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Vernon manufacturer filling 'tiny home' needs across North America amid pandemic

Co-owners Cera Bollo and Oliver Stankiewicz started Summit Tiny Homes, based out of Vernon, four years ago and say demand for the homes during the pandemic has increased by 50%.
Co-owners Cera Bollo and Oliver Stankiewicz started Summit Tiny Homes, based out of Vernon, four years ago and say demand for the homes during the pandemic has increased by 50%.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/Summit Tiny Homes

A Vernon tiny home manufacturing company says the pandemic has greatly increased demand and interest in tiny homes across North America.

OIiver Stankiewicz, co-owner of Summit Tiny Homes, started the business of manufacturing the homes four years ago after he and his wife and co-owner Cera Bollo wanted to live in one.

What started for the couple initially when they built their own tiny home snowballed once they realized there was a market for it.

“We were just starting to get orders, people wanted these things, and we thought 'hey if people have an application for this, we’ll make it go,'” he said.

In 2020, demand for tiny homes increased by roughly 50 per cent for Summit.

The Heritage tiny home that sleeps two. It
The Heritage tiny home that sleeps two. It's ideal for full-time living.
Image Credit:

“We’ve seen an influx of customers coming from the States... that were (literally) getting out of New York City apartments to find some solitude somewhere else… (in) what seemed to them during that time a pretty dire situation,” Stankiewicz said. “We definitely saw across the board the demand increase… (The pandemic) definitely pushed people in that direction who were leaning towards maybe simplifying their lifestyle or gaining some financial freedom. With the pandemic, it opened a lot of people’s eyes to what could happen if work dries up or if people are forced to not go to work or to close their business down. It created that need for simplicity in people’s lives.

READ MORE: Pandemic spurs tiny house interest, while builders say regulatory hurdles remain

A lot of clients are from California, Oregon and Washington, but are found as far as Maine and New York, he said.

“It’s pretty easy to move these things around, which makes them pretty attractive for people that are uncertain where their life is going to end up in the next five, 10, 15 years,” he said.

While the company had an American audience prior to the pandemic, Americans now account for about 25 to 35% of sales, up from 10-15%.

The Cabana tiny home, ideal for full-time living or as a guest suite.
The Cabana tiny home, ideal for full-time living or as a guest suite.
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“Our Canadian market has also grown pretty substantially as well,” he said. 

Manufacturing has been challenging during the pandemic, as the company has “doubled” down in expanding the inventory and ordering products in bulk, he said.

READ MORE: This B.C. home is so small, someone stole it

Americans also have the dollar in their favour, and American regulations for tiny homes are different than B.C. In the Okanagan, people are using tiny homes for vacations because municipalities don’t currently allow them to operate as permanent homes in city limits.

Like many jurisdictions, B.C. prohibits year-round living in RVs outside of designated parks.

In 2017, the Canadian Home Builders' Association requested a number of changes to the national building code related to construction on a chassis or trailer, ceiling heights, stairs, escape windows and other features.

“The demand is massive, especially in the Okanagan with the way that the housing market is going and rent costs and that sort of thing. The problem is the red tape as far as the municipality, bylaws and restrictions around them,” Stankiewicz said.

Inside the Cabana
Inside the Cabana
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“There’s definitely areas of B.C. that make (living in a tiny home a lot easier.) There are areas that are looking at it as a viable option to curb some of their housing crisis and rental crisis. We find the Okanagan a little bit slow to the chase as seeing it as a viable option.”

In the U.S., like in Fresno, California, you can put tiny homes on properties of a certain size and are able to be rented out as long as they’re hooked up to existing infrastructure, he said.

“They can use that existing infrastructure to just densify it.”

There are a handful of Okanagan clients that are using them in an “outlaw” style of tiny house living “where they’re leasing some land from somebody and spending the money and energy and time to put services in that spot and taking a bit of risk there and taking the sort of 'don’t ask, don’t tell' concept which isn’t great for a lot of people,” he said, adding that he also understands the city’s perspective of wanting safe living environments for people.

Summit's tiny homes are certified by Transport Canada and are inspected by the Canadian Standards Association where they fall under an RV category, he said.

Stankiewicz believes a change in legislation will come if there’s a push from people who want it.

One customer in Smithers B.C. was able to permanently set up his tiny home on a property and even got a mortgage for it, Stankiewicz said.

“There’s little areas popping up all over (the province) for it,” Stankiewicz said.

Stankiewicz thinks the COVID-19 pandemic has brought awareness to the minimalist way of life that comes with living in a tiny home.

“It’s made a lot of people think about, number one, what’s important in their life and number two, how fragile the whole economic structure of how things work in this world (is),” he said.

But it takes people talking about it and wanting it for the change to happen, he said.

- With files from The Canadian Press

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