Marie-Shadia and François-Xavier are not your average young couple. They live in a 184 square foot home located in an eastern township of Quebec, Canada where they work and attend school.
Now married, the duo met four years ago in Montreal. Marie-Shadia was a social services worker and François-Xavier was working on his masters of philosophy. When school was finished, Marie-Shadia quit her job and together, they took a road trip to Yukon and the Northwest Territories.
The couple’s goal was “to never [pay] a dollar to occupy space in one of the emptiest countries in the world”. Living out of their car, they adventured the great outdoors. They showered in the wilderness, public pools, and once, a sprinkler in a football field. Inspired by the “originality, ingenuity, and authenticity” of the tiny homes they saw throughout the Yukon and Alaska, the pair fell in love with off the grid living.
Rebelling against the societal norm, they embrace a lifestyle that challenges how they experience living, eating, and playing. Buying a standard commercial home did not appeal to them because it meant going into debt with the purchase while worrying about preserving the re sell value. This young couple argues that it can be difficult to make one of these suburban homes uniquely your own. They ultimately chose to live tiny as it offered an “intimate connection with the environment”.
Returning to Quebec, Marie-Shadia and François-Xavier settled in Mauricie. In one year they saved ten grand to kick off building a tiny home. They considered converting a school bus into a tiny home; however, the SAAQ (Quebec’s public Automobile Insurance Society) make the legality of automobile modification a complex procedure. The mechanical complications that could arise with a bus rusting over time was also a concern. A tiny home on wheels has minimal regulations which gave the two peace of mind. The regulations that they discovered were relevant to lighting and size requirements for the road. Wheels were ideal because, not knowing where they wanted to settle in the future, the couple desired mobility.
Construction began when the snow melted and continued to the end of August. They had a 4 month crunch time to build their home. During this time, their home was set up on a family members land. Both worked full time jobs during construction. The total cost of the build is estimated between 17-20 thousand. Marie-Shadia and François-Xavier were completely inexperienced with building when they first began. They learned and developed skills as the project progressed. They feel that our society encourages us to specialize in one skill set to earn money and how that can be limiting. They have taken pride in learning the skills necessary to build their own space.
Boat systems and the DIY culture surrounding them offered a wealth of knowledge. Boats are designed with limited space and low power requirements in mind. Lloyd Kahn, the editor-in-chief for shelter publications was a strong inspiration for aesthetics, and interior design. Keeping with their low impact philosophy, Marie-Shadia and François-Xavier used as many recycled materials as possible. They sourced second hand and overstocked windows from a manufacturer and even built 3 Windows from thermos glass. The hardwood flooring was given a second life as it was repurposed from a family member’s home.
The frame of the house was designed online with sketchup. During the design phase, they teamed up with a structure specialist in a renovation center who gave some helpful advice. The trailer was second hand and unfortunately caused some issues when they learned that it was not square. The two also faced a major challenge after accidentally purchasing aluminum finishing trims. Luckily, a special order of galvanized trim arrived two weeks before the project was finished. Heat is supplied with a 1500 Watt electric warmer that they bought at Canadian tire. The electric warmer keeps their home consistently above 20 °C. Because spray foam insulation breathes very little, they rely on a dehumidifier to keep the moisture down. This is a necessary precaution as mold is one of the biggest threats to tiny homes. François-Xavier points out that it is important to be mindful of humidity because the wood within your home can dry which will cause the wood to warp.
The little dwelling is currently parked in a campsite which provides electricity, water, and wifi. From home, it takes 30 minutes to get to work/school. Marie-Shadia and François-Xavier are staying at the only camp site that will allow a tiny tome to setup over the winter. They called a total of 15 campsites and none of them were willing to welcome a tiny home on wheels. The majority of the campsites they spoke to, had no knowledge of tiny homes and showed little interest in making special considerations. After doing some research, the couple discovered that Granby, a city nearby, had recently passed a bylaw making 4 season camping illegal. Another town, Gatineau, passed a bylaw which implemented a tax on any rv or trailer stored in the territory. Regulations vary between regions. To their surprise, when they researched camping within the Québec city region and Mauricie, it all looked legal.
The couple’s goal is to be off grid by next year which will require purchasing PV panels and a generator. The next large project will be installing a wood stove which entails cutting out a chimney. Cherry wood has also been purchased for the interior and will need to be mounted. Long term plans include purchasing a piece of property to park their home on. In time, they will build a cob/straw bale home with funds they have saved from living tiny. The extra space will be ideal to raise children.
François-Xavier described the feeling of building his own home as invigorating and he encourages anyone who is interested in tiny house living to do the same. The young couple strongly advocates avoiding the capitalist trap of becoming tangled in debt. They urge you to do your research and buy the right products the first time. They recommend seeking out specialty shops and supplies. Most importantly, they advise taking control of your living situation by learning all that you can. Knowledge is power.