A pair of Cumberland residents are in the business of constructing tiny homes that are affordable, energy-efficient and mobile, with off-grid potential.
The custom-built creations of Coho Design Build co-owners Mark Lombard and Paul Mottishaw are typically in the range of 220-230 square feet, ideal for temporary living or downsizing. They stay cool in summer and warm in winter, employing energy-efficient LED lighting, and wood and electric heat.
“They’re typically considered temporary structures,” Lombard said. “It gets around having to buy land. I grew up in Nova Scotia. You can buy a house with two or three bedrooms and a little acreage for under $100,000. Here for $100,000 you’re not really even starting.
“The emphasis is flexible,” he added. “We build all kinds. We can build larger or modular houses for families, but we also build full, normal houses on a regular foundation, too.”
Lombard and Mottishaw work out of a shop on Grant Road in Cumberland. Ideally, they would like to build some houses that are 400 or 500 square feet that could join together to accommodate a family.
They are, in fact, trying to “build a new paradigm” around an affordable, energy-efficient life.
“Lots of people own land and have lots of area on their land that they’re not using,” Lombard said. “It’s becoming quite popular. Because they’re ultra-low energy-use houses, it’s relatively easy to just go to off-grid, or have small, clustered houses in a planned area like a trailer park.”
Some of the houses feature a composting toilet, though Lombard and Mottishaw need to be careful when it comes to regulations, and zoning and bylaws.
“It’s on a case-by-case basis,” Lombard said. “But one thing we’re noticing is that building and planning officials are starting to realize the benefits of looking at alternative systems like rainwater capture.
Same thing with composting toilets, it reduces the need for expensive infrastructure and make a closed loop permaculture, reusing biowaste and making it into something productive. I think a lot of municipalities and building officials are coming around to that.”
One house they constructed is partly insulated and finished using a ‘chip slip’ insulation and earthen plaster.
“Natural building is a big part of what we do, rather than using high-embodied energy materials manufactured far way. We try to use materials that are really local, like wood chips.”
The end result is a natural system where the “walls breathe,” whereby moisture goes into the wall when damp and comes out when dry. At night, walls contain heat but the house stays cool during the day.
All houses are customized. Depending on the size and quality of finish, the price of a small, portable home can range from $20,000 to $60,000.
On average, Lombard figures he and Mottishaw build two houses a year. The smallest they’ve built is 220 square feet and the largest is 1,500 square feet.
“We don’t go over 1,500,” Lombard said.
They also move and design houses, and do incremental improvements to houses already constructed.
For more information call Coho Design Build at 250-202-1509.