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wildfire on a mountainside at night
CategoriesLifestyle

Fire Break

Old-timers in the Kootenays sometimes refer to June as “Juneuary,” a month with cooler, wetter weather. But June 2021 definitely didn’t resemble anything they would have seen before. It was record-shatteringly hot.

list of temperatures in BC cities

Just as, earlier this year, the jetstream had parked a cold weather system over Texas, it contorted to form a stagnant heat dome that baked much of western North America. 

weather map with jetstream heat dome

For several days, temperatures across BC reached into the 40s (Celsius) before settling into weeks of 30-degree temperatures, with no rain. Perhaps nice for the beach, but not so good for temperate rainforests.

On July 9th, lightning struck a peak east of Winlaw and started a fire. It quickly grew out of control into a “Fire of Note” and began spreading to the backcountry behind us. 

An evacuation alert was issued on July 21st. We raced to remove fuels (both gasoline and dry foliage), set up sprinklers, and collect essentials. Groundworks crews, which had finally mobilized just a week earlier, packed up and rolled out. Safety crews visited every property in the alert area to ensure that everyone was accounted for and was aware of the possibility of an evacuation order. Meanwhile, overhead, we could actually feel the drops falling from the water buckets under a constant cavalcade of helicopters. It was surreal.

water bucket helicopter overhead

The winds picked up that night and the alert was upgraded to an order, blocking us from our new property and kicking off a few smoky weeks of intense worry. The fire was once again upgraded, but this time to an “Interface Fire”, indicating structures (homes) were threatened. At one point, Big Calm was just a few hundred metres from going up in flames.

Fortunately, the persistent efforts of BC Wildfire Service crews, with ground support from the region’s forestry service, Sifco, and others, held the fire from jumping the ridge and into the Valley. The order was downgraded 12 days later and the alert rescinded on August 18th, following some much needed rain. 

We moved to BC knowing that wildfire is an annual risk. Though Big Calm already has extensive fire breaks, we had consulted experts early on about further firesmarting the property. We knew that, at some point in the future, our region could be affected by fire–we just didn’t expect it to be so soon. We mourn for the loss of forest and the wildlife it sustained. 

But, a silver lining can be found: the fire has effectively added an impressive 6000 hectare fire break around us, which will provide a buffer for many years ahead (and perhaps some morel mushrooms next year).

We moved here to be closer to nature. It’s been a true joy to experience more fully the comings and goings of the seasons…

The squirrels, the bears, the flowers, the trees, the birds, the bees, the worms, the weeds… everything in its time.

But it’s also been disconcerting to experience a heatwave that breaks records by double digits; to see robins standing over, rather than sitting their eggs; and to see an inland temperate rainforest thirsting for water. Even coastal Vancouver went 46 days without rain. 

The effects of the global climate emergency are becoming more evident, everywhere. Every part of the world, both urban and rural areas, will experience the impact, whether it’s ice storms, floods, hurricanes, droughts, or wildfires. There is no safe haven.

So what are we to do? We choose to focus on what we can do at Big Calm – and that’s empowering. Ongoing fireproofing, installing an emergency water tank, and planting fire-resistant plants and trees. But we have a vision that goes far beyond that: a community whose strength is greater than that of each individual combined, so it’s better able to withstand whatever shocks the future holds.

And we saw that kind of cooperation last month: the community opened a resiliency centre for those affected by the fire, so all their needs were provided for. In addition to the designated intake centres set up throughout the region, people offered their spare bedrooms and RVs as a place for evacuees to stay. The community hosted a large BBQ for the firefighters as a gesture of gratitude.

We learned a lot from this experience: being prepared is not only wise, it’s empowering, and the cooperation of a community is integral to its resilience. And, while we cannot control the climate, we can find comfort and meaning in collectively caring for our own little piece of this fragile planet.

Photo: Jon Miller

Wooded field with double rainbow
CategoriesLifestyle,  Tiny Homes

Home Isn’t Just a Place

Most of our conversations these days are with people getting into tiny homes. Recently, however, we were contacted by Mike and Maia, a couple moving on from their lovingly self-built Tiny House on Wheels after living in it for four years. They wanted to let us know that they were looking for a passionate couple or individual to take on this beautiful house that they created and lived in.

