The tiny house doesn’t actually look all that tiny when you’re inside it.
There’s a bedroom and a little bathroom with a walk-in shower. A washing machine and dryer are tucked into a little alcove in the hallway. There’s only one common room, but there’s enough space for the kitchen, a little table with a couple of chairs, and a couch.
What’s most remarkable about this 480-square foot home, though, is the single space heater, turned on low, that’s keeping the whole area comfortably warm.
This tiny house is the latest creation of ATAPOP Homes, the brainchild of Paul Girard, a contractor who’s dedicated himself to building efficient homes for most of the last 20 years. Girard now claims he can build affordable, super-efficient homes that could solve the housing crisis in the North.
In this little home on Third Avenue in Whitehorse, the space heater is just temporary. Once the electricity’s hooked up, baseboard heaters will keep the place warm. Girard claims the owner’s electricity bill will hover around $50 a month in the winter. According to the Yukon Bureau of Statistics, by comparison, the average Yukon household spent $3,800 on electricity and heating fuel in 2013. That works out to an average of $317 per month.
Girard says ATAPOP Homes has combined two current housing trends – higher efficiency and smaller spaces – that will allow his customers to minimize their carbon footprints.
“Instead of being the guy that goes with a sign saying I’m anti-fracking and I’m against oil and all that, I did something tangible for the environment,” he said.
His claims to super-efficiency come from the way he builds the structure of his homes. His buildings’ floors have two layers and the walls have three layers. And he offers three different insulation ratings, all of which exceed the requirements of the national building code.
Girard said these homes cost about $230 to $250 per square foot to build, not much more than the cost of regular construction. He sold this 480-square foot unit and an identical upstairs home for a combined price of $230,000.
He plans to keep his prices low by offering the homes in kits to customers who can assemble the structures on their own. He has a plant in Mount Sima where he builds the components. Customers who don’t want to do the work themselves can hire his company to assemble the buildings on-site or in the shop.
This particular building was sold to a customer who wanted a rental home on his property. Girard said many people could make a little extra income by building tiny homes in their backyards and renting them out.
But he also envisions sending these homes in kits to northern communities, where they could help alleviate chronic housing shortages. The interior walls can be made of plywood, where drywall isn’t feasible. And the company offers full-size homes as well as the tiny models.
Still, these are early days. Girard has sold three super-efficient homes in the Yukon that are currently occupied. His first is on Black Street. He says the owner barely spent more than $50 a month on electricity last winter, and burned about a cord and a half of wood through the winter to heat the 1,000-square foot home.
His second is an off-grid home near Little Atlin Lake. And the third belongs to Jean Hogg, who lives down a gravel drive in Cowley Creek. She just moved in to her new home in August from a mobile home that was being slowly colonized by mice.
Hogg said she was spending about $150 a month on electricity in her trailer during the winter months, plus the cost of heating fuel and wood. When she heard about ATAPOP Homes, she figured it might be worth looking into.
“I needed to do something, because my trailer was getting closer and closer to the end,” she said.
So far, Hogg’s biggest energy bill has been $57. She doesn’t have a woodstove, so all of her heat is currently coming from electricity. And to date, she has no complaints.
“With the electric heat that’s in there, it’s nice and quiet, because you don’t have the furnace running and blowing air,” she said. “It’s quite comfy.”
But the proof, as they say, will be in the pudding. Girard doesn’t have a lot of numbers to back up his claims just yet, though he said he plans to publish some data very soon.
Still, he’s definitely attracting attention. Over the weekend, he hosted an open house at Hogg’s home in Cowley Creek that attracted close to 60 people. He’s currently building a 3,000-square foot home in Mount Sima, as well as the duplex in downtown Whitehorse. And he said he’s had calls from companies in the Yukon, Northwest Territories and northern Alberta that are interested in placing bulk orders.
He’s hopeful, too, that he might work with the Yukon government to send homes to the communities. But that’s more easily said than done, he explained, because the government would have to put out a request for proposals if it were interested in that type of project.
But Girard is nothing if not optimistic. He has the kind of manic energy and relentless self-assurance that every successful entrepreneur probably needs. He’s sunk $500,000 into this idea, and he’s determined to make it work.
“We only have one life to live,” he said. “I’m doing it to leave something when I’m gone. Something of value for the society.”
Girard said he has a vision of a manufacturing plant in each of the three territories and another in Kamloops, near the railway intersection. He imagines them pumping out 5,000 new homes every year.
And he wants to branch out into other markets as well. He wants to make buildings that contain five or six units, like super-efficient town homes or apartment buildings. He wants to break into the hotel industry someday, too.
Girard says he’s completely confident that his way, the ATAPOP way, is the way of the future.
“We’re not sitting on a gold mine,” he said. “We’re sitting on a diamond mine.”
Contact Maura Forrest at