Advertisement

Thinking small: Here's what it takes to get a tiny home built on P.E.I.

The Construction Association of P.E.I. is building these tiny homes in Charlottetown. They will eventually be moved to another site for affordable housing. (George Melitides/CBC - image credit)
The Construction Association of P.E.I. is building these tiny homes in Charlottetown. They will eventually be moved to another site for affordable housing. (George Melitides/CBC - image credit)

Prince Edward Island has seen somewhat of a mini boom in the construction of tiny homes in recent months, as one route to easing the province's housing crunch.

The smaller-sized dwellings can be more affordable while they reduce an occupant's environmental footprint, and they've been touted as a possible solution to housing shortages in many parts of Canada.

The government of Ontario has a full guide to the rules that apply in that province on its website, noting: "Not only are they a great way to save on housing costs, they are also cheaper to build and maintain than a regular house."

For Islanders interested in trying out a tiny home, what does it take to actually have one built?

Just as with any other house, P.E.I.'s land use office needs to sign off on development and building permits for the proposed site and what's going to be built on it. So far, at least, the province has no formal definition of what a tiny home actually is.

Eugene Lloyd of the Department of Housing, Land and Communities, says the province is pro-development, but there are some cases when a tiny home's location or features simply don't fit and the Land Use Office has to deny an application.
Eugene Lloyd of the Department of Housing, Land and Communities, says the province is pro-development, but there are some cases when a tiny home's location or features simply don't fit and the Land Use Office has to deny an application.

Eugene Lloyd of the Department of Housing, Land and Communities says the province is pro-development, but there are some cases when a tiny home's location or features simply don't fit and an application is denied. (Victoria Walton/CBC)

"If it has a kitchen unit and a bathroom, it's considered a dwelling unit and we treat them the same way," said Eugene Lloyd, manager of development with the province's Department of Housing, Land and Communities, which approves where homes can go.

"We are working on some research across Canada and the U.S. to see how other jurisdictions deal with these tiny homes, but today we treat them the same."

A tiny home has to have everything that a regular home does, right from structural support [to] insulation, ventilation, cooking features. — Jon MacDonald

The standards laid out in the National Building Code are applied to tiny homes the same as they are to regular homes on the Island, he said.

The land use office primarily signs off on builds in rural P.E.I., where there's no local government in place.

Sean Hickey built 12 tiny homes in Stephenville over the last five years.
Sean Hickey built 12 tiny homes in Stephenville over the last five years.

Tiny homes like this one in Stephenville, N.L., have been heralded as solutions to the housing crunch in many parts of Canada. (Sean Hickey/Facebook)

Municipalities can also apply their own zoning and building restrictions on dwelling units, and the City of Charlottetown does impose some restrictions. Homes below five metres wide with a minimum of 269 square feet of floor space must be "substantially assembled in a manufactured plant" and placed on a lot for year-round living.

By comparison, Summerside's zoning bylaw does not specify a minimum size for a single-family home as long as it meets the provincial Building Codes Act.

'It's either a home or an RV'

Though there's not a blanket ban, the land use office will have to deny an application for a tiny home if it doesn't meet provincial standards. No permit will be granted if there's a ladder instead of a staircase to access a loft space, for example, or a structure doesn't have a solid enough foundation or ties to protect it from blowing over in a windstorm.

'The big thing to realize is that a tiny home is still a home,' says P.E.I.'s chief building standards officer Jon MacDonald.
'The big thing to realize is that a tiny home is still a home,' says P.E.I.'s chief building standards officer Jon MacDonald.

In addition to tiny homes, P.E.I.'s chief building standards officer Jon MacDonald says his office is seeing more building permits for regular homes with smaller footprints. (Victoria Walton/CBC)

"The big thing to realize is that a tiny home is still a home. A tiny home has to have everything that a regular home does, right from structural support [to] insulation, ventilation, cooking features," said Jon MacDonald, P.E.I.'s chief building standards officer.

"The other thing that we see often is the belief that because they're building a tiny home on a trailer on wheels that it's more of an RV than a home and they can operate in that grey area — which really isn't the case. It's either a home or an RV."

Both the Construction Association of P.E.I. and some high school carpentry classes across the Island have been building tiny homes in recent months in order to add affordable units to the market.

The construction association's agreement with the province calls for up to 35 homes to be built and placed on an appropriate site or sites.

Housing Minister Rob Lantz said recently that the latest option involves creating a tiny home community, similar to a mobile home park, that could help people in need of affordable housing.

Average floorplan is shrinking

While tiny homes may be the extreme end of affordability, they're part of a wider trend in housing across the province.

A tiny home from an Ontario government site laying out the rules that apply to them in that province.
A tiny home from an Ontario government site laying out the rules that apply to them in that province.

A tiny home from an Ontario government site laying out the rules that apply to them in that province. (Government of Ontario)

MacDonald said the land use office is starting to see a shift in the design of homes overall.

"Over the last three years, we have definitely noticed the average size footprint is coming down," he said. "There is starting to be more of a focus on the energy demands and the ecological requirements for some of these homes."

The shrinking may also be related to higher construction costs, with the bill for your build going up in tandem with your floorspace.

I don't know if these are going to be as popular as people think they're going to be. — Eugene Lloyd

But when it comes to carving out a niche in provincial building standards to specifically regulate tiny homes, the demand for the units in P.E.I. simply isn't there yet.

Lloyd said the office receives only a few applications from tiny-home lovers per year.

"We're inherently pro-development the best we can be, but there are some situations where it just simply doesn't fit. Unfortunately we do have to say no at times," he said.

"I don't know, in the long run, if these are going to be as popular as people think they're going to be, but we'll have to see how the years go by."