Originally Published 11/28/2016
In the last few months, this is one of the hottest questions asked of us and others involved the Canadian Tiny House concept, “how do I insure my tiny house?” Sometimes straightforward; though, mainly what the tiny house is on wheels (or ‘THOW’), not so much.
If you are not building your tiny house on wheels– stop reading now! No, just kidding, read on and be glad you are not trying to be mobile and live year round in it (a majority of Canada).
Whether you are in the dreaming phase or the process of design, researching the meeting legal and municipal requirements, on the cusp of building, perhaps even in the process, the hard work and reward of a home that works for you and your family are emerging; so you should be thinking of insurance! All that hard work and effort– no matter what size of the house you are going to have the structure and the contents wrapped up in one package. While you may opt out of house insurance in some cases (entirely separating yourself from ‘the system’, man), this is not always an option. Nor recommended. I say that from someone who after 18 years of having home insurance and never using it, one day was very glad I did have it. After our disaster, we got all the money back that we ever paid out and more! Had we not had it, would have been a devastating loss.
As many come to know, a tiny house on a mobile trailer is classified as neither a house (regardless of it meeting or exceeding codes) nor is it a recreational vehicle (RV). Further, it is not considered a mobile home as those are a different structural build on their own– sort of. There is more to that further down.
In any case, because laws, standards and codes have not [yet] been approve to include a THOW, it is a bit of a head-scratcher.
If you or the local handyman build it and do not have the correct credentials, you may be only able to insure your home as a trailer only; assuming the trailer meets transport safety requirements, while the structure on the trailer may not be able to be insured as a year-round primary place of residence.
If you have a licenced RV manufacturer build it, you will then have a VIN. You can then ensure it as an RV; with transport regulations taken care of inherently; however, you may be restricted as to where it can be parked and if it is allowed as a year-round primary residence.
One ‘work around’ we have been informed of is that if you have a trailer custom built by a certified builder (recommended in most cases, see our process tips as to why), then the trailer will be CSA approved/stamped. OK for transport and as a three season dwelling -OR- primary all year residence. With a serial number; building a decent house on it may satisfy an insurance company. We have heard of this working in one province even where someone took a used trailer, built a home on it and used the old serial number/registration for insurance and to satisfy transport regulations. I’m not saying it is right, just that that is what we heard as a possible way to get insurance!
Another method to getting a green light maybe getting a relevant engineering firm to certify the trailer and build as acceptable to make and integrity.
Considerations of all of this should be affecting your design before a build. Depending on the heating system selected, how it was installed and so on, there are maybe other complications. Woodstove will be an issue if not done right. Gas lines must have a certified installer; electrical must be to electrical codes with a pass from an electrician, etcetera. There is only so much the average person can do on their own. With good reason for safety! A poorly installed gas line, stove or heater can take property and lives and leave you with no insurance you can claim.
We have heard from a gentleman in Alberta that he had no issue with insurance from the Cooperators Insurance company. Their requirement was that the house must come to rest on a defined type of foundation, the unit levelled, the wheels removed and stored. What commonly occurs with a mobile home which is often set on concrete pads, stands or wood framed foundation and levelled. We have also heard this type of accommodation with two other insurance companies, one in Quebec and one in BC. For some, this is not practical but is the best scenario we have heard thus far.
Some insurance companies and even by-laws may require the unit to be also anchored. Not a big deal, but it is another small cost and consideration to be made.
It was with reservations that I write this article. Partly due to not wanting to mislead people– take nothing here as fact! Things are constantly changing, and we have not heard from enough people to offer other ideas. Moreover, there just does not exist a proper guiding solution. Like others, I am forced to tell the story of how it is not easy. Still, the story needs to be told for a future change.
It will change based on demand. We remain optimistic about change for Canadians. At the time of writing this, in the US, there is a substantial effort to have a written proposed tiny house code taken to ICC (International Code Council) for inclusion in the 2018 IRC (Residential Building Code). Some states, municipalities, companies and banks are now opening up for, change of laws, insurance and financing. Unheard of 5 years ago.
While we are a bit behind our neighbours to the south, Canadians are getting organised more so; we are optimistic that capable and caring hands to start writing documentation for our own federal and provincial laws. Municipalities across Canada are reviewing the pros of tiny houses and other alternatives, affordable housing solutions. They are aware of the constraints and are seeking change from their perspective. Here, this was also unheard of five years ago.
Tiny Home Alliance Canada will be a part of helping this effort along; lobbying for proper change and inclusion of tiny homes as a dwelling for Canadians without the red tape.
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R. Leonardo, T.H.A.C.