Tiny House Building Code Resource

by Kent Griswold on May 24th, 2011. 21 Comments
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Many times readers ask me about building codes and unfortunately I am not an expert in this area. Fortunately I have readers who keep their eyes open for me on the internet and recently TD spotted an expert in this area and shared his link with me.

There is a blog written by Tom Meyers called Sustainable Building Codes. Tom Meyers of Berthoud, Colorado is a building code regulator, who is active in the revision of the modern building codes. He is concerned about the effect of regulation and the consequence it has on the production of affordable and sustainable residential construction. Recently, Tom did a couple of articles that relate directly with tiny houses and their legality and the issues that go with their construction. I wanted to let you know about them and send you to his blog so that you can learn from his knowledge. The articles are Tiny House Code Compliance – 120 Square Foot Exemption? and Tiny House Code Compliance Part 2.

I hope this information will help you and I will link to it on the links page so you can keep up with Tom’s writings. Thanks again TD for sharing this with me and thanks Tom for sharing your knowledge with us.

21 Responses to “Tiny House Building Code Resource”

  1. mike says:

    interesting info about the loft… a bit confusing though… i guess in the end they can’t meet requirements because of the 7′ clearance…

  2. Heidrun Kafka says:

    I am leaving a rather big rented house and want a small house for me( my children have their own homes)in a natural surrounding.so I fortunately found your page with very interesting possibilities of living in tiny houses.It is a pity that you are so far away, so that you yourself cannot construct a house in Austria, but perhaps you have companions here in Europe.with the best wishes for your sucess Heidrun Kafka (in facebook : Ayna Kafka)

  3. Sounds like any loft with 35 square ft of 7 ft high space and 35 square ft of 5ft high sloping ceiling would be considered a room and require stairs to meet code.

  4. mybluemake says:

    I like Tom’s information, and it might be helpful making an argument to that most obtuse of “professional” the local code wonk, however, it doesn’t deal with the reality that even if a locality has adopted a model code (e.g. International Residential Code), it is the local building permitting official that approves and interprets that code. They are often obtuse, wrong, timid, adverse to change, and even occasionally corrupt — except when they are not. Tom may disagree, but I deal with them with regularly in my field and find them to be all over the map in terms of skills and attitude. I will agree that no one seems to know why some conventions and restrictions exist. I’m choosing to build in locations without building codes, or with know and easily corruptible officials. I am less than pleased at that reality, but you play the cards the way they are dealt.

    • John says:

      I hear that too.
      I have builders in my family, that would agree.
      The standard boiler plate is:
      “its for your own safety”

      When the reality in many places is to weed out people that don’t have the means, or don’t want to conform to their system.

  5. Andy H says:

    The more research I did about the actual building of a tiny house, the more I thought it was possible, even with my limited funds.

    The more research I did on building codes, the more I FOUND OUT it’s impossible.

    I’ve pretty much given up on my dream of having a tiny house, discussing it is a waste of time.

    I just write this out of bitterness and hatred of people who tell others what to do with their property.

    Where I live they force you to build a house at minimum 1,100 heated square feet. That’s insane, I don’t need that much room and never will. I should be able to do what I want with my land as long as the house is safe.

    But no, these SOB’s want their tax revenue, you can go live in a GD apartment your whole life and pay someone else rent.

    • Angie says:

      Can you move to a less restricted place?

    • John says:

      Don’t give up!
      Many places still allow people to build and be free.
      My wife and I are presently working on our 3rd house (my present house I did septic and basement as well).
      Don’t let them discourage you.
      You can do it!
      Think baby steps…one styep at a time, or else you will get overwhelmed at the project.

      • John says:

        And I hear you on size restrictions….these people are behind the times we are living in.
        We have some of that up in Maine as well (depending on where you live).
        Eventually these 3,500 sq. ft. houses will be vacant buildings that the banks can’t give away….because these people are already paying 4-5K a year to heat them, and income levels and jobs are not sustaining what once was.

        • alice says:

          With so many bathrooms in those huge houses it should be fairly simple to turn them into lots of tiny apartments or mini condos and give them a whole new lease on life. If only the rules allowed it! Many old mansions and single family homes built for much larger families were converted in the past, seems a shame to waste the opportunity when lots of people would love to have a smaller home. As long as it was done well and the original construction was sound.

