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.
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.”
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!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo by Arwin Basdew on Unsplash