Calgary·Q&A

Okotoks approves plan to develop first tiny homes community in country

Expert talks about what to expect when you go tiny after Okotoks, Alta., approves the development of the first urban tiny home community in Canada.

No stuff, no debt and nowhere to hide when you fight with your partner

Kenton Zerbin's tiny home cost him around $80,000. (Tom York Photography)

Okotoks has just approved the development of the first urban tiny home community in Canada. 

It includes 42 houses, the smallest of which will be less than 400 square feet.

Sustainability expert Kenton Zerbin, who lives in one, spoke to host David Gray on the Calgary Eyeopener on Thursday.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Q: What's your house like?

A. We've got an 8.5 metre (28-foot) long tiny house on wheels, and yet the entire inside dimensions are eight feet wide. It's slightly wider than a typical tiny house. So 260 square feet with an extra hundred in a loft:  360 total for live-in space.

It's an off-grid one, too, which I think a lot of people don't go as far as we have. We're parked in the middle of a farmer's field, so we have no utility connections.

Kenton Zerbin and his wife share this 360-square-foot tiny home. They live in a farmer's field outside Edmonton. (Tom York Photogrpahy)

Q: Why did you choose to live in a tiny home?

A. It's part of an ethical and very conscientious environmental concern. There's a lot of building materials that go into a house these days, usually from all over the world.

Usually they're pretty full of chemicals and cost a lot of money. Our house cost us 80 grand all in — that includes all the off-grid systems, and I don't have to have debt, so I get to choose how much I work.

The interior of their tiny home. (Kenton Zerbin)

Q: Did you grow up in one of these or were you a suburban bungalow kid who ended up in a tiny home?

A. I actually grew up in a massive house. I had over 11 siblings and we had a huge house. Maybe that's a choice that I made in response to that!

I'm a teacher by training and I started to teach about sustainable living. So I quickly wanted to walk the talk: what kind of house models my values? 

I needed something else to kind of fit my budget and my values, and to me, that was the main motivator.

Zerbin's tiny home outside Edmonton. (Kenton Zerbin)

Q: I ask this next question carefully but I'm going to ask it anyway. How do you and your wife get along in 360 square feet?

A. Strategically. I mean, there's no space to really get away.

My wife and I do have a good, robust relationship and we worked on that so that we don't just slam the door when we're angry. You actually have to get to the bottom of it and be good communicators.

Q: What do you have to think about if you're going to choose to live in a tiny home like in this new community in Okotoks?

A. The first thing I stress in my course is two things that I really go into that most people do not see in the tiny house shows. The first is that we in Canada need a functional shelter. Tiny homes from the states are a glorified shed on wheels. They just don't have enough insulation.

Know what your house needs are and know that that first one is functional shelter. 

After that, you have to really drill down what your priorities are, because you have an opportunity to design a space that's perfect to you and your priorities.

This is probably the second biggest mistake people make: they're not clear enough what kind of home they need. What's more important, my bathroom or my kitchen? Which needs to be bigger or smaller, or do I need to have this space fit kids someday? There's a lot of couples that get a tiny house but then move out because they end up growing a family.

I'm not saying that that's not OK because it can be just a home for a while, and then you transition. But it's possible to design that house to have a kid. 

Q: Have you gotten rid of a lot of stuff?

A. This is one of the biggest perks as a movement. People are realizing that stuff doesn't make them happy. The things that truly make us happy are experiences, our family and our hobbies. And so a lot of us who are going tiny find it liberating, because not only have you now freed up income, you're not going to spend all your time filling that space with stuff.

Q: I'm told there's already a waiting list of more than 200 people for this new community in Okotoks. Does that surprise you?

A. Not really, actually. The movement has been desperately needing this. I run workshops to help people understand this and to design and build their own. But legality-wise, we need people to lead the way at a development level because there is no legal designation for tiny homes in zoning and bylaws.

When a municipality develops something like this, it opens up the gate and there are a lot of people who are waiting for that gate to open, because they want to legally have a fully-fledged house that they can live in year round that's not on wheels.


With files from the Calgary Eyeopener.

About the Author

Stephen Hunt

Digital Writer

Stephen Hunt is a digital writer at the CBC in Calgary. Email: stephen.hunt@cbc.ca

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