Monika and her partner run Arcadia, an all-season off-grid tiny home community near South River, Ontario and are launching their tiny homes on wheels building company in 2022. They are so busy with work that Monika talks about getting some work-life balance… in a couple of years. But, they’re happy to be helping people and doing something they’re passionate about.
What started as an acreage (and a place to retire), ended up as an off-grid affordable living community.
In 2018, after a two-year search, Monika and her partner purchased some land in an unorganized township in Ontario, close to Algonquin Park in the Parry Sound region. Suddenly, they had 40 acres of land and could leave their busy lives in Toronto for the quiet of nature. However, they quickly discovered a need for affordable housing in the area.
“Almost immediately, we received a lot of demand from people who were looking for land as well and haven’t been successful. Either it was too expensive, or you would have to buy a lot of acreage. There weren’t singular, small lots available at an affordable price.”
“After we found the land, we started to formalize a plan. Having 40 acres is a lot and we felt we could share them with other people. People who otherwise maybe wouldn’t be able to afford a home. So, now, the families that currently live here, they’re very grateful that we were able to do this. They participate in the community and they also have their forever home.”
“Having 40 acres is a lot and we felt we could share them with other people. People who otherwise maybe wouldn’t be able to afford a home.”
Running a tiny home community… is a lot of work.
Monika’s semi-retirement now consists of a seven-day work week maintaining the property, setting up new residents, and starting a tiny home building company. She and her partner are certainly not living a life of leisure.
One part of the work is just figuring out the necessities of life and teaching residents how to use them. Arcadia is located on unorganized land with no services, so Monika and her partner had to figure everything out for themselves.
“The tiny home community is completely off-grid. As far as power is concerned, we’re obviously not connected to hydro, so the majority of houses run on solar. And everyone needs to obviously have a backup generator just in case we get a few cloudy days. But those are the two main sources of power.”
“For water, for the last three seasons, we collected water off the metal roofs of all the houses. We had the rainwater in totes and that’s what everyone used for washing. Then, for potable water, we love the Berkey filter. People can boil water or filter it. To date, we haven’t had anyone sick at all.”
“For sewers, we don’t have any septic or anything like that. We compost our waste and use it as fertilizer. You can actually throw the composted waste in the garbage, but a lot of people use it for their brush and trees around the house. And if you save it for two years, for safety reasons, you can use it in your edible garden. So it’s just a natural fertilizer that you can reuse without having to buy it.”
“It’s just a natural fertilizer that you can reuse without having to buy it.”
“Everybody loves the idea that they can have their own garden. In future, we plan to have a communal garden where perhaps we can sell produce locally to other people in the vicinity. But for now, everyone’s just growing enough for themselves.”
Monika is aware that once the initial set-up is completed, the maintenance will become easier. However, it’s people management that will continue to require her time.
“It is extremely difficult running a community but not for the reasons one might think. Eventually everyone settles into their tiny home and learns to become self-sufficient in varying degrees, making our maintenance duties easier as time goes by. Once they’ve become accustomed to how their power works, how to conserve water, etc., our duties lessen to property maintenance.”
“However, people management is the number one issue. Everyone has different perspectives, ideas, expectations and managing the community in a way where most are happy proves most challenging.”
The main reason for limiting the size of the community was affording themselves some simplicity… and some free time.
“Semi retirement was supposed to be a five-year plan, so we’re about halfway through. But, if we take on any more people, we won’t get any kind of life. We never wanted to expand to like a thousand people or anything like that. We don’t have a life and work balance now, but with only 25 people, we can achieve that soon. It’s a nice comfortable number. We will be able to help people out without burning out, basically.”
“We don’t have a life and work balance now, but with only 25 people, we can achieve that soon. We will be able to help people out without burning out.”
Building tiny homes was not in the original plan. Luckily, Monika used to run a construction company.
Arcadia is now building tiny homes on wheels, not just for residents, but for everyone.
“It happened really fast. At the beginning, we were just looking to have people join us who already had tiny homes on wheels and just needed a place to park them. And then, almost immediately, the need arose to build tiny homes. So, we started building tiny homes on foundations across the property as well as tiny homes on wheels.”
“Now that the community is full and we aren’t looking for more residents, we are building tiny homes on wheels only. We’ve built our own warehouse, so starting in 2022, we will be able to build tiny homes on wheels inside in a climate controlled environment all year round.”
“We’ve already built 15 homes on the property and now we’re gearing up to building between four and eight homes per month. But rather than a cookie cutter manufacturing process, we’re still hoping to add some customizable touches so that each home feels like it belongs to the person purchasing it. We’re trying to go the extra mile to make that happen as well.”
“I used to have a construction company in Toronto, where I managed a lot of projects and the construction crew. I have my PMP certification. We get the house to a certain stage with our carpenters and then we hire licensed electricians and licensed propane fitters to set up the utilities. And even though we are in an unorganized township, we still build way above the Ontario Building Code. We take pictures of all the build stages and document everything along the way. That way, you have this binder that you can present to the inspector at the end.”
“We like to sleep at night, so we go above and beyond. We make sure everything is built well.”
Taking a look back, Monika is happy with how her “semi-retirement” is going.
“Building tiny homes on wheels or even running a tiny home community wasn’t our original business plan at all. But people just started coming out of the woodwork and literally begging to have us build them a home that they could afford, or a home where they could live in nature. Now, we’ve started building tiny homes and I’m not just project-managing. I’m even in there building walls and floors, painting. Anything that they’ll let me get away with!”
What brought Monika to tiny homes? She laughs: “Too many YouTube videos!”