Small House on Gabriola Island, British Columbia

This small 576 square foot house is located on Gabriola Island in British Columbia and has two stories, a 24′ by 24′ footprint, type-3 septic field, instant hot water heater, and cork floors. The landscaping around the house was finished in river rock so as to avoid having to water lawn. The photos, plan, and video below were sent to me by it’s owners, Michael and Kathy.


I was happily surprised to learn that a building permit was issued without requiring the drilling of a well on the property first. It seems that rainwater collection systems are not only well understood in that area but preferred because they put less of a burden on natural resources. Here is what Michael says about rain water collection systems in British Columbia.

“There is no problem building a house in BC without a well. Rain capture is a well accepted methodology and there is actually a growing movement to encourage new home builders to put in cisterns so as to take pressure off existing aquifers.”

Downsizing to this smaller scale has also caused some curiosity among family and friends. Michael says:

“Our friends and family are quite reluctant to embrace this scale of living, but become more comfortable with the idea once they see how good planning and space utilization can make a difference.”

It’s really exciting to see more small sustainable homes being built. It’s even more encouraging to hear that more planning departments are not only allowing alternative solutions like rainwater collection systems but are beginning to encourage it as a best practice. Homes like this are evidence that sustainable architecture can be attainable and with some sweat equity cost less. Thanks for sending this to me Michael & Kathy… great house… thanks for sharing!

24x24 house plan



34 thoughts on “Small House on Gabriola Island, British Columbia

  1. Rickles says:

    Was this their own design? I’d be curious to see more of the plans themselves.

    I really like the layout! The wife can have her space upstairs and I could have a shop downstairs! =)

  2. Epperson says:

    The cisterns are above ground and exposed to the elements in the photo. How do they manage to keep it from freezing in the winter?

    Great post, btw!

  3. Michael Mehta says:

    Hi Rickles and Epperson:

    The house was designed and built for us by Randy Nicifore of Broken Arrow on Gabriola Island BC. His email address is email hidden; JavaScript is required

    I use the garage for my scuba diving operations and as an office. I can also park my small boat or car in there. It’s amazing that one can get all of this functionality in a 24×24 footprint.

    Regarding the cisterns. The climate in this part of BC is extremely temperate and rarely gets below freezing. With 2500 gallons of water in each cistern, it takes a long cold spell to form any ice in them.



  4. Lou says:

    WOW. This is almost exactly like the one I have been doodling on graph paper for the last few months… only better. The wife and I like the idea and savings of a tiny home, but we need a place to park the car and bikes inside due to weather and theft. This solves that problem and gives a second bedroom and possibly space for a washer and dryer.

    Just a few questions:
    -Rainwater harvesting is supposedly illegal in Washington State. Does anyone know anything about how to circumvent that? Does it depend on the amount being harvested?
    -Would it be cheaper to put all the plumbing on one wall? For example, if the kitchen and bath and laundry were all along one side of the house, would that be better?
    -Where are the stairs, and could you put in a dumbwaiter to help get groceries upstairs easier? (I’m not getting any younger.)

    Love this blog- so many cool ideas!

    Thank you very much.

    • Michael Janzen says:

      Hi Lou… thanks!

      Yes it seems some states have laws about rainwater collection. I thought I read somewhere that Colorado was legalizing it. The others are Utah and Washington State. Check your local laws and look for local activist groups to get the laws changed.

      Yes, centralizing utilities is less expensive and easier to install (up to a point). The more complex a utility wall becomes the harder it becomes to add more pipes, gas lines, and wires. But typically putting all water on one wall will make the job easier.

      It looks like Michael’s stairs are on the front of the house… but not sure.

  5. frank says:

    The stairs are on the side of the house opposite the garage doors, leading up to the far end of the deck. You can just barely see them in the top photo.

  6. Lou says:

    Frank- good eyes! I was thinking the stairs should be inside, but having them outside gives more square footage upstairs.
    So I have to decide if I prefer some more room, or protection from the rain/wind while schlepping stuff upstairs.
    Michael- thanks for the link regarding rainwater harvesting.

  7. Michael Mehta says:

    Hi everyone: The stairs are indeed on the outside and run along the side opposite the garage door. We toyed with the idea of putting the stairs inside, but really wanted to maximize space on the second floor, and had concerns about fumes and carbon monoxide coming in with an opening. With three foot overhangs all around the house, the stairs are mostly protected from the elements.

    We put a second restroom in the garage and also the laundry facilities.

    BTW, in a small house like this I strongly recommend using an instant hot water heater for all hot water needs. We purchased a high-amp one from Titan, and are very pleased with it.


    Michael Mehta

  8. Lou says:

    Thanks for the info about the Titan water heater. Even if we never get to downsize from our current home, I think I will look into that type of heater. The 60 gallon one we have now takes too much energy.
    I was also thinking of using the garage for laundry space. I would put the washer and dryer on the water wall opposite the garage doors (under the kitchen). Since we only have one car, a double car garage leaves room for bicycles, garden tools and maybe a work bench that would also work as a craft bench.
    I’ve been looking for property- as soon as the value of my current house goes up a bit, I am putting it on the market.

  9. Michael Mehta says:

    Hi Lou:

    You’re quite welcome. The Titan hot water heater that I have requires a lot of juice for a short period of time, but is a real saver of energy in the long run.

    We have our laundry facilities in that exact same spot (opposite the garage door), and it works very well in terms of piping to the kitchen, restrooms, outside faucets, etc.

    Best of luck with hunting for land.


  10. trish says:

    Hi Michael
    Thank you so much for sharing the info about your home – you did a wonderful job! Next purchase for me is a hot water heater – I will check out Titan for more info. Again thanks so much – and I look forward to meeting you on Gabriola at the vegetarian group…or at the market sometime….see you then!