Tiny House on Wheels

Not only were we impressed with the house itself, but Maia’s poetic description of it as a home really captured a wonderful essence that so many of us are seeking. With their permission, we’re glad to share it here…

Home isn’t just a place. It is an overwhelming feeling. It embraces you at the end of every day. Holds you. Comforts you. Protects you. Loves you. Warms you. Heals you.

 

Tiny home interior 1

This tiny house is all that and more. It was built with incredible intention. The joy and love that went into dreaming, planning, building, and creating this home makes it a very special place. If home is a feeling, when you walk through the doors and breathe it in you instantly feel peace. Whatever the day brought or whatever the world threw, you can leave it outside the door because home is there to take care of you.

 

We built this tiny home so we could have a place that we could call our own. We desire a simple life, because the world can be so complicated. We desire less, because the universe tries to drown you in more. We desire peace, because there is often so much chaos. We desire quiet, because we need to rest. We desire home, because there is no greater place on earth.

 

Tiny home interior 2

This home saved us. We found all these things and more in this beautiful house in the forest.

 

Life always brings change, and even though it is so hard to leave this home we know it will bless someone else and give them safety and comfort. Hold them in peace and protect them.

 

It is a home unlike any other and it is blessed.

Wonderful reflections. If you might be interested in buying this house, email us and we’ll gladly connect you with Mike for info, specs, and pricing.

A blue tiny house sits in a peaceful verdant meadow
CategoriesDevelopment,  Lifestyle,  Tiny Homes

The Bigger Picture on Tiny Homesteads

When we first contemplated building a tiny home community in the Slocan Valley, we thought a lot about how it would impact, and ideally, benefit both the land and the larger community.

Environmental Impact

Earlier this year, I was working on a project to support the region’s licensed cannabis producers, and had the honour and privilege to participate in cultural sensitivity training by members of the Sinixt First Nation, on whose land we work and reside. I learned of Whuplak’n, a Sinixt law that guides us to take care of the land, water, air and all living things. If we take care of the land, it takes care of us: all decisions should be informed through this process of what is in the best interest of all living things. 

Big Calm is aligned with this law. We want to take care of the land so it takes care of us.

Minimal Development, Modest Community

We purchased the property we call Big Calm because it was already ideal for a pocket neighbourhood, with no clearing or major earthworks required. The only development work needed involves smoothing the driveway, drilling a groundwater well, servicing each (gravel) tiny home pad, and installing a septic system. Despite the significant cost, we opted for a Type 2 septic system, which has half the footprint of a Type 1 system and generates much cleaner effluent. In this case, as in many others, eco-minded choices come at a higher cost, but to us, it’s worth it. 

The community will be situated on roughly three of our 30+ acres. Guidelines for RV park developments recommend 10 units per acre, which translates to 30 units for our community space. We decided on only 10. Water is our most precious resource, and after consulting with a civil engineer, we determined that 10 tiny homes is both conservative as well as sustainable. Of course, the other benefit of having only 10 pads is that we can truly offer tiny homesteads, with plenty of space and privacy, with the comfort of a community not too far away.

Tiny Home Living

It’s intuitive that tiny homes take up a smaller footprint than conventional homes and generally use less electricity and water, of which the average Canadian uses 330 litres per day. Tiny house dweller and blogger Joshua Engberg determined that his daily water use was just over 66 litres, about 20% of the average Canadian’s use. In terms of electricity, the average Canadian uses 13,891 kWh per year, while a tiny home uses only 1,515 kWh per year, or about 11% the national per capita average. Based on these statistics, 10 tiny homes would use roughly the same amount of water as two conventional homes and about the same amount of electricity as one conventional home.

And, that doesn’t take into account the electricity- and water-saving measures we, and future tiny homesteaders, plan to employ. Not surprisingly, the majority of individuals interested in living at Big Calm also plan to install solar panels on their tiny homes, which will complement the large solar array we plan to install in the mid-term. Even though tiny homes have a small water catchment area, prospective tiny homesteaders still want to harvest as much water as they can. We’ve also heard from folks planning to have compost toilets in their tiny home, which can save more than 25,000 litres of water per person per year!

