by Darren Hannabass
Every once in a while I notice on your blog that people have a notion that the tiny houses they build, especially on wheels are exempt from the building code.
This is a misnomer, at least in Virginia. I submit that in most jurisdictions there is a building code that pertains to “manufactured housing.” Example: Appendix E of the 2006 of the International Residential Code (IRC), addresses manufactured housing with regard to construction, alteration, and addition to “manufactured housing” used as a single dwelling unit.
While the code only addresses single dwelling units that are on non-rental lots, the code does reference the National Manufactured Housing Construction and Safety Act which has been around since 1974. This act may not apply to stick built housing on a rolling chassis, but I recommend that anyone building things like the Tiny House blog suggests not ignore regulations like these because there are a lot of people out there that will take unnecessary shortcuts and provide unsafe housing. Even if these regulations are not applicable this does not necessarily mean each state doesn’t regulate mobile homes because they can and they have the legal authority to do so.
To propagate the idea that codes do not apply, to promote the idea of a “Tiny House” and give the false impression that constructing said house to the uniformed home owner that they can build these things easily and cheaply without some standard to construction is a question for concern. While I am not an attorney by any means there is a term in the law that refers to the care by which something is constructed safely and is known by building professionals as the ‘standard of care.’
Granted I have seen some architect designed tiny houses on your blog that are truly inspiring and they are role models for those that want to build an inexpensive house, but to generically state that “yes!, you too can build a Tiny House without worrying about the building code” is setting yourself up for a liability.
One of the concerns I have as a design professional is I have been reading this blog for a couple of years now. Many of the Tiny House installations that have been installed do not secure the structures in the event of high wind. The code regulates mobile homes to protect them from being leveled during a hurricane or tornado. I submit this should be a concern on your blog, but I have not seen any discussion about this and I recommend you consider that if you want to be of service to the home owner that you might consider having a discussion like this. Otherwise you open yourself to liability.
I would recommend stating whenever a question like this comes up that if a person wants to build a Tiny House that they should first check the localities they intend on having this house be parked in to make sure they are not setting themselves up for legal grief later. All it takes is educating the public a little and by the home owner taking responsibility to plan a ahead there will be no question they will have a successful building project. By not encouraging the homeowner to take this important responsibility in the design and planning process, which is my impression from the blog, the homeowner is setup for a catastrophe that the community at large that may have to deal with later. I don’t think this is the right thing to be doing because I shouldn’t have to tell you, but what might seem to be something that is unregulated now, as more failures occur the government will step in and regulate it more and I don’t think you or homeowners want that.
I don’t want additional regulation as we have enough to deal with now! So I suggest that you might consider conveying to the homeowners and builders that existing codes were enacted for a reason and with some professional conduct they work well without the addition of more codes. The construction industry has suffered from human error in the past as it is and to add to it will only raise the cost of construction more which goes against the very thing you’re trying to achieve.
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