Was it the boredom of the spring lockdown? Was it the soaring house prices? Or was it a moment of pure inspiration?
Brendan (25) and Sophia (23) are a typical Ottawa couple: he works for a software company in Kanata, she works for the federal government (on the vaccine taskforce, no less). However, this spring, their life took a very atypical turn.
A tiny new beginning…
At the beginning of 2021, as Ontario was heading into its third COVID-19 lockdown, they were looking at options to buy their first home. That’s when Sophia mentioned that it was her dream to live in a tiny house – specifically, in a schoolbus converted into a tiny house.
Now, for most people, dreams like this don’t go anywhere. Brendan and Sophia actually did it.
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Brendan remembers weighing the tiny home option against going the traditional downpayment-and-mortgage route. “When we looked into it, right away, it looked like something really affordable to make. The tiny house just made so much more sense. It would be easier and cheaper to live in long-term. It would be more flexible, where if we’re working remotely, we can go anywhere with the bus.”
I said, “I’ve got $12,000. Let’s do this.”
The whole project cost $12,000, minus the batteries. That amount would have barely scratched the surface of a downpayment in the Ottawa real estate market, in addition leaving the young couple with a mortgage to pay for decades.
Instead, Brendan and Sophia built a home that was perfect for their needs. “It was a lot of work and we had a fantastic time doing it”, says Brendan.
“No one knows you can just buy a schoolbus.”
At first, it seemed it would be hard to find a schoolbus large – and tall – enough. Brendan is 6’2 and remembers not being able to stand up straight in a typical schoolbus since middle school.
But, the second bus they looked at was perfect. A dark and frigid February evening trip to a junkyard got them their bus for little over $4000. It was 40 foot long with a 6’7 ceiling. “The owner didn’t know the value of what he had. To think that there are hundreds of other buses rusting out there that can be used like this.”
Once they had the bus, the whole build took only 4 months of evenings and weekends. During the lockdown, Brendan was even putting in a couple of hours before the workday, instead of going to the gym.
“I ended up learning everything about everything.”
They started by stripping the interior contents of the schoolbus. Then, came the insulation of the floor, ceiling, and walls. Big pieces of plywood were added all along the length of the bus to keep it in place. After caulking inside and outside, the rest was pretty much the same as building a regular house.
“There was a lot of youtubing.” However, many online resources came up with advice that wouldn’t work in Canada – the couple had to think critically and adapt on the spot. “For example, a common tiny house “hack” is to use a water tank outside instead of a water hookup. However, in Canada, you have to keep the tank from freezing.” Brendan’s engineering training helped, as did several former classmates who now build houses professionally. “Although, when my friend heard that the house had to be able to drive 100 miles an hour on the highway, he kind of gasped.”
“It’s genuinely all the space that we need.”
The tiny home is anything but cramped: “Somehow in our bus, eight people sitting down for a meal feels less crowded than when we invited them to our apartment.”
Brendan thinks the key is in being mindful of what you are trying to do with the space before you start putting anything in. “We thought about function a lot.” That doesn’t mean the look and feel of the place wasn’t important. Sophia took the lead on the design aspect of the tiny house, pulling together a beautiful space with smart touches throughout. With no one telling them what to do, every detail, like choosing the blue colour of the exterior, was personal and meaningful to the couple.
The journey from tiny, to small, then back to tiny
Brendan was living in a tiny 1-bedroom apartment when he and Sophia decided to move in together, renting a 2-bedroom on two floors. It was immediately apparent to the couple that they had more space than they needed. “Walking up and down the stairs became a chore. Just going to the kitchen to get a snack seemed like too much effort. Now, in our bus, everything is right there.
To Brendan, living tiny is synonymous with being at the cottage all the time. He grew up loving camping and he and Sophia both enjoy working remotely from their dream home. “It’s comfortable and we can see a lot of cool things. We can just see where life takes us.“
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What about parking? They have advice on that too.
“The big secret is, as long as you’re friendly enough and pleasant enough, you can find places to park. We’ve parked in farmers’ fields, golf courses. In our short time living in our tiny house so far, we’ve actually had no incidents around parking.”
Brendan’s advice to people interested in living tiny? “You should probably do it.”