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Beautiful forest outside of a tiny house window
CategoriesTiny Homes

The Essential Combination of Set and Setting (How to Preserve the Resale Value of your Tiny House on Wheels)

Tiny Houses on Wheels (THoWs) are odd creatures. They seldom move, yet are lumped into the recreational vehicle (RV) category. They are, increasingly, all-season residences yet they must connect to permanent houses or to basic campground pedestals for services. And they are often someone’s highly curated, minimalist nest yet they aren’t considered fixed property in the same way that traditional houses are.

Fact is, THoWs are depreciating assets. They are trailers, and like motor vehicles, they typically lose value as soon as they’re rolled off the lot.

That’s not to say that THoWs aren’t valuable though. Most pro builds these days are very high quality. They are manufactured centrally, which reduces significant inefficiencies (more than 40% of landfill is construction waste!) and their smaller footprint makes them especially eco-friendly (20% the average water intake and 11% the average electricity use compared to standard houses). Because space is at a premium, THoW materials, finishings, and furnishings are carefully selected, resulting in owners’ above-average emotional connection to their THoW.

But because they are not permanently attached to a site, THoWs don’t generally offset depreciation with ascending land value. So, the purchase or sale of a THoW should be approached differently than regular real estate. Ironically, however, that requires an even greater emphasis on the most real estate maxim of all: location, location, location.

A great parking spot can preserve resale value, while a mediocre one can significantly decrease the perceived value of a THoW and even turn one off of tiny living altogether.

Let’s look at three different examples of different combinations of set (house) and setting (site). These are all based on real THoWs and actual THoW owner blind spots and costly decisions that we’ve encountered this year in our neck of the woods.

1. Mediocre Set + Mediocre Setting

A couple commissioned a non-pro to build a 30′ THoW that was functional, but featured odd construction quirks like uneven stairs, gapped finishings, and a hot plate directly adjacent to the kitchen sink – a mistake that unfortunately burned their newborn. 

DIY builds vary widely in quality. Some are extraordinary displays of craftsmanship while others end up looking like the weekend hobby that they were. Quality control for non-pro builds is a much larger variable and the real kicker when it comes to resale: none of them are certified. CSA and/or RVIA certification may seem superfluous and not worth the added upfront cost, but certification preserves THoWs’ resale value by assuring buyers of the home’s safety and the ability to secure THoW insurance.

They parked the home on a rented afterthought section of a hillside acreage for several hundred dollars a month. Although the site was nestled in a beautiful patch of countryside, it came with no hookups or internet, was very steeply sloped, and, as they discovered later, neighboured a noisy sawmill.

This couple didn’t get into tiny living thinking that they would abandon their investment within a year, but both the set and setting were lacking. Last we heard, the THoW remained unsold and is now parked in storage somewhere.

2. Great Set + Mediocre Setting

Another couple parked their magnificent 423 sq-ft high-end professionally built and certified THoW on an unserviced spot in the middle of a field. The beautiful $240,000+ house includes a slate of thoughtful add-ons – including a remarkable custom-built queen-size Murphy Bed, upgraded bathroom, and 2700W solar system. They clearly put a lot of effort into designing their abode and paying a reputable builder to construct it.

They soon realized that a muddy field was not the right spot to park their luxury THoW, and that they mistakenly threw all of their budget into the build while overlooking its siting. Now they can’t afford to rent a practical, year-round, THoW-friendly spot anywhere.

Many THoW buyers get caught up in the Youtube / Instagram vortex of tiny houses. It’s actually quite fun – so many space-saving innovations, layout personalizations, and interior design flourishes! But many of these folks don’t consider things like filters, pumps, tanks, controls, skirting, exterior storage, etc. And even fewer give much thought to proper siting beyond the general region.

This couple sacrificed setting for set and learned that an expensive, custom-designed THoW is more difficult to resell if it’s not in a good setting. Within months of moving into their dream THOW, they gave up on tiny living, listed their THoW on Marketplace, and have since dropped its price at least twice.

