Compliments of: The Gazette
Natalie Woodburn-Heron’s whole house is smaller than some people’s walk-in closets. When she stands in her living room and stretches out her arms, she can almost touch the walls on either side. There’s no place for a bathtub or even a full-sized fridge.
But don’t feel sorry for her. Woodburn-Heron’s 144-square-foot house, which she built in her parents’ backyard in Dorval, takes less than half an hour to clean and costs hardly anything to run. Her “tiny refuge,” as she calls it, is a pretty, cedar-clad cabin with fabulous views onto a shady garden and two cozy lofts — one for sleeping and the other for meditating. Best of all, she’s entirely debt free.
She is part of a growing “tiny house” movement inching its way across North America. Compared to most new homes (1,900 square feet, on average, according to the Canadian Home Builders Association), these dwellings might seem Lilliputian. But to their owners, they are the reflection of a simple, considered and measured life, an escape from the time and expense of running a conventional home.
“For some of us, it’s about simplifying life, getting rid of debt and living more sustainably,” Woodburn-Heron explained as she took us on a tour of her mini-house, which measures just over 20 feet long and 7 feet wide. She began building it last fall with the help of a local carpenter and moved in at the start of summer.
To squeeze into a house so small, with hardly any storage space, Woodburn-Heron had to get rid of mounds of stuff. Now, everything she owns must have a useful purpose or a special significance. Many of her possessions serve dual purposes. She watches television on her computer, for example. And her dining table folds up to become an end table.
There’s a somewhat Buddhist element to the exercise, Woodburn-Heron said.
“There is more intention to everything I do, to everything I buy.”
Woodburn-Heron said tiny-home owners are in it for different reasons.
Most can’t afford the rising cost of real estate. Others are living small while they save money to buy a bigger house later. Others are committed to leaving a smaller environmental footprint.
Woodburn-Heron, who has travelled extensively with her work as a theatre stage manager, has already owned two more conventionally sized homes, one in Charlottetown and the other in Winnipeg.
“I’ve never been comfortable with debt, and the burden of a standard mortgage was becoming too heavy to bear alone,” said Woodburn-Heron, who is single and between jobs right now.
She could have downsized to a small condo or rented an apartment, but even then the monthly costs were not insignificant. Through friends, she heard of a new kind of house, a teeny-tiny one that could be built for as little as $20,000 or $30,000, often on a trailer base so it can be moved. Her parents gave her their blessing to take over their backyard. She built her $40,000 house on wheels so that it is not considered a permanent structure, which means she didn’t require a building permit.
Don’t think for a minute, though, that Woodburn-Heron’s house looks or feels like an RV. It is more like a long, narrow country cottage, built on sturdy two by four framing and outfitted with good-looking windows on all sides and decorated with spare and beautiful touches, like octagonal floor tiles and generous kitchen countertops. It has vaulted ceilings, open areas and ample windows, which let in sunlight and lend the place a surprising spaciousness.