Final summary and pictures

Mini House

"While the house is definitely small - and totally not the norm - I believe there is a large number of people interested in a house like this who aren't served by the building industry. Just as some smaller sized condos work better than larger ones because of a really good floor plan - a house can work in the same way" – Client

Mini house sits on a 14’x70’ lot on Craven Road, in the ‘Tiny Town’ neighborhood of Toronto. First developed as worker housing in the 1880s the street was then a vacant railway corridor, it is now characterized by a series of 10’wide lots with homes between 300 and 500 square feet in size. There is a long continuous fence along its west side where it once bordered farmland and separated the wealthy from the poor. In 1909 the city began to gentrify this underprivileged community which resulted in a growing number of stable residents in the area. Since that time, the houses along Craven Road have wavered between the unlawful and decrepit to the quirky and endearing. It is in this mixed and beautiful context that Mini house exists and participates in its neighbourhood.

The house that previously occupied the lot was a demolished drug lab and subsequently condemned. The client was nonetheless drawn to the vacant lot; he felt at home in the quirky and diverse neighborhood. He also found it affordable and the perfect scale for the ultra-compact, fully detached house he dreamed of building. It would be an alternative to “loft living” and more importantly, a dwelling outside the confines of a condominium building.

By working with the architect to turn ideas into reality and to refine a design that fit both the client’s personality and budget, Mini House was born. The budget was set to match the cost of owning a comparably sized condo which meant that creativity and resourcefulness were needed in design development. The contractor was also included early on in the conversations and design process. This open and collaborative dialogue helped keep the very tight budget on track by facilitating flexibility in the construction approach and adapting the design as required to economize building. Inexpensive and recycled materials were sourced from stage sets or salvaged from demolished houses. These efforts helped to mitigate costs substantially.

Mini house embodies a “hard loft” style with an industrial aesthetic and flexible floor plan. Despite its very small foot print, the home feels open and spacious. The client’s Spartan lifestyle is reflected throughout as the house stays true to materials and requires minimal maintenance. The floors are poured concrete, the walls are concrete block or white painted drywall without baseboards and the windows are oriented to coordinate desires for view, natural ventilation and passive solar gain in the winter.

Mini House, though restricted by the scale of both site and budget, has had a big impact on its neighborhood. As one of the first new, modern houses in this part of Toronto it is a testament that that bigger does not necessarily mean better and that loft-style living is possible outside the bounds of a high-rise building.

02/24/20 - Budget Talk

I spoke with the client and asked if we could also keep track and post all of the costs and budget for this project. We are very lucky that he is willing to allow us to post how much this project will costs and how much energy is involved in keeping a project on budget. From the beginning this was always going to be a project that needed to be built with a limited budget but strong design ideals.

Craven Street

• Soft Costs (Architect, Engineer, surveyor) $30,000
• City Fees (Minor variance, PAL Review and Building Permit) $5,000
• Land Costs and Lawyer Fees $125,000
• Construction Costs (all in costs for construction) $250,000
• City Services (Hydro, Gas, Water, Sewer) $15,000


This is the total costs of the project ready to move in. I will expand on the the budget as the project developes and we start getting "real" numbers.

Mini house - Project profile

Project Summary
- One bedroom 700s.f. stand alone urban infill home

- Loft-style design desired by client

- Sustainable elements to be included
- Gerrard and Coxwell area of Toronto

We met the client a year earlier to discuss questions he had about designing a 200s.f. pavilion on a piece of ocean front property owns. The project never materialized but the client called us when he wanted to buy a piece of property to design and construct his own home. The client found a piece of land in near Gerrard and Coxwell that suited his requirements. His vision was a compact, industrial Loft like structure to fit on the existing 14'X70' lot. Transforming the clients vision of a loft style environment into a compact fully detached home was accomplished through the use of 17ft ceilings, exposed plumbing and electrical elements, thoughtfully placed windows.

