The case for tiny homes: Building Code changes needed

Joy Emmanuel wants to see more “tiny” homes, sized between 200 and 400 square feet and priced less than $60,000, in the Cowichan Valley.

Joy Emmanuel wants to see more “tiny” homes, sized between 200 and 400 square feet and priced less than $60,000, in the Cowichan Valley.

Speaking to council in North Cowichan on       Dec. 21, Emmanuel, the affordable housing coordinator with the Cowichan Housing Association, said that with standard houses increasingly priced out of the market for many people, it’s time to look for new alternatives.

She said that many demographic groups, including singles and seniors, find it difficult to afford rent in the region, with many shelling out more than 30 per cent of their incomes, and allowing tiny homes would be a cheaper means for them to attain a form of home ownership.

Emmanuel said she has rented for more than 40 years, and figures she has paid out approximately $280,000 to pay other people’s mortgages in that time, money she could have used to pay her own mortgage.

As well, she said tiny homes consume less in materials, energy and water during a time of increasing conservation.

But Emmanuel said the building of tiny homes is constricted by the demands of construction standards and the provincial Building Code.

She said there is a growing sentiment in the community that people should work towards taking back their rights to build their own homes that suit their budgets and their needs.

“Many of the building regulations in place are excessive and are more than needed,” Emmanuel said.

“We need to explore ways that people can live in their own homes in a happy, healthy and sustainable way.

“But I understand that these issues cover many jurisdictions,” she said.

Emmanuel suggested to council that members could discuss the issue at the next meeting of the Union of B.C. Municipalities in 2017 and lobby for changes to the Building Code that will allow for tiny homes.

Scott Mack, North Cowichan’s director of development services, said the municipality is responsible for zoning, and there’s nothing to prevent the construction of tiny homes in the area from that perspective.

But he said the issue becomes more complicated when it comes to servicing the homes because concerns around potable water and sewage distribution involve the province.

“These issues are not entirely within our jurisdiction,” Mack said.

“The province is looking at compostable toilets and other issues related to tiny homes, but regulations don’t exist at this stage.”

Coun. Kate Marsh said she’s “excited” about the possibilities for tiny homes.

“The housing market has pushed a lot of people out of the market,” she said.

“I don’t know where we can go from here, but I’m hoping North Cowichan can be a leader in having homes that people feel good about. It feels like an idea whose time has come.”