Maria Saxton, a doctor of environmental design and planning, conducted a study to measure how downsizing to a tiny home influences downstream environmental impacts. She found that the average ecological footprint required to support a tiny home dweller for one year was about 9.5 acres, compared with 17.3 acres for an individual living in a conventional home, a decrease of 45%. She adds that the impacts are even further-reaching:

“On average, every major component of downsizers’ lifestyles, including food, transportation, and consumption of goods and services, was positively influenced.

 

As a whole, I found that after downsizing, people were more likely to eat less energy-intensive food products and adopt more environmentally conscious eating habits, such as eating more locally and growing more of their own food. Participants traveled less by car, motorcycle, bus, train, and airplane, and drove more fuel-efficient cars than they did before downsizing.

 

They also purchased substantially fewer items, recycled more plastic and paper, and generated less trash. In sum, I found that downsizing was an important step toward reducing ecological footprints and encouraging pro-environmental behaviors.”

Permaculture-Guided

Climate change is an overwhelming issue for everybody. What I love about permaculture is that it is a way for individuals to do their part to care for the earth. Permaculture doesn’t aim to be merely sustainable, it aims to be regenerative. It builds soil, captures carbon, promotes biodiversity and produces food in a way that isn’t destructive. 

We have grand permaculture-related plans for Big Calm. We envision pollinator gardens, a food forest and a greenhouse to extend the growing season. Permaculture is a means by which we can give back to the land, become more self reliant and create community bonds. We are thrilled that everyone we’ve spoken to can’t wait to get their hands dirty!

Community Impact

When we first conceived the concept of Big Calm, we wanted to ensure that it would have a positive impact on the larger community. Affordable housing in this part of BC is a complex issue that will require institutional support and substantial funding to address, and is not an affordable undertaking by us regular folks, unfortunately. 

In an article on the investment needed for dedicated affordable housing Marc Lee, Senior Economist at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, says:

“A housing commitment to build 11,400 units a year for a decade translates into an annual public investment of about $3 billion ($250,000 per unit construction and related cost), assuming public land owned by local governments or the provincial government is contributed.”

Despite not having the substantial capital required to take on the issue of affordable housing, Big Calm can still have a positive impact. In an article in The Tyee, Guy Dauncey, author of Journey to the Future: A Better World is Possible, posed eight solutions to Canada’s housing crisis. One of them was the development of new villages. He says:

“Many younger people want more than an affordable home. They also want to live sustainably with a strong sense of community. They want to build a sharing economy, with a lighter footprint on the Earth. They want to build their own eco-villages and tiny home villages.

 

An eco-village places more emphasis on sociable, pedestrian-friendly designs, habitat protection and solar energy and passive homes than a conventional development. We should train people how to become their own developers, forming eco-village development co-operatives, raising the money needed and navigating the complex world of zoning and development approval.”

My only gripe with this is that it’s not just younger people, it’s people of all ages, including families, independents, and a large proportion of individuals who are retired or planning to retire soon and want to live a more sustainable lifestyle.

Because Big Calm is attracting remote workers–who will bring their jobs with them–to new residential units, we will not exacerbate the issue of lack of affordable housing. We believe we can have a positive economic impact on the community: we hope our modest project–which is being developed by local contractors; tradespeople; and civil, structural and geotechnical engineers–will potentially relieve some pressure on the middle-market. Not to mention that the Big Calm community will volunteer at local events and support businesses by shopping locally.

“More people are now wanting to relocate to the valley, recognizing it for the gem that it is.” 
– Slocan Valley Economic Development coordinator (Valley Voice, October 8, 2020)

We are thrilled with the calibre and diversity of individuals interested in Big Calm, as well as their desire to contribute not just to the Big Calm community, but to the larger community as well. We’ve heard from individuals who want to share their knowledge of / expertise in laughter yoga, leadership, mindfulness, movement, art, group building, positive therapy, meditation/guided visualization, permaculture, gardening, photography/videography, presentation development, detoxing, raw vegan cuisine, mental wellness, and close community living. We’ve had the pleasure to meet a semi-retired midwife, financial analyst, insurance underwriter, soil scientist, leadership coach and yoga instructor, among others. A desire to live sustainably, care for the land and be part of a supportive community is the common thread that unites them.  

