By Ben Kitchen

I bought a tiny house called Smidge. Yep. And now we live in it.

My fiancée – now wife – and I bought a tiny home from Teacup Tiny Homes in Alberta. They put it together over the first few months of 2023 before stopping off at the Ancaster Fairgrounds Tiny Home Show on its way to its parking spot.

Overview of our tiny home buying process

So, what happens between signing on the dotted line to actually living in your tiny home?

Before diving into a list of general things to consider, I wanted to share our journey.

First, the builder. Teacup is based in Alberta, but after months of research (we are in Southern Ontario), we concluded they were the best choice for us. The quality is very high, and the attention to detail and above-and-beyond-ness are perfect.

We took our time learning about tiny homes. It was probably more than two years of research, exploration and imagination. I’m glad we waited this long so we knew what to look for and what to avoid.

Smidge cost us about CAD $210,000 (including tax). The base model was $160,000, and we added $50,000 in upgrades. The most significant included the incinerating toilet, the Murphy bed and the wood burning stove.

We spent more than we initially expected, but we’re much happier with the result. We plan to live here for a long time, so we’re satisfied that we’re comfortable and glad to have paid that little bit extra.

(On that note, tiny homes in Canada cost more than in other parts of the world. Much of this comes down to the cost of materials and the deep freeze winters.)

Tiny home purchasing timeline

Our timeline when buying Smidge will be different from most others. That’s because our tiny home went to the Tiny Home Show (28 to 30 July 2023) before we lived in it. It was actually ready several weeks before that.

However, for your information, here’s the timeline of our build. (Note that everyone works differently, and the build speed could vary depending on how busy a season is for the builder.)

  • 3 August 2022 – initial casual email contact with Teacup. Continued researching for several months while also chatting with other builders.
  • 20 December 2022 – ‘Discovery Call’ – free onboarding phone call to get to know Teacup and vice versa.
  • 3 January 2023 – full design walkthrough with rough selections and initial quote. $5,000 deposit (which counts towards the total cost) paid in advance.
  • 12 January 2023 – signed the Purchase Agreement, committing to buying the tiny home from Teacup (less the $5,000 deposit). The previous nine days were spent finalizing our choices.
  • 16 January 2023 – exterior design selections Zoom meeting.
  • 23 January 2023 – interior design selections Zoom meeting.
  • 3 February 2023 – custom trailer arrives in Teacup’s workshop, and the build officially commences!
  • 2 March 2023 – first Zoom video call walkthrough of the build progress with answers to our questions. The home has a basic structure but no finishes.
  • 22 March 2023 – second Zoom video call walkthrough of the build progress. The home looks almost complete, with most interior and exterior finishes in place.
  • 13 April 2023 – ‘Homeowner Orientation’ (third Zoom video call walkthrough) – a walkthrough of the finished home!
  • 21 July 2023 – Smidge leaves Alberta.
  • 26 July 2023 – Smidge arrives for the Tiny Home Show in Ancaster, ON.
  • 31 July 2023 – Smidge leaves Ancaster for its final parking spot.

The three-month gap after the tiny home has been finished wouldn’t be the standard process. That time was filled with our wedding (and various other things) and Tiny Home Show preparation.

The tiny home building process from a buyer’s POV

As a buyer, especially when purchasing out of province, you watch your tiny home take shape without necessarily seeing it in person (unless you choose to!). It was almost outside our reality until it arrived during the Tiny Home Show setup.

Because of this, it’s crucial to trust your builder – in all aspects!

Of course, every company will be different, with diverse ways of connecting with their clients. With Teacup, we chatted, shared documents, received construction drawings and got update photos through various programs and applications: emails, phone calls, texts, Zoom, and other specialized software.

After officially signing the contracts and things got underway, we had a few meetings about our design specifics. During these, we also discussed which items were important to us and which weren’t. (Those lists changed dramatically as we learned more!)

Photo: Ben Kitchen

My wife and I are lucky enough to genuinely get along pretty well. When deciding on the features in Smidge, we mainly took Teacup’s advice – which was definitely worth doing! – but there were a few things we needed to work through in more detail – specifically the shower, toilet and bed options. (We eventually settled on a 42″ fibreglass shower, an incinerating toilet, and a Murphy bed.)

If you’re going to be living by yourself, chat through your options with friends, family, neighbours (if applicable!), and, of course, your builder. Eventually, the right answer for you becomes evident – even if it’s not what you thought in the first place.

I speak from having been there myself.

Where/how should you park a tiny home?

Well, this is the age-old question. It’s what most people wanted to ask us at the Tiny Home Show.

For our tiny home on wheels, options includes certain four-season RV parks, unorganized townships, and tiny home communities. The majority of us, though, simply park up on property belonging to friends or family, being careful to not upset or disturb the neighbours. That’s what we did.

Photo: Ben Kitchen

Assuming you have your tiny home’s location sorted, it’s now time to think about what it’ll sit on. In our case, we dug a 30′ x 12′ x 1′ hole, lined it with pressure-treated wood, and filled it with crushed stone from a local supplier.

