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Vancouver man saving up for tiny house

100-square-foot mobile homes growing in popularity
Cameron Gray
Cameron Gray plans to live in his camper van until he can save enough money to build his own 100-square-foot tiny house. Photo Dan Toulgoet

The high cost of living in Vancouver is driving some people to find alternative housing solutions. In Cameron Gray’s case, he’s building his own affordable home. A very small one.

The 26-year-old musician lives in an ’80s camper van-turned recording studio. The van includes amenities such as a shower, fridge, LCD screen, speakers and a computer. It has two DC batteries to power everything, including the van itself. Gray is planning to set up solar panels so that he doesn’t have to rely on the batteries as much.

Gray lives in his van out of choice but he acknowledges the economic factor in his decision. He does not have rent or mortgage payments — instead he pays $120 for vehicle insurance every month. Despite these cost-saving benefits, Gray does not plan to live in a van forever.

“I would feel like a sucker if I was paying $700 in rent going in someone else’s pocket, when I could save up money instead and build a tiny house.”

A tiny house is a 100-square-foot dwelling built on a trailer plane. This means they are mobile, to be placed anywhere there’s enough space, although they are not meant to be moved frequently. Gray plans to build his own tiny house. For him, it would be an upgrade from his van.  

“Moving into a tiny house would be like moving into a mansion,” he said.

Gray describes tiny houses as a life hack. “It’s more socially acceptable because it’ll actually look like a house,” he said. “But you’re not tied down to a mortgage and you’re not paying an exuberant amount of rent.” The key is that tiny houses look like miniature versions of a single-family home.

Living in his camper van is a temporary solution for Gray’s desire to live close to downtown, where he works as an attendant for the world’s first Bitcoin ATM.

He says although Vancouver has a lot of van dwellers, they frown upon speaking about it openly. Gray has had cops knock on his window and ask him to move his van, but he is not too worried.

“I think they have bigger problems to deal with. There are people sleeping on the street, so why would they care about a person sleeping in a van?” he said.

Nonetheless, he hopes to build his tiny house soon so that he can have a patio to grow his own food.   

Sustainability, affordability and flexibility are the three big benefits of tiny houses, according to John McFarlane, owner of a tiny house building company called Camera Buildings. The two demographics that McFarlane says he sees the most at his business are young adults and seniors.

“The big groups are young people who want to own their own home and want the flexibility of picking the place, and older people who are considering retirement or are already retired and want to focus on lifestyle, instead of worrying about expense of maintenance,” he said.

McFarlane and community project organizer Zee Kesler are teaming up to host a series of workshops that will teach people how to build their own tiny house.

The workshops will run every weekend July 5 to August 31, where participants will build a tiny house that will eventually be used as a community centre.

In September, Kesler will set up the miniature structure at Science World’s Around the Dome exhibition, a community event that features science and technology.

Interest in tiny houses is growing in Vancouver. Registration for the workshop opened last week and two people have already paid to sign up, according to Kesler.

Gray hopes to build his own tiny house once he saves up enough money. In the meantime, he is searching for a collective house that will allow him to park his van on its lot. He currently has his van parked in Kitsilano.

For Gray, the best part about living in a van is the flexibility. “If I get sick of the view I can change it,” he said.

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