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Architecture Architecture Tinyhouses

Thinking big about #tinyhouses

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by: Hans van der Broek
Thinking big about #tinyhouses

Sherri Spatuk and Mark Mahar are betting there is a big future in tiny homes. The first of what they hope will be many affordable housing units is now in the final stages of completion in the driveway of their Marshfield home. At 400 square feet, the home is approximately the size of a one bedroom apartment, although it feels much bigger inside as the pair has made the maximum use of every centimetre of space.
Sherri and Mark in front of their tinyhouse

"Less can really be more," Sherri noted.

Good friends in high school, the pair lost touch after graduation. Mark became a carpenter and later worked at his father's plumbing business. Both of those skills would prove to be vital in launching M4G Alternative Housing, since the couple can do all the work themselves with the exception of electrical wiring. Mark chose the company name, saying it is short for My Four Girls.

Like many young Islanders, they headed west and actually lived in the same Alberta town and shopped at many of the same stores - a fact they didn't discover until they moved home. They began to think about going into business for themselves about two years ago. "We were away from our children for long periods for work at our former jobs," Sherri explained. "We thought if we were going to work those kind of hours, it should be for something we are passionate about." Both of their families own their own business so they were well aware of the sacrifices and challenges being an entrepreneur entails. Why tiny houses? They both admit being fascinated by tiny house living and are convinced it is a housing option more and more people will consider in the future.
Mark and Sherri inside their tinyhouse kitchen


Their first step was to develop a business plan and conduct market research. When they started the process, Mark was expecting the largest target market would be millennials seeking an affordable first home without the major mortgage payment that often goes with it. They quickly discovered there is also considerable interest from seniors looking to downsize.
"We have had a fair amount of interest but people are understandably waiting to see a finished product," Sherri said.

With business plan in hand, the couple approached the Montague Rural Action Centre and they can't say enough good things about the experience. In addition to providing funding, Mark said they are also there to answer questions and provide advice. "They have been just fantastic to deal with," says Sherri.

The couple began building their first home just two weeks after their daughter, Darcy, was born. While it took some juggling, Mark said it did allow both to spend time with their new-born. The house has taken longer than expected to complete, but they note that is due to some trial and error on everything from paint to suppliers. They hope to sell this structure to generate revenue, but down the road will look at constructing a show home on land they own in Souris. "We chose a basic design that is very adaptable," Mark explained. "We do have some flexibility to the make some changes to reflect the preferences of the buyer."
Sherri noted the building features high-end materials including energy efficient windows and doors, LED lighting and a heat pump to eliminate a dependence on oil.
As well, it also lends itself to other uses. For example, two units can be joined together (with a hallway up the middle) to transform into a cottage. They are also looking at building what they call “wet units" on their land in Souris. While they are the same size, these units contain only bathroom, shower and laundry facilities, and are designed to be public restrooms at beaches or campgrounds.
They are also looking at such uses as sheds, bunk houses or converted shipping containers. Thinking big, the pair isn't ruling out the development of alternative housing communities like one developed in Detroit. Sherri noted those houses were affordable for people with an income of $15,000.

 

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Hans van der Broek, founder Founder and CEO of WhatsOrb, world traveller, entrepreneur and environmental activist. Hans has countless ideas and has set up several businesses in the Netherlands and abroad. He also has an opinion on everything and unlimited thoughts about how to create a better world. He likes hiking and has climbed numerous five-thousanders (mountain summits of at least 5000m or 16,404 feet in elevation)  
Hans van der Broek, founder Founder and CEO of WhatsOrb, world traveller, entrepreneur and environmental activist. Hans has countless ideas and has set up several businesses in the Netherlands and abroad. He also has an opinion on everything and unlimited thoughts about how to create a better world. He likes hiking and has climbed numerous five-thousanders (mountain summits of at least 5000m or 16,404 feet in elevation)  
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