Here’s a topic that’s been on my mind a lot lately: housing. If you were here last month, you probably saw that I almost bought an old, dilapidated house last November. The idea was to fix it up cheaply and just pay off the mortgage as fast as I could. That way I’d have a place to stay, while paying very little to live there. It wasn’t going to be luxurious, but that was sort of the point. All I’ve ever wanted was a home-base of sorts — a place to keep my stuff — while I do my own thing elsewhere. Unfortunately, the plan fell through when the sellers tried to pull some weird tricks.
So I’d thought I’d spend some time writing this post to talk about a few housing ideas I’ve had over the years; ideas I’ve looked into and some I’ve even tried.
1. Mini Houses on Wheels
My blog-buddy Alain had an interesting article the other day — if you can read French feel free to read it here (or in English) — about a mini home exhibition that took place in a small town a few hours from where I currently live. I also happened to go to the same mini house exhibition, so it was interesting to read another person’s experience.
If memory serves me the exhibition had about 10 different mini homes you could visit. The ones that interested me the most were the mini-homes on wheels. They’ve become pretty popular these days, garnering a lot of interest. They even have an entire show devoted to them on HGTV! If you have never seen one before, think of a glorified trailer home — the kind you pull with a pickup truck. They essentially look like real homes (at least most of them do) but are a fraction of the size. In fact, we’re talking less than 200 square feet of house.
Tumbleweed is pretty much the go to company for mini homes in the USA right now. If you’re interested in learning more, you should visit their website.
+ Mini homes on wheels are a lot cheaper than your typical suburban home (although not as a cheap as you might think – more on that later). Consequently, even with just a small amount of capital, you could theoretically live mortgage free in just a few years.
+ Mini homes force you to prioritize your possessions. This should be obvious given the real lack of space. And while I can’t personally vouch for this, most people who live in tiny homes will say that being forced to live with less is actually liberating and a positive thing.
+ If you don’t like your neighbours, you can just move your house to another place.
– At least here in Canada, it’s hard to find a city where you’re actually allowed to park a mini home and live in it. Truth is, most municipalities have bylaws that more or less prohibit people from “camping” on there yards for more than a given amount of time. Some don’t allow it at all. So while you could probably get away with living in a tiny home for a while, all it would take is one disgruntled neighbour to file a complaint with the city. Consequently, it’s not the most secure kind of house (at least until the laws change).
– Mini homes aren’t as cheap as you might think. Often times people look at mini houses and think they only cost a few thousand dollars at most. In fact they couldn’t be more wrong! Unless you can find a cheap used trailer, just the metal frame (that carries the home) alone costs several thousands of dollars. Once you factor in the other building materials, you’re looking at around $25k to $50k, depending on how much you do yourself and how nice you want it to be. Most of the homes I saw at the mini home show hovered around the $50k mark.
2. Sail Boat
Living on a sailboat is something I’ve wanted to do for a long, long time. Ironically, I’ve never actually sailed a boat other than this one time in university when I captained a small dinghy on the St. Lawrence. I’m also terrified of the ocean – no thanks. But despite the real possibility of sinking and being eaten alive by sharks, the prospect of living in a sailboat really appeals to me. Since my house-owning-plans haven’t exactly worked out, I thought I’d look into sailboat living in the upcoming year. At the very least, I’ll take some sailing courses to see if I even enjoy the sport / lifestyle. After that who knows?
+ You can buy used sailboat for relatively cheap (sometimes they’re even free!)
+ Monthly marina fees often end up costing much less than paying rent in the city. Plus you get to live surrounded by people who share your passion for sailing (assuming you actually like sailing).
+ If you don’t like your neighbour, you can just move — to another country even — while never leaving the comforts of your own home.
– While it’s true you can get a fully functional used sailboat for a few thousand dollars, you generally get what you pay for. This might be ok if you don’t plan on doing any actual sailing, instead remaining close to the shore the entire time. But if you want a real sailboat that you can do go around the world in, expect to pay a lot more. Then one needs to factor in maintenance, which again depends on your boat’s condition.
– Living through a typical Canadian winter in a sailboat is not for the faint of heart — although it can be done! I once read a book about a guy who lived year round in a sailboat in the very cold province of Quebec. Needless to say, it sounded like a challenge, and required that he essentially cover his entire boat in some sort of plastic wrap, while making sure the water around his hull never froze. For the latter problem, he used some sort of propeller that would essentially keep the water moving.
– Most (affordable) sailboats are small. unless you go for really big, in which case you’ll end up paying way more than you would for a similarly sized house. You’ll also need people to help you sail it. Once you pass the 30-40ft threshold, even the most experienced captains will need a few hands or two on deck to help out.
– Sharks!!! (need I say more?)
3. Yurt / Ger
Here’s something I’ve already done — albeit for two short months. If you weren’t actually already familiar with yurts, they’re actually pretty cool. Originating from Mongolia, they’re essentially tents on steroids. The basic structure is a lattice wall that joins at either ends to make a standing circular frame. Lats are then connected to the top of the frame, and are made to converge towards a hoop that is held up at the centre of the circle. Once the frame is in place, the entire structure is covered with a fabric shell of some kind. Actually, it’s probably easier if you just look at video of one being erected.
