Smaller homes mean better lives and greater home ownership

The world is changing, and a decline in home ownership is one of the ways it’s showing up. Every survey I see shows young people less likely to own homes these days, or to be older when they finally do buy.

This trend runs across the country, and I always smile when I see pundits scratching their heads about why. I don’t see any mystery. Young Canadians simply have less buying power than they used to – about 40 per cent less than they did in the mid-1970s. Even not-so-young Canadians in their mid-40s can’t buy as much as people of the same age back then.

One thing this means is that the entry point for home ownership is less attainable than it once was – at least conventional home ownership, that is. But since many of us still long for the sense of satisfaction that only a home of our own can deliver, we’re discovering a bit of wisdom we’d forgotten for a while. We’re discovering that less can be more.


Tiny house movement

Google “small house movement” or “tiny house movement” and you’ll see something remarkable. Ordinary people are propelling a grassroots trend towards homes that are smaller than 1,000 square feet — some even under the 500-square-foot mark.

This is not a builder-led movement, and the real estate industry is puzzled. Governments and banks often try to stand in the way with pointless rules about minimum home sizes that are larger than a growing number of Canadians care to own. And while some people call this a trend, it’s more of a return to the kind of sanity that used to be ordinary when the average Canadian family managed to own a home on a single income while still saving 10 per cent of their pay.

My grandparents moved into a new 900-square-foot brick bungalow in 1953, in an urban neighbourhood of similar houses filled with families that averaged almost four kids each.  Where I live now in rural Canada, it’s easy to find century-old farmhouses built smaller than 800 square feet, places that were home to multiple generations from yesteryear, routinely producing families with five, six and seven kids.


Financial sense

Small houses have always made sense, and even more so now given the financial realities of many Canadians today.

Designing and building small houses is a particular interest of mine, and there are three things I’ve learned from the process.

NCH home ownership2

You can’t afford to waste space in a smaller home.

First, you need to get more sophisticated about using space than with ordinary houses, and you need to do this right from the start. You can’t afford to waste space within the building shell – not even in the attic. Steep roofs with insulation built right into the structure, for instance, are one of the best ways to maximize the living space of a tiny home. Why waste space under the roof when you could use it for sleep and storage?

Second, tiny houses demand more care when it comes to furnishing and outfitting them. You can’t just walk into a store and buy a couch, a bed or cabinets. They may fit, but probably not optimally. They may not fit at all.

I recommend living with the bare minimum of stuff when you first move into your tiny house, then add things in response to real needs. Custom making items such as shelves and tables is the best way to get them to fit just right. Even a simple table you build yourself is better than an expensive and fancy one that doesn’t fit your space (or your budget).


Third and finally, the best tiny homes include a transition zone between indoor and outdoor space. The smaller the building is, the more important a little porch or mudroom becomes. A tiny veranda makes a big difference in a tiny home.

Less financial burden, less cleaning hassles, less maintenance. Could it be that having less money to spend on unnecessary square footage is actually a good thing?


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About the Author

Steve Maxwell

Steve Maxwell

Steve Maxwell has designed and built tiny homes. Interested in building your own? Check out his tiny home construction course called Cozy Cabin. It’s made especially for non-builders. And for more home improvement, gardening and hands-on living advice, visit



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