Tiny House and the Building Code

Dee Williams tiny house

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.

leafhouse

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.

colin's house

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.

meg and joes house

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.

tall man's house

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.

Sincerely,

Darren Hannabass
Architect
Design Consulting Services, PLLC

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Susan in San Antonio - March 12, 2014 Reply

Thank you, Darren, for posting this. As an architect with some HUD experience, I cringe over some of the naive designs. One example, which is enough to get the fire departments to jump all over these, is putting a stove (elec or especially gas) below an operable window. Have a small grease fire and the air flow will torch the unit in a flash. Have someone put cute little window covering (curtains or pull shade) over that window and you are asking for disaster. And, that’s just the start. So, again, THANK YOU.
Susan Wittmack, RA
Ohio #8307388

    David C. Burdick, Construction Manager - March 12, 2014 Reply

    Susan in San Antonio:
    Agreed.
    R U on FB??
    dCb

Jo Tilghman - March 12, 2014 Reply

As an interior designer, owner of a small house”
that I had to completely gut and renovate
In a coastal town, and a tinyhouse advocate,
I started my house project by showing my plans to the
Town building code department and getting their
Imput. Doing this first, helped me to know what
Issues I had to design around ahead of time.
It also brought them onboard for the project
and they became an ally in the process.

    David C. Burdick, Construction Manager - March 12, 2014 Reply

    Jo Tilghman:
    Yes. It seems for the time being since there is no “real definition of a ‘Tiny House’,” that gov’t overseeing by codes will be performed locally. Good call on yours. I congratulate you on doing the right thing and, besides, you can use the method when U decide to sell – keep the paperwork on aqny city input(s)..

Bongo Najja - March 12, 2014 Reply

It makes sense to me. I think it’s some very good advice.

Dinah - March 12, 2014 Reply

What is your definition of “manufactured housing” because here it’s a house that comes on a tractor trailer or wheels, is set on a foundation, and then the wheels are removed. It’s the wheels that changes the house definition here. Homes built on a trailer frame fall under the classification of recreational vehicle because 1. their on wheels 2. can be licensed (plate). No hassle in NY for these that I’ve heard.

    Gene Wallen - March 12, 2014 Reply

    There is the HUD house, Built to approved plans,in an approved factory and inspected by a HUD inspector. Wheels or not,local inspectors can check only the foundation, tiedowns and utility hookups. The modular,built to state codes,inspected at the factory by state inspectors,comes off the trailer and is subject to local codes.
    The RV,Must be built to RVIA specifications inspected by their inspector, have their sticker near the front door and have a certificate of origin.Most localities limit the time you can live in a RV.

stewart - March 12, 2014 Reply

I have written about this on my site and my gypsy wagon is only a load on the trailer and loads do not need building permission of any sort. Could you imagine trucks having to get a permission every time they change a load? Some professionals would like to have control over this up and coming industry as it is going to get bigger and bigger. I also like the posting where the ammunition is photos of tiny houses already posted in some site on the web. Yes there is some who will want to regulate everything and I proposed setting up the backyarders association where anyone who does anything in there back yard is automatically a member. This way we can have a say in the politics of our own back yards and the back yards of all countries as a whole an Illuminati if you like, one world order of back yards.

    Swabbie Robbie - March 12, 2014 Reply

    I had asked about the “load on a trailer” definition several years ago and was told that it had to be a load that can be removed from the trailer by lifting or sliding off. If it is welded or bolted to the trailer in a way that can not be easily accessed and unbolted to remove, it is a structure not a load. It is then an RV. Is that your understanding as well?