Incorporating sustainable elements while being conscious of budget was at the top of the agenda from the start. The client wanted to re-use several items from his existing loft including the kitchen and mini sauna. We also made provisions for the use of reclaimed materials from stage sets and other demolished buildings. We felt this would help play up the raw industrial feel while also keeping the budget under control.

Because of the existing 14'X70' lot this project required us to apply for a minor variance. (A minor variance is required when you are proposing to build outside the existing zoning requirements set up by the city for each property) After the design was conceptually complete we needed to make a formal submission to the City of Toronto for a couple minor variances (side yard, front Yard, lot coverage and distance to adjacent building). Unfortunately the day after we submitted to the city for these reliefs the city went on strike so our project was delayed by three months. Assuming that we would get the Minor Variances required we met and selected a builder early on so that we could get a project budget in place before we get to far into the project. Hiring a contractor at the beginning of a project is essential as we are able to take a look at several methods, materials and construction details that directly effect the budget.

After the city strike was over own hearing date was set for the minor variances. We presented our design to the city and the minor variances were approved- the project was ready to go. The city allows for a 20 day appeal period after their decision to allow for anyone in the neighborhood to appeal their decision. During this appeal period we submitted for the building permit in order to start construction as soon as the appeal period was over.

This brings up to today.

11/05/09 - The digging begins

The excavation went well as we didn't find any major surprises. The excavation is a nervous time for us as you have little knowledge to what old city services may remain, if there a high water table or how the soil conditions are in all locations.

Foundation and floor system chat;
Early in the design stages we decide to go with a shallow perimeter foundation with a radiant heated concrete slab on grade for the first level and poured concrete floor on top of metal decking for the second floor.

-Concerns with underpinning (going below the basement of the neighbors) so a shallow foundation system would resolve any issue.
-Take advantage and maximize the efficient of a radiant heat system but locating it in 6" of concrete (mass collector) over reflective insulation.
-We are planing to polish the interior concrete floor and not use any floor tiles, carpet and or other interior floor finishes which helps the budget.
-The clients desire to have raw exposed materials with little trim, fussy details and or unnecessary decoration.

11/10/09 - Owners note

"Besides liking modern design - I'm hoping, also, to simplify my lifestyle. So I and neighbours and friends, I hope, will enjoy the aesthetics of the project - and the house will be low maintenance. Nonetheless, the project is driven by budget. While a wood burning stove will be a pleasing piece in the living area - it should help reduce heating costs. Likewise, investing in skylights, which add beauty by providing additional light, will help with both passive heating and cooling" - Owner

11/12/09 - Foundation complete

With the footings and foundation complete it really hit me how small this house really. I had a little laugh when it hit me that most suburban garages are bigger then this house. All this being said when I stepped into the middle of the foundation and looked imagining the sloped 18' high ceiling, slit type vertical windows and large openings in the rear I felt very comfortable with the fact that this house if going to feel spacious without large spaces. We are on track to have the foundation totally finished and the earth back filled before mid next week. This is a huge plus as we will be able to have the exterior and exposed concrete work completed before winter hits and additional heating is required with adds $$$ to the project.

11/16/09 - Owners note

"While the house is definitely small - and totally not the norm of the usual larger structures that are built - I believe there is a large number of people interested in a house like this who aren't served by the building industry. Just as some smaller sized condos work better then larger ones because of a really good floor plan - a house can work the same way" - Client

11/22/09 - Back fill complete

The foundation, waterproofing, footing inspections by the city and repairs t the neighboring foundation (waterproofing which you normally have to do when you build so close to other homes) and back fill is now complete. Most Architects and Builder will tell you that at this point you take a moment as you are very happy that you didn't run into an major surprises, the foundation and footings are covered before frost sets in and you didn't have major delays do to constant rain and or bad weather. We had a few rain days but we are very lucky that we got this far so fast and without a major drop in temperature and or snow as that would have resulted on extra costs outside the normal budget. The contractor has ordered the steel and framing should begin next week. This is normally the most exciting part for all as you begin to see the architectural form taking shape, windows opening locations starting to appear and the overall scale of the project taking shape.

