The tiny house movement is a growing part of the home building scene in Canada, and that’s why I get a steady stream of questions from people wanting to build tiny houses, but not sure how. Even people who like their full-size homes are curious. What’s the minimum house size that’s possible? Where can I find a contractor to build a tiny home for me? What can I do to make a small space efficient? Answers to questions like these are the place to start.

There are two reasons people build tiny homes. One is to save money, and the other is lifestyle simplification. A small home needs less maintenance, less cleaning, and forces you to own less stuff. As the population ages, the virtue of scaled-down simplicity becomes important to more people. This is one reason for the rising popularity of tiny homes, but the movement is at odds with many existing municipal bylaws.

Housing bylaws and building code enforcement is a municipal matter in Canada, and many areas have a higher minimum house size than most tiny home people want. Minimum floor area is sometimes as large as 700 square feet – about twice the size of many tiny home floor plans. Bylaws like these are old, drafted in the days when municipal leaders thought minimum floor areas were the best way to combat the creation of unsightly shacks. An unintended consequence is the suppression of the kind of simple, elegant housing people want. So is there anything you can do about this? Yes, a couple of things.

First, understand that some municipalities don’t have minimum size restrictions at all. Others might have floor area minimums small enough to satisfy you. Other municipalities might be willing to issue a variance to allow construction for homes smaller than bylaws require. Canada needs tiny homes, and a few people in power are starting to wise-up and realize this. That’s why the tide is on your side when it comes to tiny home construction.

Technically speaking, there’s no big difference building a tiny home and a regular one, but that doesn’t mean all contractors are suited to the job. The building business is quite slow to change, and building a successful tiny home does require different ways of thinking. It takes more patience and innovative work to create the features needed to make the most of a tiny home space. Not all contractors appreciate the chance to get creative like this. Another difference to understand has to do with cost per square foot.

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Although lower overall cost is one advantage of a tiny home, you won’t necessarily see this advantage in terms of price per square foot. That’s because there are fixed costs that apply identically to both large and small houses. Sewage system, water supply, electrical panel, inspection fees for instance – they’re all the same regardless of the size of house you’re building.

There certainly are contractors around who’ll build a tiny home for you, but don’t expect them to deliver a particularly low cost per square foot price. For example, a very basic full-size house might cost $125 to $150 per square foot to build, but it might cost closer to $200 per square foot for a comparable tiny home. That said, building your own tiny home is much more doable than a full-size house, and this is where you can really lower costs per square foot. I’ve seen some year-round tiny homes built by owners for less than $50 per square foot in materials.

Sometimes less is more, and this is the growing attraction of tiny homes. Fueled by a grass-roots movement, this is one area where government needs to catch up with the wisdom of average people.


Steve Maxwell writes about the building, gardening, homesteading and workshop projects he does at the end of Bailey Line Road on Manitoulin Island. Visit Steve online at BaileyLineRoad.com