      stewart - March 13, 2014 Reply

      Some years ago Canberra burned and these houses were to code.
      A lay person is an individual or corporation (Blacks Law)
      I have never seen an architect build a house but the best book ever is Rex Roberts engineered house and it is free on line.
      There is a real law that is not being used and that is common sense.
      The only architect that I have seen his work is Jay Shaffer and his work is great with lots of common sense things incorporated.
      Lets see what an architect can actually build (this is a challenge).
      When I go to bed in my Gypsy wagon every thing is off. The old Gypsy Wagons had wood stoves and not many of them burnt to the ground.
      If there is a flood or a bush fire I can move it away from danger, the act of doing this is my insurance policy. Unlike my house at Gundagai made in 1890’s which was flooded and the damage was not covered by insurance because it wasn’t built to building codes and everything was classed as pre existing and not covered.
      RV trailers and the like are built with 3/4 wall studs and the general use of plastics and three ply wall coverings.Park models are not much better because they are built to a price.
      I now do not need insurance and will look after my own well being and if the thing burns to the ground I will just have to build another one.
      At this stage no one has ever died in a tiny house and not too many have died in gypsy wagons so this is a non event.
      Most of the tiny houses have rear doors and the ones that have side doors are on the non traffic side of the house. As for curtains use opaque glass and there is no need for curtains.Remember the more you put into it the more it costs to move it. Just use common sense sadly lacking in today’s society.
      Now for the design lets put the bed on the floor and walk up say three steps to get to the kitchen and bathroom and if there is a fire you are already on the floor away from the smoke. This way you get better views as you are higher in the kitchen. Did you know that anything that is not building code compliant is not insurable, any house built before the codes comes in this category and even if is was insured it would fall under pre existing condition, Not insured.
      Take pictures of your house every six months and keep them in a folder on the net in say dropbox it saved me for some things. I know as I have been there.
      If small houses are banned there will be a lot of people having to move into substandard housing.
      I did a trade and have been told it is too old and out dated and who tells me this non other than the one behind the counter with the code whip.
      In New Zealand anyone can do there own electrical and here in Australia there is more tragedy than NZ.Come to think of it the government here had an insulation scheme going and there was three deaths as a result. I was in the course of my work struck by 415 volts and the work was done by an electrician.
      Codes are for dummies who need there held all the time,Lets just use common sense. Did Noah have a building code when he built the ARC? If he was to build it now it would not happen, why because you wouldn’t be allowed to and secondly he would be locked up in a mental institution.
      Codes are for making some one money and to control the masses THAT’S IT.If you try to tell me what I can do in my own backyard then you will have a problem.
      As for traveling the highways and byways it free by common law or Roman law.
      Let’s build to a good standard and don’t over engineer as this can lead to problems as well.
      Nuff Said.

    Michael - March 12, 2014 Reply

    If you have a “load on a trailer” than it should be no problem to unload it to demonstrate this, correct?

      Thomas Malkin - March 13, 2014 Reply

      If the house is mounted on a reenforced steel plate system which is connected by bolts to the trailer, sure, I’ll take it off with a crane. Good idea, actually. Lend me a crane and I’ll show you.

      And then they’ll change the definition, won’t they? They idea is to outlaw the self-built house, in the end. We’re playing games, trying to build our own places, and regular home owners are irked that we aren’t suffering the pain they have endured.

    Thomas Malkin - March 13, 2014 Reply

    I think it is becoming obvious that the home construction industry has us on its radar now, and it taking the necessary perception-management steps to stop people from building their own homes. They will win. The movement is getting a TV show now, and after that, they will come for us with a vengeance. Tiny houses on a trailer will be illegal quite shortly, I am afraid. Just read the comments on this thread to see the future – a whole lot of saving us from ourselves, appeals to a common rule of law, saving us from killing others, insurance fright, and inevitably they’ll get around to home resale values around tiny houses being negatively affected – the nuclear propaganda device in the US. If we don’t realize we’re in a war, they’re gonna run over us.

Nancy - March 12, 2014 Reply

I had just commented about this concern on my FB page yesterday. If we don’t make an effort to build to code, or build responsible, livable tiny homes, why should we expect towns to open their code to allow them? Thank you writing this and thank you for posting it on your blog.

    Todd S - March 12, 2014 Reply

    Exactly. We’re only hurting ourselves

    cheryl - March 13, 2014 Reply

    Nancy, yours is one of the finest responses I’ve seen to date regarding the tiny house situation. It’s one thing to want to leave a much smaller footprint on our globe, it’s a whole other thing to want to avoid basic building codes/regulations and just slap up something that could easily burn or blow down. I’ve been thinking for several years how to make something small but totally liveable, on a small chunk of land for garden planting, etc. Perhaps this summer I can finalize those plans; the responses in this article are helping me firm things up. I’ll definitely head to our city hall to make sure I’m within all codes. I don’t want to negatively impact any of my neighbors.

Sara H. - March 12, 2014 Reply

Thank you for this article! I’m just starting to learn about tiny houses in the hopes of eventually being able to have one. Does anyone have any suggestions of good resources for learning more about this topic of building codes and regulations? Thanks!

    cheryl - March 13, 2014 Reply

    yes. read this entire blogsite! – probably one of the best resources ever. I have searched my huge magazine selections in the brick and mortar stores. Nothing as good as this site.