+ Yurts are fairly easy to build/fabricate yourself, especially if you know your way around a wood working shop. In my case, I was pretty lucky to have dad who builds wood furniture as a hobby. But most cities around the country have woodworking clubs you can join for a small fee.
+ Yurts are surprisingly cheap to build, especially with a little creativity. For example, the yurt I lived in cost me around $2000 in total to build. That having been said, I only covered mine with a customized tarp, which isn’t ideal during winter months (hence why I don’t live in it anymore). But even if you buy your yurt outright, a small yurt can be had for as little as $10k.
– Just like tiny homes above, city bylaws generally don’t like it if you camp on your property for more than a given period. That makes longterm yurt living next to impossible in all but the most remote places. Even then, you’ll still need to figure out a way to collect potable water and get rid of human waste. In my case, I parked by yurt at the back of my parents (fairly large) yard with nary a complaint — but who knows what would have happened had I stayed longer.
– I actually saw this as a pro, but living in a yurt means being intimately connected to your surroundings. You have to remember that, even with insulation, yurts have thin walls. This means sound travels easily and you end up hearing everything. While that might not seem problematic, there honestly nothing more disconcerting than waking up in the middle of the night during a thunder storm, wondering if you’d just been hit by lightning.
4.) Stealth Van Life
Here’s another idea I’ve considered: living in a converted van parked stealthily on the street. You’d be surprised how many people actually do this. I often see them in Ottawa parked in urban residential areas or even industrial parks that tend to empty out when the day is over. Van life isn’t fancy, but it sure is cheap.
Most van dwellers limit themselves to the essentials: a bed, a small counter top with a burner and (usually) a small portable toilet. Everything else has to be done either outside of the van, or at a private establishment. For example, many van dwellers have memberships for gyms that are open 24/7 so that they have access to a shower and facilities on demand.
+ This is the ultimate in cheap, mobile living. All you need is a decent sized van with a working engine and some creativity. Often times people living in their vans will take out all of the back seats and put in a single bed in their place. Fancier versions have spray on insulation and wood paneling along the inside walls of the van.
+ You don’t have to pay any rent or property tax. Since you’re likely going to be living in stealth mode (i.e., on the street), there are no fees that need to paid (other than car insurance)
– It’s cramped! Especially if you’re two in one van (although many couples have undertaken this lifestyle and succeeded.
– A lot of people don’t take too kindly to the idea of people camping in vans on their street. If you’re not careful, you might get the a visit from the police at 3 am.
– Vans aren’t particularly comfortable in either really warm or cold weather. While an open window might mitigate condensation in the van during the summer, it’s hard to control while it’s -30 outside. Heating a van during the winter is also hard at best, especially if you’re trying to do so inconspicuously.
5. Hobbit Home / Cob House
Cob houses are my quintessential dream homes; the kind I would build in a heart beat if I felt I could actually get away with it. If you’re not familiar with cob, it’s actually a free building material made from a mixture of water, straw, sand and clay. Despite the title of this section, however, not all homes made of cob have to be hobbits homes. I only put them together since both houses are generally made using dirt-based materials, and there’s considerable overlap when it comes to actual cob built homes.
+ Cob houses can literally cost nothing to build (or next to nothing). Most of the building materials can be found for free (clay, straw and sand).
– Like almost every housing alternative listed here, city bylaws are going to get in the way of letting you build a house out of cob. Although some people have succeeded in building cob homes, especially on the west coast, it’s a hassle at best. Worst case scenario, your local city official will force you to tear it down.
– Cob isn’t exactly the greatest of insulators. This is okay if you live in a temperate climate, but in a winter prone land like Canada, cob is less than ideal. You’ll need to burn a lot of wood to keep your home warm. Thankfully there are similar styles homes one can build that have much better R-ratings (like straw bale homes).
– The cob style obviously isn’t for everyone.
6.) Squatting on Government/Crown Land
Although I don’t know what the situations is like in the USA or in Europe, in Canada, almost 90% of the land in our country belongs to government (and therefore Canadians). This doesn’t mean that you can just hike to any spot on crown land and claim it as your own — although some have tried this. But you are allowed to “live” on crown land provided you follow some basic rules. Actually “live” is probably the wrong word. Canadian citizens are allowed to camp free of charge anywhere on crown land (unless it specifically says you can’t) for a maximum of 21 days, after which you have to move your camp site at least 100m away from the old one.
Of course, whether this rule is enforced or not largely depends if there are rangers around where you are. The more secluded you are, the less chance you’ll encounter one. I’ve heard of people building cabins in the middle of crown land, and living there for extended periods of time. As crazy as this sounds, I think this would be an interesting way to live, at least for a given amount of time.
+ There’s no rent to pay since it costs nothing to live in the remote areas of the wilderness.
+ Despite the hard work involved, being so in-tuned with nature might actually be relaxing.
– Unless you’re a misanthropist, you’re likely going to feel secluded living in the middle of the woods.
– Supplies will be hard to find; unless you’re like this guy, you’ll need to haul all of your stuff to your remote cabin in the woods.
– The chances of dying go up considerably, given that you’ll be a day-long canoe trip away from a local hospital.
– You’ll be sharing your space with bears and moose (meese?) — enough said.
So there you have it, my list of potential future home ideas. If you’ve tried any of these, I’d love to hear about it. Feel free to leave a comment below to share your experiences.
On that note, thanks for reading.