  11. Zol Fox says:

    It is so pleasant to see two American guys spend their time for ALL of us to get into our own homes… Most of all it is great that there is an overall sense of no borders to knowledge… Between Michael Janzen & Kent Griswold @ Tiny House Blog we the public are blessed to have this much hard info under a couple of roofs and the RSS to send it out…
    Both of you, thank you… my chase for accommodation in the Vancouver Area may soon be over, as I’m part of a auto-body repair shop in Burnaby, where we could put together a set of containers for a set of accommodations for students at the bodyshop while they are learning their stuff through the Tech/Trade Schools @ BCIT… this would act as a dual venture for two different businesses under one roof and benefit everyone…
    Thanks once again,
    Zol Fox
    email hidden; JavaScript is required

  12. Michael says:

    First off, very beautiful … great location and wonderful job on the house.

    Second, I do hate to point this out though. Yes, it is a small foot print and yes, it follows sustainable methods, but one thing that is left out is cost. I believe a lot of people would love to live a more sustainable lifestyle, but cost is one of the big factors in doing so.

    I live on Vancouver Island, just north of Gabriola and it is expensive. I also have friends that live at Net Loft on Gabriola. To buy land, (especially on an island) and then build from scratch … this takes some deep pockets. So, yes I am all for this and it is beautiful, but just to also make note that this is costly.

    Many thanks and enjoy your new flat. 🙂

  13. Michael Mehta says:

    Hi Michael – thanks for your comments on the cost of building houses on the west coast of Canada. There is no doubt that real estate is expensive out here, and a small house placed in the middle of Saskatchewan or Manitoba would cost considerably less (but then you have to contend with brutal winters). In December 2009 the average house in neighboring Nanaimo sold for $373,000. It’s still possible to buy a .3 acre parcel of land on Gabriola Island for $50K. With my little house costing around $80K plus $20K for a septic field and electrical service, one could put up something like this for $150,000 (less than half of the average for Nanaimo).

    • Diane Huber says:


      Enjoying reading the blog and have been an admirer of your house from ground up! Looking for a contractor recommendation on Gabriola Island for septic and electrical. Would you mind sharing that info with me? Thank you !!

  14. Michael says:

    Hey there Michael,

    Thanks for the reply … wow, you did a great job in landing that for sure. House prices are nutty in this area, same up in the Comox Valley.

    But in any event I like what you have done, so enjoy it. 🙂


  15. Michael Mehta says:

    Thank you Michael. We do indeed feel very fortunate to have our property on Gabriola Island. It is a stunning place and has a real strong sense of community. If you ever want to make the move here, let me know and I will put you in touch with people who can make it happen.

  16. Michael says:

    Evening Michael,

    True that … it is an amazing place. I did a meditation retreat there once a few years ago at the Net Loft.

    Thanks for the connection … you never know, I might just take you up on that offer.

    Cheers 🙂

  17. paula says:

    I loved the ideas of having a bug window pretty much across the whole wall and a little terrace. I would probably add more windows on the other side too – to get a better view of the beautiful trees that you have in abundance.

  18. Konstantinos Tolias says:

    Great project! Small houses for big happy living I guess… Good insulation and low-e windows can make this unit provide everything a person could ask in a house (“shelter”). Very nice!
    Back to basics, less is more! -I agree!


  19. Kabyetsiza says:

    Thank you for providing info about your gorgeuos and cost effective house.
    In Uganda there are brick structures mainly.What did it take to construct the first floor in terms of timber size/s?
    Secondly, what type of timber did you use, and how was the timber treated against fire/termite/rotting prevention?

    • Michael Mehta says:

      Hello Kabyetsiza: Thank you for question regarding the selection of building materials. All exterior walls were made from 2X6 wood studs made from regular spruce-pine-fir (SPF). This is probably the most common kind of framing material used in North America, and it relatively inexpensive. Since framed structures of this kind are mostly sealed off inside and out, and there are building code requirements to use house wrap or tar paper behind the siding – rot and termite issues are relatively unproblematic.

  20. Alex Kupczynski says:

    Where can we get complete build plans? Will be building in Northern Wisconsin. Really like the smaller footprint and design. Thank you.

  21. Brian McCoy says:

    I like it, but I would’ve gone “up” one more time and added a 12/12 roof. I know it probably defeats the purpose of the “small house” design, but it all comes down to personal preference. When you don’t have a large lot to build on, your only option is to go up. Or down…

  22. Rilla says:

    Neat place! A friend posted this on their wall saying it reminded them of me, cause we just bought a 631 sq ft house on Gabriola Island! Small world. 😉

  23. Seth says:

    I stumbled across a photo of your house on google images and I really liked the design. It took a while but I finaly found this site with all the info. I am not familiar with the weather in that part of the world and I am in Vermont where we tend to have long cold winters. What is your heating system?

  24. Jamie says:

    Seems that it’s not actually that hard to collect rainwater legally in Utah. All you have to do is register, and it’s free to do so. And you can also legally collect up to 200 gallons without registering at all

  25. Lynda says:

    Nice job on your house! I have a .75 acre property on Gabriola and would like to build something like it. However, I always thought that zoning wouldn’t allow for a house smaller than 800 square feet on a property under 5 acres. Are you on a large acreage? If not, I’m interested to know how you were able build small. Thanks. Lynda

  26. Lynda Hayward says:

    Nice job on your house! I have a .75 acre property on Gabriola and would like to build something like it. However, I always thought that zoning wouldn’t allow for a house smaller than 800 square feet on a property under 5 acres. Are you on a large acreage? If not, I’m interested to know how you were able build small. Thanks. Lynda

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