This is more than sufficient and much cheaper than the concrete pad we were initially thinking about doing. We spent about $1,100 on stone. The wood was ‘free’ (in that it was left over from some of our wedding decor), but it would likely cost about $550 at retail rates. Finally, the hole was dug using an excavator and operator. It was done as part of a wider project (see below), so I’d estimate we spent about $200. It would be more expensive if someone came for the sole purpose of digging a pad.

Utilities to consider in a tiny home

Toilet options in a tiny home

Tiny homes need toilets of some kind, as unpleasant of a topic as it is! Here are – in general – your options.

  • Flush toilet – if you can connect to a septic system or sewer, you can have a regular flush toilet. This is probably the most ideal way to go. However, joining into a sewer drain or septic system is challenging and usually requires a municipality inspection. It’s also illegal to place a new septic system without a permit in Ontario, so no water sources are affected.
  • Composting toilet – the composting toilet is the go-to option for most tiny home dwellers. It’s easy to install and relatively low maintenance. We aren’t about them, personally. You should also compost human waste for at least a year and spread it away from consumables or animals.
  • Incinerating toilet – we got a Cinderella incinerating toilet, and we’re so glad we did. It was much more expensive than a composting toilet, but, in my words, it’s “1,000,000% less gross”. It’s also much cheaper and more straightforward than installing a new septic. And according to some people, it’s better for the environment because you don’t need to waste water or treat sewage. Who knew?
  • Outhouse – the least sanitary or homely of all the options, an outhouse is very basic. I’m talking about a little hut, a hole in a seat, and a bucket with some straw and sawdust underneath. Many variations exist, and while they work for some, it’s a hard no for me.

How to get water to your tiny home

The best way to get water to your tiny home? Ideally, park somewhere you already have a connection.

If possible, you want your tiny home to be parked over the top of the faucet or hydrant. This means the skirting insulates it in winter, preventing it from freezing.

Being on a farm, we dug new hydrants. It was needed for the animals and barn anyway – the line always froze in the January and February deep freezes of the previous few years. While the excavator was here, it took a slight detour to where our home would be parked.

You’ll need a drinking water hose – you’ll find these in any RV store, Canadian Tire or anywhere like that. We currently have a simple 25′ setup, but we’ll be buying a heat trace-wrapped drinking water hose before we hit November!

How to get water away from your home

If you’re hooked into a septic or sewer system, your grey water is flushed away with everything else, and there’s nothing to worry about.

However, most people in tiny homes have composting or incinerating toilets. That waste is sorted, but your water still needs to drain from your kitchen sink(s), bathroom basin, shower, bath and washing machine.

So, what to do?

Two main options spring to my mind. First, consider a tote underneath your tiny home. The skirting in winter will keep it relatively warm, and you’ll simply empty it into a regular drain every few days.

Alternatively, build a filtration system. French drain-style applications are relatively straightforward; some mix these with mineral-absorbing or resistant plants.

In the end, the challenging thing to navigate in both cases is sub-zero temperatures; with this being Canada, we experience a few of those. However, don’t fear! Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

(Your tiny home builder may have some ideas!)

The last thing I’d recommend is using environmentally-friendly products as much as possible. We already do this to some extent, using natural soaps (available from trusted suppliers) and responsible cleaning products (such as Dawn and Method). That way, you aren’t damaging the local ecosystem or water table, no matter where the grey water ends up.

Power supply for a tiny home

You can probably get an RV outlet installed at home easily. You’ll need a qualified electrician to get it done quickly and safely, and it shouldn’t cost too much, all things considered.

Budget around $1,500. I know that sounds like a lot, but it can often take quite a while, and the parts are sometimes expensive.

Ensure you get the correct type of outlet installed. For example, is your tiny home running on a 30 Amp or 50 Amp panel?

In some instances, you may need a panel or transformer upgrade, in which case you’ll need to call your electrical supplier. Do what your electrician tells you!

The last thing worth mentioning is the cord itself. We had to park our home further away from the outlet than originally intended. Teacup supplied us with a 25′ cable, but we ended up needing at least 50′. Ultimately, I spent an extra $500 (plus tax) on a 50′ extension cord, giving us plenty of room without stretching the cable.

Regarding your power, the shorter, the better, as you lose efficiency the longer the cable gets. This is especially true when extension cords are involved. However, the trade-off works for us, and it’s much more suitable for daily life than getting a cheaper 30 A cord and adapter and having to deal with overheating cables or constantly firing circuit breakers.

We’re running the cable from the outlet and across the ground. We’re going to make the area it passes through our vegetable garden and seating area, so there are no worries about it getting run over or sliced to bits by the lawn mower. We’ll cover it with something so it doesn’t pose a trip hazard.

Hooking up propane

Propane is the power source for all the appliances you can’t run from the electrical panel. You’re usually limited to 30 Amps, although some, like ours, have 50 Amps.

For us, propane is used to power five appliances: the furnace, the hot water heater, the stackable dryer, the oven, and the incinerating toilet.

We’re starting out with the simple bottles you get from Canadian Tire and refilling them whenever we need to. Eventually, we plan to get a larger tank and hire a local company to come on a regular basis to refill it.

