’s an ideal living situation for the right person.

“I loved it,” he said of the short time he spent occupying the one he is currently keeping on his sister’s McBride-area farm, though he did admit it is a bit too small for his entire household, which includes his partner and three dogs. The completed unit, designed by Read himself and built by Vancouver-based Mint Tiny House Company, has a 225 sq ft footprint, plus two lofts – a 9 ft long sleeping area, and another at 11 ft in length that Read uses as a storage room.

The home is certified as an RV, a standard Read said most good tiny home companies will build to. It is completely off-grid capable, tricked out with solar power, a composting toilet and 200L internal water tank with an electric pump supplying running water to the kitchen sink, bathroom sink and shower. Read uses jerry cans to fill it up but said it could be set up to fill with a hose. With conservative use, the tank lasts him 4-5 days.

“I got a home that in a lot of ways is completely self sufficient. You can kind of just drop it anywhere and live in it.”

Except you can’t. At least, not in most of BC. As reported by the Goat last month, tiny homes are not legal in the Regional District, nor the Villages or Valemount or McBride.

The biggest problem with a tiny home, Read said, is where you can put it. Within a few months of placing the home on his sister’s farm, the building inspector got involved. Initially, Read was told it would have to move, but the issue was passed up to the next level at the Regional District, and they chose not to pursue it. Read said there was an understanding that it can be there, but no one can ever live in it.

Read said he’s been part of a few tiny home communities online, and that the discussion on where you can put a tiny home is at least as prevalent as how you can get one. He said it’s a big problem, and that a lot of people who are interested in tiny homes and potentially owning one, can’t do it in the municipality that they’re in, and don’t know of anywhere they can. He feels it’s unfortunate given the housing situation that we already have.

“What a real failure on the governmental side. It’s one thing to not be able to fund a solution, but to put these kinds of legislative, bureaucratic obstacles in the way of people solving the problem themselves is really unfortunate.”

The home was delivered 6 and a half years ago and has since been occupied only sporadically for a handful of weeks or months at a time. Read had the home built to function as an investment vehicle and envisioned it as a retreat or sanctuary should something happen. It turned out it was needed when the apartment Read and his partner were renting was flooded with sewage. They spent the remaining time until their current home was built, about 6 weeks, in the tiny home.
Now that Read has completed a newly-built standard-sized home in McBride, he has listed the tiny home for sale. Another problem Read pointed out is that you can’t get a mortgage to build a tiny home. Unlike a mortgage to build a small house, banks won’t finance a movable asset. This has provided another barrier to interested buyers.

When asked about lessons learned, Read said the home requires some ongoing maintenance to keep, and there’s some effort that goes into taking care of it. He’s reapplied the exterior finish twice, for instance. Because it isn’t occupied continuously, he says he’s had to work out a system of how to winterize it.

“I have a checklist that I made now, and I think it’s 11 points long.”

He also described the solar power as a bit of an “adventure.” The solar had to be done by a separate company and required a bit of coordination with the builder. He said it took some modification to get it to where you can just turn on the solar power and turn on the lights.

“It took a few years to work out the bugs.”

It has a small wood stove that takes very little fuel to heat such a small space even in winter.
“One of the things that really, really impressed me about that home was how easy it was to heat. Even some winters being up here when it was minus 30, I wouldn’t keep a fire going in the stove all day. I simply wouldn’t need to. Usually, I burn a few pieces of wood in the morning and then a few pieces at night. And I’d have to be careful about that at night because I could make it too hot in there to sleep.”

It also has ceramic heaters that you wouldn’t want to rely on just running off solar power, but with an external power hook-up or generator, could also be used to heat the unit.

Read emphasized that he understands and appreciates the role of building inspectors but says that rather than looking to restrict the use of tiny homes, the goal should be to see how they can make them safe, creating standards around grey water disposal and other safety or sanitary concerns.

“What is the spirit of these laws? Coming up with safe practices and standards to enforce would be way better than the current situation which is just obstacles and prohibition.”