This article first appeared in print in the December 2019 issue of Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine. Read the e-edition here.
Tanja Moritz needed more space. As a busy Lower Mainland real estate agent who works mainly from home, she needed an office and sanctuary away from the distractions of her young family. Early one Monday morning as she sipped coffee on her back deck, a solution descended from above. It was an eight by twelve foot office building dangling from a crane, and it was in place, levelled, and ready for use before her coffee even got cold. Modern prefabricated accessory buildings like this are becoming more commonplace and they may soon be a viable option for Revelstoke home owners.
Outside a shop in the Big Eddy sits the Earthwright Shelter Company office. Not surprisingly, it’s an eight by twelve foot structure, built by company owner Blake Richards, that serves as a great example of how functional these small buildings can be. It’s tidy and stylish and as I step inside I’m greeted by high quality finishes and a bright atmosphere that feels bigger than just 96 square feet. An electric heater, powered by a 30-amp panel, heats the space while a well-insulated shell and high performance doors and windows keep the heat in. It’s comfy, and as I kick back on the sofa, Blake mentions one other key feature: “Because of its size, you’re not required to get a building permit,” he explains with a smile.
Before getting this start-up off the ground with help from Community Futures Revelstoke, Blake built homes for over 10 years, so he’s well aware of the delays some builders have faced in getting permits. He’s also aware of the challenges we all face in creating affordable housing Although a building like this office, dubbed the Easy Shelter, isn’t intended to be used as a dwelling, it could free up a bedroom that’s currently being used for another purpose. Blake also hopes that these infill structures will blend into residential neighbourhoods and kick start some positive conversations about non-traditional solutions to Revelstoke’s housing woes.
“We see this as an opportunity to demonstrate the viability of small living, to pave the way for the larger Nomad rolling shelters that would provide a real change to the housing situation in town,” explains Blake.
The Nomad shelter that Blake refers to is a 26-foot-long ‘tiny house’ design for a proposed tiny house community pilot project that Adrian Giacca is currently working towards. Tiny houses — mobile houses less than 400 square feet in size — have risen in popularity in recent years, but they are still a bit of a square peg trying to squeeze into the round hole of bylaws and building codes. Although they’re generally finished with the same materials and systems that go into a full size residence, tiny houses are classified as RVs and, as such, many municipalities like Revelstoke prohibit their use as permanent dwellings. This may eventually change but, for now, Blake is concentrating on providing a product that’s compliant with all current regulations.
“It’s the last tiny little gap you can squeak through,” says Blake, referring to the legality of placing one of his Easy Shelters on a property.
And it is indeed a sweet spot in the market that he’s found for these little backyard structures. For a homeowner looking for a bit more habitable space, the Easy Shelter makes a lot of sense. You can avoid the costs and delays of building permits, dodge the disruption of on-site construction or home renovation, and add value to your home or take it with you when you move. And for a well-finished outbuilding, the price tag around 20 thousand dollars is quite reasonable. Need more than 100 square feet? Bylaws don’t limit you to just one.
Small accessory buildings and secondary dwellings are something we will likely see more of in the future. They use materials, energy, and land efficiently and, when built to high standards, they’re complementary to an existing home. So head’s up! One may soon be landing in a backyard near you.