Do you have any other ideas that would help us positively impact the environment, the community and the larger Slocan Valley Community? Please share them with us at hello@bigcalm.ca.

Photo by Arwin Basdew on Unsplash

table with Canada flag, passport, and visa application
CategoriesLifestyle

How to Work Remotely in Canada for a Foreign Employer

Numerous polls indicate that remote work is here to stay, with 68 percent of respondents from a recent survey indicating they want to work from home either most of the time, or every day.

The remote work “trend” is turning into the “new normal”: many employees are demanding more flexibility when it comes to where they work and some are even choosing to leave their current job to find one that is fully remote. While remote work itself knows no borders, being hired to work remotely by a foreign company does involve some complexities.

Recently, we spoke with Marc Pavlopoulos, Founder of Syndesus, who says that using a professional employer organization (PEO) like then removes the complexities of cross-border employee-employer relationships. This company is making it even easier to work remotely!

Serving as the employer of record, PEOs help companies in foreign countries recruit, hire and legally employ remote workers. PEOs manage payroll, currency conversion, employee benefits, human resources and essential taxes on behalf of the foreign employer. They also ensure that cross-border employer-employee arrangements are in compliance with employment and tax laws (bet you didn’t expect to read that in a Big Calm post!). By enabling seamless, legal cross-border employment arrangements, PEOs open up a world of work opportunities for remote workers in Canada, including Big Calm tiny homesteaders!

And that’s where Syndesus’ recruitment services come in. Marc says that, due to growing demand, they will be enhancing their recruitment services to match Canadian workers with foreign employers. So, if you’ve decided to take advantage of the ability to work from anywhere, or #workfromhomestead, the world is your oyster!

Here is our conversation with Marc. Check out the Syndesus website for more information.

tiny house bedroom with farm outside window
CategoriesLifestyle,  Tiny Homes

Tiny Houses for Mature Audiences

When we first conceptualized Big Calm, we figured it would appeal to individuals and couples purchasing their first home. We were thrilled to learn that middle-to-retirement age folks are actually the demographic group that find tiny homestead living particularly appealing. Whether downsizing after children have grown up and moved out, or looking for a nice place to retire, tiny homestead living is capturing the interest of Baby Boomers and GenXers!

We’re no spring chickens ourselves, so we can relate to tiny home living hesitancy as it seems the majority of tiny home sleeping arrangements involve lofts. But, many builders are catching on that main floor bedrooms are the way to go for many clients. We’ve compiled a list of builders that offer this feature, or are willing to work on custom builds to ensure their clients’ comfort:

Builders with main floor bedroom models:

Tiny house bedroom interior
Teacup Tiny Homes

The Phoenix – storage staircase to master bedroom with standing room
Summer’s Night Dream – main floor bedroom
The Margo – main floor bedroom

Tiny house interior
ZeroSquared

Van Gogh – main floor queen bedroom
Aurora – main floor queen bedroom
Maverick – two main floor queen bedrooms

Tiny house bedroom interior
Summit Tiny Homes

Hummingbird – main floor bedroom
Modern Bohemian – main floor bedroom

Tiny house bedroom interior
Tree Hugger Tiny Homes

Cascade – main floor bedroom

Tiny house bedroom interior
Mint Tiny Homes

Canada Goose – storage staircase to master bedroom with standing room

Custom Builds

Canadian Tiny Homes
Fritz Tiny Homes
Nelson Tiny Houses
Rewild Homes
Sunshine Tiny Homes
True North Tiny Homes

hummingbird flying towards water drops
CategoriesLifestyle,  Tiny Homes

Do What You Can

Earlier today we presented to hundreds at the Global Tiny House Conference. Our talk, “Macro Forces, Market Trends, and #WorkFromHomestead”, offered an overview of the factors motivating us to start and build Big Calm Tiny Homesteads and the importance of attracting likeminded people to its vision.

