Tiny homes in Canadian winter: surviving and thriving
By D’Arcy McNaughton, founder and owner of Acorn Tiny Homes.
The tiny house movement is still in its infancy in Canada because most tiny homes aren’t built to be four-season livable. They’ve become popular in warmer climates where roll-up doors, serving windows, and entire window walls are the norm. However, in Canada, many of the features that make tiny homes so popular just aren’t practical because of our harsh winters.
In true Canadian resiliency, we’ve created a new style of tiny home to overcome these challenges, where you can not only survive the winter in a tiny house, but instead – thrive!
How to stay warm during our winters is the question on every potential tiny dweller’s mind.
How to stay warm during our winters is the question on every potential tiny dweller’s mind. To answer this, there are two vital factors to consider: heat source and insulation.
Sure, fibreglass or wool insulation may seem like a good choice upon first glance, but they don’t an create airtight home and are compromised by external forces like wind and temperature. They also have a lower R value when compared to spray foam (3.1 vs 7 per inch), so your walls would need to be thicker to compensate, resulting in less internal space to build.
By far your most efficient insulation solution is to spray foam and cover the exterior with a rigid insulation. With options like soy based and recycled plastic spray foam, we are less concerned over its environmental impact. By pairing this with an exterior rigid insulation you’re able to create an airtight building envelope with zero cold spots.
Next is to choose your heat source! The beauty about this part of figuring out your home is that there are endless options that will fit any level of budget!
The most economical option here is to install baseboard heaters, but they don’t often deliver heat to all parts of your home and can leave cold spots. You can install a fireplace, but they tend to overheat such a small space and then you’re forced to open windows to balance the extreme warmth created, which I counter-productive. Plus, they have to be constantly stoked and will significantly increase the cost of your insurance. If your budget allows, the ultimate heat source is radiant heating. This can be electrical or hydronic, but both provide that ultimate level of comfort where you’ll never have cold feet again! This is especially luxurious if you don’t skirt your house, because the floor will always be the coldest part of your house no matter how you heat it! Also, if you’re living off-grid, the smartest thing you can do in your tiny house is to have two different heat sources as a fail safe.
Another great concern about living tiny in Canada is our winter mess. How luxurious it must be in warmer climates to only have to kick off sandals at the door. Us Canadians are instead forced to kick off our salt-covered boots, our slush-soaked socks, our snow pants and jacket and scarf and hats and mitts. With so many tiny home entrances at their kitchen, this mess is going to be dragged through the busiest part of the house, spreading it everywhere! In order to combat this, you need a tiny with a mudroom!
With tiny homes often being, well tiny, its unfortunately only the larger of tiny homes that can really take advantage of this feature. But don’t overlook this multi-purpose area as it will be truly allow you to thrive. This feature can be achieved in smaller footprint tiny homes, but you need to make sure you choose a builder that understands how to live the tiny life themselves, and don’t just build pretty homes.
The final struggle to overcome in the Canadian tiny house is storage, storage, storage. You literally cannot have enough of it. Functional storage should be built in everywhere in your design. Toe kick storage, under stair storage, trailer tongue, under your appliances, behind your bed. No space should be forgotten because with four seasons, you’ll need a lot of deep storage where you can tuck away your vacuum-packed holiday sweaters and snowboarding apparel!
Its important to remember that tiny house living is supposed to be about doing more with less. But it’s important to only get rid of things you don’t need and not compromise things that are actually key to living in our climate. In order to thrive in a tiny house through Canadian winters, you need a home that has addressed all the problems I discussed above. Anything less and you’ll end up feeling like your home is missing something and you may struggle adapting to the lifestyle. Instead, set yourself up for success; support local and build with a Canadian builder who can build for your unique needs!
We already have building permits & passed variation applications. Unfortunately we need a structure built or fitted to our daughter’s home with a metal door (like a small mud room). Our original home is up for sale & we need to move into our retirement home from Hamilton to Caledonia before Christmas. TALK OR VIDEO MEETING would be fantastic. Are you interested to talk about this¿ (905) 929‐6226