Take a quick look on Google – you’ll find plenty of propane suppliers in your area!

How is your tiny home getting here?

Your tiny home may have wheels (and might not!), but it can’t drive itself! In most cases, you’ll need to sort these logistics yourself, although your builder will point you in the right direction. Remember to budget for this process, too.

Tiny homes on wheels (THOWs) have flexible options here, and your builder will likely have a company they usually use for transportation. Some may even have in-house drivers. Our tiny home was towed to the Tiny Home Show by a trailering company based in Alberta, arriving for the setup period on Wednesday.

Although I don’t recommend it, pulling your house yourself is technically possible. I understand that’s part of the appeal of a tiny home on wheels, the idea of taking it anywhere.

Yes… but most tiny homes are over the maximum permitted 4,600 kg (4.6 ton) GVWR (gross vehicle weight rating) limit. In this case, you can still tow it if you have a higher licence class, assuming you want to take the risk. Insurance gets a little complicated!

For reference, our home weighs 14,869 lbs (as certified on a weighbridge). It took four days to reach the Ancaster Fairgrounds. That means careful driving, regular stops, and no driving in strong winds or inclement weather.

This cost quite a lot – almost $10,000, including tax. Although the fuel price will and does fluctuate, expect to pay a similar price for a trans-Canada delivery. Local deliveries within a province can also be pretty expensive, particularly for foundation builds when a crane is needed.

We used a separate delivery driver to move it from the Fairgrounds after the Show to save the Alberta company from sitting around all weekend. On this occasion, it was towed by a more-than-capable horse trailering contact with his Chevy 3500 truck.

If you’re buying a foundation build for a park, secondary dwelling (ADU), or other structure, you’ll need a large flatbed trailer and a crane. Ask your home builder for the best contacts.

In short, you have many options! The main factor will naturally be where your builder is located compared to where you are.

Do you need tiny home insurance in Canada?

You should have insurance for the tiny home when it’s on the road. This might get tricky if yours isn’t CSA certified.

Hiring an external company to tow your tiny home should mean it’s insured under their policy. Anything attached to their vehicle is their responsibility from pick-up to drop-off.

To be honest, I haven’t yet found an insurance company that will insure my tiny home, but I know people manage. I’m still looking. It’s early days.

If you have a tiny home on a foundation with a permit, you can get home insurance like any other house. You need a completely different RV-related policy for a tiny home on wheels (an RV, in legal terms).

One last thing worth mentioning – if you secure a loan to fund your tiny home, many of these companies will ask for proof of insurance. We bought Smidge in cash, so this doesn’t apply to us.

You can’t store everything in a tiny house

Tiny homes are, as the name suggests, small. Although you can fit a surprising amount of stuff in them, we’ve found a few things simply too much effort.

Here’s a list of items we’re storing in sheds, barns, or even the car (temporarily).

  • Bulky cleaning items
  • Tools
  • Gardening equipment and supplies
  • Tote with winter clothes and boots
  • Printer/shredder

Of course, this essentially comes down to the fact that you don’t get a garage on a tiny home. However, depending on your design, you may be able to cram them in! We’ve found this comes down to prioritizing.

We’ve chosen to simply keep these things elsewhere and leave our home clutter-free, although we’re always on the lookout for new and inventive solutions!

What’s left to do next?

Good one. There’s a never-ending list of things to do next!

Here are the most crucial items we need to address. As a tiny home buyer, I strongly recommend thinking them through for your own circumstances.

  • Skirting – you can’t get away without skirting. Your pipes will freeze, and the home will be literally unbearably cold. Your utility costs (mainly propane) will also go through the roof.
  • Eaves (gutters) and downpipes – the tiny home couldn’t be transported with these due to RV road regulations. As a result, we need to put them on ourselves.
  • Insurance – as I mentioned, we’re still working on this.
  • Flood/snow melt diversion – we’re halfway down a hill, so most of the water should flow past us, but it’s not worth the risk of stagnating underneath the home!
  • Car parking space – this doesn’t need to be anything fancy, just some flattened earth and perhaps some crushed stone.
  • Outdoor areas – we’re putting a veg garden in, along with a patio of some kind, a path around the four edges, and a cedar tree patch. These won’t be a priority until spring 2024.

Looking forward to the day of arrival…!

Photo: Ben Kitchen

Our tiny home has been through quite a lot already. It came from Alberta to the Ancaster Tiny Home Show (along with Jen, Ben and their families from the Teacup team). It then left the Fairgrounds and reached its parking space in one piece.

We received weekly update photos over the three or four months Smidge was being built, watching our home take shape from afar. It’s fantastic when the trailer first arrives in the workshop and even better when the walls and roof go up. We remember being shocked at how fast the process was.

We’re delighted with our colour schemes, appliance choices, and even the general layout (based on Teacup’s Margo plan). Our experience of working with Teacup has been unique, down-to-earth, and incredibly efficient.

Those things alone made us really excited for arrival day. In the meantime, we put our heads down and got on with work and daily life. It was parked, and we were in before we knew it!


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