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The Failure Blog

Published on November 24, 2014

Dismantling the Tiny Home at Evergreen Brick Works (photo: Evergreen)

By: Jesse Darling, Urban Project Designer, Evergreen CityWorks

If we keep doing the same thing over and over again, we will never build the sustainable cities we need and want. As such, Evergreen CityWorks exists to test new ideas and scale those that work. When these ideas challenge the status quo and make people think differently about reoccurring problems, we get extra excited. Sometimes these ideas work, and sometimes they don’t go exactly as planned. The Failure blog is all about something that didn’t work as we had hoped – and what we learned.

Welcome to Evergreen CityWorks’ first Failure Blog (thanks to Engineers Without Borders for the idea).

The Great Idea: Tiny Homes at Evergreen Brick Works

Tiny Homes have popped up in several American cities as a new type of housing that is affordable, sustainable and will help to densify urban areas. With City of Toronto homes coming in on average at over $1 million, and land at a premium, City Works felt that we should explore this type of new infill model, and test it in the context of Toronto.

Meet our partner: Anthony Moscar, he is a young professional struggling to buy a house in the Greater Toronto Area, but faces limited choice due to high prices. In response, Anthony wanted to bring the Tiny Home movement to the City of Toronto, however, he faced roadblocks at every turn. Everything from Zoning by-laws, parking requirements, fire codes and a slew of other regulations currently make it illegal to build a tiny home within Toronto.

Our Process:

Along with Anthony and other partners we worked to try and overcome these barriers. We wanted to build a Tiny Home on a trailer at Evergreen Brick Works in a hope that this pilot project could raise awareness among policy makers and the public about alternative housing choices.

After planning and getting the necessary approvals, construction began in September, and then shortly after we went off course. Just as we began our project we were jolted to a stop and unable to proceed due to unforeseen design challenges and liability issues associated with moving the home off the property following completion.

What we learned:

  • New design comes with inherent risks and small building design is complicated. Through this process we quickly learned that the traditional building process is not transferable to tiny homes. We need new ways of adapting existing building material and managing the construction process if innovative housing models are to thrive.
  • When testing something new, there is a need to budget for unforeseen costs. The project incurred many unexpected expenses – from costly (and difficult to obtain) insurance to wasted building materials – unavoidable costs kept piling up.

Although the Tiny Home pilot project didn’t manifest in the way we intended, we continue to believe this is a model we need to test. Despite these challenges, there is a future for Tiny Homes in the mix of solutions required to address city density pressures. CityWorks remains committed to seeing this new approach to housing implemented and scaled-up in Canadian cities. We are now working with new partners on an improved pilot that could be the showcase we are looking for. We will keep everyone posted as our new pilot emerges.