3. Great Set + Great Setting

Our last example is an owner that had the best of both worlds. Like the couple above, she had invested around a quarter-million dollars in a custom pro-built and certified 34′ THoW that included a dream bathroom, personally sized office desk, low-ceiling reading loft, eccentric finishings, a custom closet, and even a hidden room.

She wisely placed her dream house on a proper, fully-serviced pad in a serene and picturesque location surrounded by caring and helpful neighbours. The set and setting were perfect complements. However, after a couple major life changes, she chose to move elsewhere. Despite several buyers’ interest in acquiring the THoW in situ, she decided instead to park it in a scrapyard. Unfortunately, simply moving this beautiful home to an unflattering setting where few potential buyers would want to live probably cost her more than a fifth of her original purchase price. Now it sits empty by a highway, depreciating.

***

When it comes to resale value: buy certified, resist overdoing highly individualized layouts and non-essential upgrades, and recognize the important interplay between THoW set and setting to ensure that you can preserve your THoW’s value should you ever choose to sell.

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

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

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

white neon sign that says Do Something Great
CategoriesLifestyle

The Space Between

Surrounded by boxes of what we’re taking to B.C., it doesn’t feel like we’re really “living” in Calgary anymore. There’s still a month until we move, and it’s as though we’re somewhere in between.

It’s given us a lot of time to think about what we want to do with Big Calm. The first objective is to finish the Shangri-loft, so we can move in. I want our plans for both Big Calm and the Shangri-loft to be guided by the principles and ethics of permaculture, so we are thinking about ways to efficiently capture and store energy (solar panels, solar thermal, batteries, electric generators, etc.) while ensuring there are redundancies in place. 

Here in Calgary, we are in a condo building with 47 units, but we hardly know anyone – I certainly wouldn’t feel comfortable reaching out to a neighbour if we needed anything. We’re surrounded by people, but there is no community. We decided that we want to build one at Big Calm, and have established our vision: 

To create an ecologically sustainable, self-reliant tiny home community, guided by the ethics of permaculture, and strengthened by collaboration, mutual support and the diversity and skills of its members.

We will call the Shangri-loft home while we establish the first phase of Big Calm, after which the Shangri-loft will serve as a shared community space. We plan to incorporate other elements, including other community gathering spaces, food garden beds, a greenhouse and eventually, a food forest. 

There is a lot to consider, and we want to be thoughtful in approach. We can’t wait to share more (per Geoff Lawton: 100 hours of thinking for 1 hour of work). 

Have ideas for us? Drop us a line!

Photo by Clark Tibbs on Unsplash

community of people in forest watching a sunset
CategoriesLifestyle

New Life at the End of the World

It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I (wanna) feel fine.

But I don’t. Far from it. 

News of natural – as well as very unnatural – disasters is rampant. We’re inundated with reports of war, terrorism, wildfires, and drought. Seeking peace of mind, I find myself devising ways to save our ailing planet, only to realize the futility.

Perhaps selfishly, I begin to worry about what the future will look like, especially as the situation becomes more dire. Where do I want to be and what people would I like to be surrounded by when it “all goes down”?

What I know is that I don’t want to be in a city of one-million-plus people fighting over bottled water and the last bag of chips at the supermarket. Am I catastrophizing? Maybe. Maybe not.

I refocus on what I can control. It turns out that it isn’t much, but it’s enough.

What I CAN do is create a life that offers security in a very uncertain world. We’re taught at an early age of the three basic human needs – food/water, shelter and clothing. I think it’s time to go back to basics and do whatever I can to ensure these needs will continue to be met. I’ll feel a lot more comfortable knowing I have a reliable water source, the ability to grow (some of) my own food and generate an energy supply, all with the support of a community of like-minded people who will look out for one another.

I don’t know about you, but approaching the future empowered by self-sufficiency and with the support of a community sounds a lot better than being robbed for my last Cliff bar.

Photo by Daan Stevens on Unsplash.