    Angela Alcorn - March 15, 2014 Reply

    Hello Sara, keep reading the article comments and you’ll find detailed information. Some where around 3/14 around 4:30, a man by the name Bill has given excellent information in his comment. Further down Bill also list articles that look to be great resources too. I hope this helps 🙂

Kirsten - March 12, 2014 Reply

All good points but most are building Tiny Houses to get away from the rules, red tape and applications and fees. I don’t think they should be regulated and as of yet I haven’t seen anything unsafe. Building codes don’t prevent standard houses from going up in flames! It’s all about common sense. And those that don’t build houses by trade are very passionate about learning as they build their tiny home.

    Nancy - March 12, 2014 Reply

    Sadly, a lot of these tiny homes are unsafe, especially the older ones. Consider the loft bedroom with a window too small to get out in case of fire (an egress issue). I would say a large percentage of tiny homes have this defect. Another code breaker is the lack of grey water holding tank. Grey water can contribute to e-coli, MRSA contamination, and waterborne disease, particularly in warm climates. These are easily corrected design flaws, and buyers must demand correction of these flaws for their own protection, even if they don’t want to be controlled by government code.

    Todd S - March 12, 2014 Reply

    I’d have to disagree. Being in the design and building industry, I have seen the positive impacts of the life safety elements of the adopted codes. Look at the late 19th and early 20th century when people built however they wanted (like you’re suggesting). Whole cities burned! (Seattle, San Francisco, Chicago). That does not happen in today’s era of building codes. The instances of houses that do burn down today are older homes built during lax code policies and enforcement.
    There’s no reason to take an oppositional stance to life safety. The 2 issues Nancy stated are very important and can easily be accommodated.

    Danny - November 2, 2016 Reply

    Building codes do indeed prevent “standard houses” from going up in flames. Building codes are a set of standards by which all “standard houses” are built. Every single rule found in building codes, was developed to prevent loss and injury,caused by negligence and/or ignorance.
    Common sense is neither.

Wayne - March 12, 2014 Reply

First no RV or Tiny House is tied down in any RV park, things with wheels move around. I would suggest that most people who build their own Tiny House would have enough common sense to make it safe. Manufactured homes are regulated just for this purpose because they were using the cheapest material available.
Look at the RV industry they only warranty their product for one year on the chassis/frame. You would think if their product was so great they would warranty the product better.
States regulate how L+W+H on anything rolling up and down the highways. If I read articles about Tiny Houses regarding problems about their units being substandard I would probably agree with you but I feel the people who are building the units have enough common sense to build them safe.
The last thing we need is more government regulation, government means just more money out of pocket. If you are so concerned why don’t you post the building codes for Tiny Houses.

    Darren Hannabass - March 12, 2014 Reply

    Wayne,
    The problem with your argument is peple who are lay people who don’t know how to build thining they do know how to build is what is dangerous. The purpose of the code is to protect the health safety and welfare of the public. The code has evolved over many years due to human error. The code regulates human behavior as it relates to the act of building and to not evolve from human error is to not learn from our mistakes.

Andy - March 12, 2014 Reply

This sounds like an article written by an person trying to drum up some business for himself.
I think people should build good solid homes because if it collapses on them, it will kill them.
Trying to get permission ahead of time will only result in getting the run around from people who don’t know what they are talking about.
Best bet… make sure ahead of time the neighbors won’t complain about a tiny house. Build it right and you won’t have much of a problem.

    Todd S - March 12, 2014 Reply

    Having worked as an architect for over 20 years, sadly I’ve seen a lot of my peers who are reluctant to change and adapting or are simply afraid of their expertise being minimalized.
    A large segment of the architecture industry if responded truthfully would be negative about the tiny home movement…..especially owner designed/built tiny homes. They’re used to the process being: a client comes to them with a design program, budget and time frame. Said architect proceeds to meet several times, modify designs, make recommendations, speak some archispeak that makes the client more confident they’re doing the right thing, and then proceeds to create their masterpiece to their ego. Most likely the project will take twice as long to complete and will blow past the budgetary requirements and cost the homeowner 5-10% in design fees.
    I left the days of big firm work so that I can become involved in creating a new paradigm in how we live and work. Embrace change and find how design professionals can make a positive contribution to this movement! The design profession has to mold to the future. The days of the design, bid, build model of service with the architect playing the lead role is coming to an end.