    • Me'chelle Frederick says:

      You are completely right.

      It’s a little bit different in my state I live in Florida.

      Mine will be mobile a good solid 12ft wide it will need a permit to be driven down the highway but it shouldn’t really be a problem.

      My house will be built for me and of the size that I want, it shouldn’t cost no more than $9000.
      Don’t give up man get that house.

      My dream is to live in a small mobile house that will be built from floor plans that I designed myself.

      That is outrageous that they want you to built something that huge!

      I can’t build a house on this lot of my dad’s it’s only zoned for a single family unit, but if it’s a trailer like the code enforcement said (long story)it can be here as long as I like because it would have wheels.

      Go build that dream house, I know I will.

      Peace.

  6. John says:

    Unless a person is hurting someone else, people need to leave others alone.
    A person can’t even have a spring fed well or a back house anymore in many parts of the country.
    What has happened recently is artificially over inflated housing prices had given the building industry through some “codes” (unions and guilds) a higher waged income level to mimic the falsely overly inflated housing market.
    In some parts of the country you have to “pad the palm” of city and town code officials with 10K fees or more.

  7. Freth says:

    That was certainly enlightening. You can fight it like they did in Marin County, CA years ago … a big organized effort. That was detailed in a book by Ken Kern called “The Owner-Builder and The Code.”
    Or you can go in polite and nice and ask for assistance on how to work out something like this. Get to know the various people in your area. Run new ideas by them, “just for fun”, consider what-if’s, etc. Or, build in an area like the Arizona Strip south of Kenab, UT. The building inspector’s office is in Flagstaff … they really don’t want to drive clear up there just to look-see. So submission of photos and a contractor’s name they are familiar with can help the approval process. The further out you are, the less likely they are to come see you. Even in an HOA … if they can’t see over your fence into the backyard … then whatever you build or store in there is “okay”. Fences, hedges, trees, and shrubs can call contribute to having “good” neighbors. So can pies, cookies, and fresh bread visits. People you fight with are less likely to make allowances for you, than people you are friendly with … when it comes to interpreting the regulations. Have a good-un! :)

  8. jlbraun says:

    Building codes are a way to preserve tax income, keep out poor people, and keep property values inflated.

    They are not and have never been about your safety.

  9. All of you have very valid points and as my wife and I build our tiny house we are having to do much of it under cloak with a dagger despite owning the land we are putting it on and being in a rural location. As mybluemake said, it is often the translation and interpretation of the code that makes building a tiny house so seemingly impossible. We have to come up with universal legislation though. Things have ceased being simple and the greed for tax revenue has taken us captive.

    If you want to discuss more about this, please stop by our blog – http://www.tinyrevolution.us – or find us on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/tinyrev

  10. Lucas says:

    So ok, I can build an 8×15 great room w/ sleeping loft(aka: storage area). My confusion begins w/ the kitchen; Do I understand that kitchen CANNOT be counted in the habitable space? So, does that mean I cannot have a kitchenette along an outside wall, since it would count in my 120 sq ft. minimum? If so, since I still need a bathroom, how about a jut of 4 ft’ish by the 15 ft length of dwelling to create kitchen counter space and a bathroom, leaving me at 12×15(180 sq. ft.). I would think a high pitch roof for the 8×15 portion and a flatter pitch on the bathroom/kitchen addition would cut it. Any thoughts from the gallery?

  11. Me'chelle says:

    What kind of crap is this?

    I swear no one and I mean NO ONE will stop me from having my tiny house built.

    I have never wanted something this badly before and frankly I’m going to get it.

    I want to have a 12ft wide-12-25ft long house built fro and thankfully this wonderful company that I found from a year of searching again on the web is willing to make that dream come true.
    Shouldn’t cost me more than $10,000

    Just need to get the wheels and axle, plus decor and stuff to finish the place and the house itself.

    I’ve never been so excited as this would be my first ever place as I still live with my dad.

    No code enforcement or dumb*** neighbor will stand in my way!

  12. Mark says:

    That last “cabin” is Herbert Hoover’s boyhood home in West Branch Iowa. http://www.hoover.archives.gov/

  13. Sarah says:

    Can someone explain how the septic works on these homes on wheels? (Or post a web link that explains it)

    I am in the early stages of research.

    Thank you

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