Thursday, December 3, 2009

Small Houses

The renovated house in the top picture is on Armstrong Ave in Hintonburg. I love tiny houses, there is something so doll-house-like, so intimate, so cute about them. Maybe it's the little-child in me wanting to curl up in a cupboard.

Hidden behind the renovator's trailer to the right of the blue and white house there is a foundation in the ground for another thin house infill.

I hope the vacant lot, now for sale, gets some more tiny infill houses rather than a McMansion.

I would love to see more tiny houses built in the city. I feel there is a huge market for them amongst singles, retirees, and people who want to spend less of their money on housing. However, so many city expenses are not size related or have minimum charges (eg water bill, electric bill, gas bill), and taxes on small houses can easily be higher than on larger houses, so they are squeezed out of the new-build category and are seen as non-economic by the cold-hearted (like me -- when shopping for my first house, I discovered it is much more economic to have a 1300 sq ft house than a 900 sq ft house, and bought accordingly).

As for my tax comment above, taxes are based on market value. When a small one bedroom house (no driveway, and the house is so small the one bedroom is in the walkout basement) on Primrose was renovated it was reassessed at higher value than three storey 2200 sq ft houses along the same street, because the assessors said the "comparable" was a trendy loft condo!


  1. We've a tiny house in the 'hood. It was generously described as a 3bdrm when we bought it, but is really about a 1.5 bdrm w/ a nook. ;) I love it, though it certainly has presented challenges. We buy most of our upstairs furniture at Ikea because it comes unassembled and can therefore make it into the upstairs! ;) We were fortunate, though, that while our house is about 900sqft, our lot is a full sized lot so we've been able to create outdoor "living spaces" for fair weather entertaining!

  2. I had to comment on this, writing this from my 600 sq. ft house on Empress Ave. Based on my experience buying a house last year, with the market being what it is these days, smaller houses may be coming back in vogue. I agree property taxes are high for my tiny little house, but a house twice the size in this neighborhood would mean at least another $150,000 on a mortgage, which dwarfs any property tax considerations.

  3. refash: I fully understand tiny stairs. My steep basement stairs are too narrow to let in a HW tank, furnace, freezer, or anything big. I cut them off and put them back together with hinge pins, so I can knock out the pins, pull off the stairs, and lower down big objects then reconstruct the stairs. Takes 10 minutes, every 8 years or so ... When I finished my third floor I made the stairs slope gentler but left them 22" wide, fine for walking, but hard to get anything large up there. Ikea was the answer.

    Matt: I would fully love for small houses to come back into fashion, but everything in our city rules and taxes and utility rules are set out to thwart small housing. It would take major reform to make smaller units attractive. Why do smaller units pay proportionally more for taxes and utilities than bigger houses? Keep in mind the mortgage can and should be killed off quickly, but the taxes and operating costs go on forever and ever.There has to be a way to create affordable (ie wood frame, ground oriented housing) small units with garden/patios without building expensive to build/operate condo apts. The problem isn't technology, its our restrictive municipal setups.

  4. The problem is also what people want. When my husband's colleagues visit us (we live in a 950 sq ft semi, they ask how we all (I have two small children) fit, and encourage us to move to aylmer or the burbs. Because our kids HAVE to have separate rooms, right?

    I think that we North Americans have been so conditioned by suburban living, and maybe by what we see on TV, that we think it's a necessity to have 500 sq ft per person. Instead of a luxury.

    Ottawa is a fairly conservative town, and people here seem to view living in small(er) houses as extreme.

  5. Anon: 950 sq feet is fine with me ! And sharing rooms is fine too. I think someday sociologists will look back to the 60s-2010 era and try to explain a lot of disfunctionalities as being due to isolated children growing up alone in their rooms.

  6. My house is the one sliding into 79 Armstrong! Thanks for covering it!

  7. I suppose you aren't happy with the new 79 Armstrong?