12/06/09 - Check and Re-Check

We had a little delay due to the contractor waiting for the structural steel before he can start framing. It is the season (no not Christmas), its the panic season where everyone is trying to build before winter hits so all suppliers are extremely busy. The contract said that our order is in and next week we will be framing.

We had a little setback in regards to the city services. The client did his due diligence and contacted (gas, hydro and water) before construction began and was told that because the services are already in place (because of the old house before us) there would be no to minimal cost for the install of the new lines. When the contractor went to the city to get the permits for water/sewer he was told that a new lines had to be installed regardless of the site and condition of the existing lines. The other thing to make note of is the digging / install has to be done by licenced city workers at a cost of 10k (this varies with each project). This is a huge costs considering the house is only 15' away from the main water lines (tax grab?). The city is passing the buck on to the owners in anyway they can so I would check and double check on all costs for, city development charges, city fees and costs to install the basic services (water, hydro, gas, sewer) as this costs can vary and in some cases could cause huge budget problems. With this project are are still OK as we did allow for an emergency / contingency allowance (everyone should allow for a 10% allowance on top of their project budget for unexpected costs).

12/28/09 - Steel is up

Well the "core" of the house is now up. The steel for the second floor; support posts, metal pan for the concrete floors and support beams are in. We are planning to leaved all the steel exposed and leaving the raw metal as it came out of the factory. Painting the steel is an option but you would need to prime and paint (electrostatic method) which can be costly but in the case the unfinished raw look is what we and the client are looking for. The exterior wood studs should show up this week and the exterior walls should be errected sometime next week. This will be very excitig as the massing of this house should start to take form .

01/12/10 - Framing begins

The house is starting to take form.

We decided to use mini 2"x6" LVL’s (wood beams) for the framing. One of the main reason is the two double height open spaces on either side of the loft area. It is difficult to frame a unsupported 18' high wall using conventional framing . There are several ways to do this but the engineer, contractor and us felt the mini beams would be the best solution. One of the biggest advantages will be all walls will be true and square and each piece is full height. This means you will not see any waves and or bumps at the mid span location.

This is also the time when everyone starts to get a sense of the scale and proportion while the building takes shape. The large sliding door type window in the rear is HUGE which is great as it allow a ton of indirect sunlight into the space. We are also glad to see the window transom (window over the rear patio door type window) also allows a lot of indirect sunlight to penetrate deep into the space. Visiting the house at 10:00am I was excited that we decide to locate a long slit window on the south wall near the front door (not yet framed) as the will let a lot of nice morning sun into the space.

01/12/02 - Owners note

"Budget is crucial in the process of this project. The headroom given for construction has now been eaten up by Toronto water utilities - as mentioned earlier $10K+. It is up to me as the owner to do as much research as possible to find ways in which to reduce costs.

Budget for stairs and railings was tight at $5K. My first estimate came in at $9K to $12K depending on materials.

I have searched diligently and found a good metalsmith who can get the job done under budget by a few hundred dollars. But as I now don't have any head room I must still hunt for ways to lessen my expenses.

While I looked forward to a wood burning stove for the ambience as well as saving on heating I have decided to eliminate this feature. I only had a $3K budget put aside for stove plus installation. The least expensive modernist wood stove I could find including installation came to $4.5K. This would increase my already overloaded budget. So I opted for a bio fuel fireplace. True, it doesn't crackle or provide a lot of heat - but it still allows me to have the fire ambience I hoped for and was much less expensive. Yes, they can cost more than $5K - but also as little as a few hundred. Also this should help save on any work that would have had to be done for piping thru the ceiling as this apparatus is ventless"

01/19/10 - Taking shape

Well........The form of the structure is starting to take shape. The windows will be in by the end of the week so that overall massing of the house will really start to express itself.

01/27/10 - Windows are in

Well the window went it today (front) witht he super large rear ones going in tomorrow. We are very excited the see design starting to take shape.