It could be mistaken for a well-appointed garage or outdoor shed but this 280-square-foot structure along a dirt road outside Edmonton is a home.

The 11-metre by 3-metre turquoise tiny house built on a metal trailer is home to Kenton Zerbin and his wife Melissa, not to mention their cat.

tiny home

The home cost about $120,000 to build, including all materials and labour. He says tiny homes can be built for half that but the couple wanted to have the ability to live off the grid.

It has two water tanks for 1,800 litres of water, solar tubes to heat the water and 10 solar panels provide all the energy they need.

“I was looking for different options for a house and this one really resonated with me because I didn’t have to get into massive debt to do it and I could afford really quality materials,” said Zerbin.

Tiny home

Tiny houses are getting big attention, especially thanks to reality TV shows that glamorize the appeal of less-cluttered living and clever design. Advocates say tiny living is more affordable, more sustainable, solves concerns about land crunches in the face of growing populations, and provides liberation from clutter. They say they are a great solution for seniors or young people starting out or private convenient, short-term rentals.

But Canadians are used to living large. We have the third-largest average home size in the world, behind Australia and U.S., at roughly 2,100-square-feet, according to consulting firm PwC.

And in many places, options of where to locate tiny homes are limited.

“It has these issues where it doesn’t really fit in any other category, so there needs to be some rules around that so it can be allowed,” said Zerbin.

Kenton Zerbin in his tiny home

Municipalities across the country have grappled with incorporating them into their regulations. In many places, they are illegal or at least in a grey zone, often due to rules limiting multiple dwellings on a property or prohibiting movable homes outside of mobile home parks, or requiring a certain minimum square feet for a housing unit. Tiny houses don’t fully conform to standards for permanent homes, manufactured homes or mobile homes.

“We are always looking for ways to incorporate new housing choice in our neighbourhoods, and the tiny house movement is definitely one we want to support,” said Anne Stevenson, a planner with the City of Edmonton.

Tiny home stairs

Zerbin climbs a narrow set of stairs, which also serves as storage, and has to duck down to reach the master suite in one of two lofts in his home. The other is where they watch TV or entertain guests.

A 1.2-metre by 2.4-metre bathroom and utility room holds a shower, composting toilet, washing machine and utility closet.

Zerbin doesn’t just live in a tiny home, he is trying to convince others to try it too. He studied permaculture – designing agriculture, landscape and architectural systems that are in harmony with nature - in Australia, practising it there and in the Caribbean. It opened his eyes to the benefits of going small.

Zerbin says many people are craving ways to diminish their footprint on the planet.

“Rather than having shorter showers and changing light bulbs people are going, hey, maybe I can have a different kind of house.”

Kenton Zerbin’s tiny home

He now makes a living as a designer, consultant, speaker and teacher, aiming to spread the word about earth-friendly ways to live.

“We can actually use education as the solution for how humans can live on this planet in a regenerative way. Not just sustainably, that’s kind of an over-washed word, it doesn’t mean anything anymore. But we have to be better and I think tiny homes challenge people to be better in how they live.”

With a report from CTV Edmonton’s Dez Melenka