We looked at how negative macro forces like climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic, and widespread mental health woes are changing people’s behaviours. And we also looked at how positive market trends like the tiny house movement, the shift to remote work, a rural renaissance, and the rise of regenerative are emerging opportunities. These are all summarized in more detail here.

circular chart of macro forces and market trends for Big Calm investors

As the grandfather of permaculture, Bill Mollison, once said, “Though the problems of the world are increasingly complex, the solutions remain embarrassingly simple.”

One of permaculture’s other wise mantras: “Start where you are, do what you can, use what you have.” Which recalls the Story of the Hummingbird…

One day a devastating fire broke out in a forest – a huge woodlands area was suddenly engulfed by a raging wildfire. Frightened, all the animals fled their homes and ran out of the forest. As they came to the edge of a stream, they turned to watch the fire. They felt discouraged and powerless.

 

They bemoaned the destruction of their homes. Every one of them thought there was nothing they could do about the fire–except for one little hummingbird.

 

The littlest of creatures decided it would do something. It swooped into the stream and picked up a few drops of water and went directly into the forest and sprinkled them on the fire. Then it went back to the stream and did it again, and it kept going back, again and again and again.

 

All the other animals watched in disbelief. Some even tried to discourage the hummingbird with comments like, “Don’t bother,it is too much, you are too little, your wings will burn, your beak is too tiny, it’s only a drop, you can’t put out this fire.”

 

And as the animals stood around disparaging the little bird’s efforts, the bird noticed how hopeless and forlorn they looked. Then one of the animals shouted out and challenged the hummingbird in a mocking voice, “What do you think you are doing?”

 

And the hummingbird, without wasting time or losing a beat, looked back and said, “I am doing what I can.”

And that’s what we’re doing; we’re doing what we can. To acknowledge the forces we can’t control and recognize the trends we can harness – to create something special by supporting people who are eco-minded, improving self-reliance and food security, building a collaborative/supportive local community, and have fun doing it!

Photo by Levi Jones on Unsplash

woman facing a pedestrian bridge into a forest
CategoriesLifestyle,  Tiny Homes

Little Women

On our social media channels – particularly Twitter – we keep tabs on some of the biggest trends nudging people towards what we’re building at Big Calm.

Of course, the biggest one is the COVID-19 pandemic and how it forced both a shift towards remote work and a reckoning with our mental well-beings.

Climate change is another macro force that has things like gardening, prepping, and regional food security coming up more often in casual conversation.

But another significant movement that’s largely gone under the radar is just how popular tiny house living is amongst women. According to Classic Building Sales, more than 64% of tiny house owners are women. Web forums indicate, and many builders confirm, that women are the ones driving the surging sales of premium tiny houses on wheels (THoWs).

We’re seeing three main reasons for this: lifestyle (design), life event (affordability), and life stage (communal independence).

Life Style

Some of the best designers and builders have gravitated towards tiny houses. The remarkable quality and ingenuity of today’s premium THoWs is being profiled and celebrated on Instagram, Pinterest, and Youtube – especially amongst younger women and couples embracing a minimalist yet stylish aesthetic. Related bonus: According to iPropertyManagement, moving to a tiny home can decrease a household’s ecological footprint by 45%.

Life Event

Tiny houses are regularly associated with affordable housing – and there is a massive opportunity for cities to go tiny in meaningful ways. But even at the premium end of tinies, units are significantly less expensive – on average, less than one-fifth! – than getting a mortgage for traditional house or condo. And this is resonating for women on the flipside of a major life event – such as a divorce, the death of spouse, or the last child leaving the nest. Tiny homes offer a simpler, independent, and more affordable mid-life option.

Life Stage

While many people think of tiny homes as something only 20-somethings want, the market says otherwise and is showing significant engagement from those who are older. According to Restoring Simple (pre-pandemic), 23% of 35-54-year-olds and 15% of those over 55-years-old would seriously consider moving into a tiny home. There is a coming wave of retirees interested in leaving the nest themselves and finding a community that provides friendship, activity, safety, snow shovelling, and dog-sitting.

Ross Chapin wrote the book on Pocket Neighborhoods, describing them as “…settings where nearby neighbors can easily know one another, where empty nesters and single householders with far-flung families can find friendship or a helping hand nearby, and where children can have shirttail aunties and uncles just beyond their front gate.” That’s our goal at Big Calm.

For more on this, take inspiration from some of these great stories:

Photo by Jake Melara on Unsplash

open tin of colourful gummy fish
CategoriesLifestyle,  Tiny Homes

Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box

Was Radiohead referring to tiny houses? Ok, it’s not that bad, but I’d be lying if I said adjusting to tiny home living was easy. We’ve been tiny home dwellers for a couple months now and we’re still getting the hang of it, but I thought it’d be a good time to share what we’ve learned so far.

Insight #1: Cleaning takes much less time, but you’ll need to do it more often.

Pretty intuitive: two adults and one cat generate the same amount of dust and dirt no matter the size of the home. So, while it takes half the time to clean a 500 square foot space as a 1,000 square foot space, you have to do it about twice as often.

Insight #2: You’ll likely need to rearrange your “stuff” several times until you get it “right.”

If you’re like me, you’ll notice that where you initially put some “stuff” isn’t the ideal place for it. I’ve been making small rearrangements and changes based on how often we use or need to access certain items. The good news is that every time rearrangements are made, the living space becomes more comfortable.

Insight #3: Fridge space is important.

We’re staying at a temporary rental until some of the early build-out on site is done, so we didn’t get to choose our kitchen and its half-size bar fridge. We will be going with a full-size fridge in our permanent tiny home: more fridge space means more fresh/whole foods, without having to rely as much on packaged/processed foods.

Insight #4: Schedules are important.

Two remote workers in a shared space means one of you is taking a Zoom call in the bathroom if you don’t plan ahead. Every morning we discuss what our schedules are for the day and we check with each other before we book any Zoom meetings.

Insight #5: Include white noise.

Speaking of bathrooms, it’s good to have a noisy bathroom fan. The white noise from the whirring of a fan provides an aural barrier for sounds that need not carry throughout the whole space.

Insight #6: There are ways to get “alone time” even when you can’t be alone.

You know when you see a coworker wearing headphones and it means “don’t bug me?” Well, I’ve learned that works well in a tiny household too. When it’s harder to get “alone time” (especially in winter when working outdoors is less comfortable), you can create alone time by putting on some headphones and listening to ambient sounds or your favourite tunes, which also subtly lets your partner know you’re “busy.”

Another “alone time” trick: if you can’t see your partner, it’s almost like s/he isn’t there (don’t judge until you go tiny). We have three “workspaces,” one of which is around a corner, out of sight. It works.

Also, earplugs and an eye mask are critical for the later sleeper. That’s an obvious one, but worth mentioning.

Insight #7: Once you get past the initial challenges of tiny house living, it’s really quite nice.

I like knowing that all the “stuff” we have is “stuff” we need, or, that that is an achievable end goal. Tiny home living is simpler living. You know how the late Steve Jobs always wore the same outfit so he didn’t have to think about it? It’s kind of like that, but it extends beyond one’s wardrobe. And, perhaps the best thing about tiny-house living – particularly when it’s out in the wilderness – is that nature’s beauty is just outside your door, reminding us that there’s a big world outside our cozy abode.

Photo by Roseanna Smith on Unsplash

Mountain sunset with reflective pond in foreground
CategoriesLifestyle

A Head Full of Dreams

The secret to good sleep? Move to a mountain acreage. I’ve heard about “sleep quality,” but I never understood it until we settled into our rental in Silverton – it’s as though my husband and I are catching up on years of sleep. We’re tired at 8:30 pm and can sleep 10 hours (or more). And, for the first time in a long time, I’m actually dreaming.

It’s just so peaceful out here. I’m not awoken by squealing tires or garbage trucks or an altercation in the nearby parking lot at any, and all hours of the night. Instead of the motion sensor light from the building next to us, or the circular illuminated parking sign that has served as our moon for so long, it’s nearly pitch black, that is, aside from the multitude of stars we are now able to see. 

I didn’t realize what a difference it would make. I am so much more relaxed, calmer. I am captivated by the mosses and mushrooms, the frogs and birds. There is a family of deer that come to visit a few times a week. I’m reminded of all the beauty in the world – all that’s right, instead of all that’s wrong.

And isn’t that increasingly the best lens through which to view the world?