      Andy - March 12, 2014 Reply

      Todd S,
      I want to make sure you did not think I was denigrating your profession. I am certainly aware that a professional architect can design/build a better tiny home than I can. I would love to have the $$ to get professional advice.
      In my post, I made a comment about people “who don’t know what they are talking about”… I meant that to be city planners/building inspectors not architects.
      A fairly old and fairly successful sales tactic is to convince the buyer of future problems and then sell your services as a way to eliminate the problems. It is similar to going to the auto shop and saying, “Do you think I need new brakes?” A bottom-line focused mechanic is going to say, “You need at least new brakes and maybe even new bearings or C/V Axles.” If you push back against this approach they will claim safety, safety, safety.
      I hope that you find success and fulfillment in new direction your job path is taking you. If most experts are clinging to outdated models then there is most likely a niche for those who adapt to new and effective modes of operating.

        Todd S - March 12, 2014 Reply

        No offense taken Andy. I totally understand what you’re saying.
        My point about the architecture industry is that they like to appear to be progressive and create masterpieces so they can become a starchitect. So many in the design industry don’t “get it” and are more driven by the inner ego than common sense. Several architects throughout the 20th and 21st century have developed pre-fab concepts…….unsuccessfully. Look to the mid century Sears houses. They sold thousands of kit homes because they understood the market and what people really need and can afford.
        There will always be someone with too much money that will overpay a celebrated starchitect too much to create an edifice. I’m not saying the architecture industry is devoid of talent or great design, just that the execution of an idea often misses the big picture and what is truly needed and what’s best for society.
        I read a lot of design publications. You’ll see some architect designed house that has won awards and achieved LEED platinum. Its full of energy wasting floor to ceiling glass and way larger than needed. They speak of how innovative it is…..use non-real world funny number software modeling to make claims like its 40% more efficient. And the kicker is it gets touted as “affordable” at $250/sf! $30/sf (or less), well designed homes that meet the needs of the owners is possible today. Tiny houses skew the $/sf figures a bit because of how much is packed in a small footprint, however when you look at it in a perceived value per dollar spent you’re way ahead of the game. There’s a sickness in our society that tells us we need “things” to feel adequate……a large house to accent your ego. That’s part of human nature and will probably not go away but they can keep their status symbols for all I’m concerned.

    Darren Hannabass - March 12, 2014 Reply

    @Andy says:
    “March 12, 2014 at 6:21 am
    This sounds like an article written by an person trying to drum up some business for himself.
    I think people should build good solid homes because if it collapses on them, it will kill them.

    Trying to get permission ahead of time will only result in getting the run around from people who don’t know what they are talking about.

    Best bet… make sure ahead of time the neighbors won’t complain about a tiny house. Build it right and you won’t have much of a problem.”

    Andy you don’t know from Adam so how can you make that statement? I don’t need the business. I work a normal job and I am buried with work. I always had plenty of work. I’m concern for the safety and welfare of the public and if you can’t see that you misread my letter to the editor. That is why I became an architect in the first place. So to make a hasty judgment is foolish at best.

      Andy - March 13, 2014 Reply

      Kudos to you Darren for having so much work that you don’t need to drum up business. Seriously.
      Whenever I read advice, I try to figure out who benefits from the implementation of the advice. I read your article and felt that you were trying to drum up business. You provided a lot of examples of things that can go wrong, codes that can be violated, etc, but did not provide any meaningful advice other than review local building codes. From your response it is clear that I misread your intentions in writing the article. For that, I apologize.

    Thomas Malkin - March 13, 2014 Reply

    Neighbors will always complain about a tiny house. Thing about neighbors is that they are plural – you will always at the very least have one sociopath who will never stop twitching that curtain and filing complaints. If that’s the standard, we should give up and rent a studio for the rest of our lives. And if you don’t have such a person harassing you, one could move in any time. They are a set proportion of the population.

Renée Martin - March 12, 2014 Reply

This is such a good point. It’s also worth noting that the code doesn’t simply exist to cause problems for people. One of my biggest concerns with the tiny homes I have seen, is that they only have one exit. If a fire were to happen, it would turn the house into a death trap. My other concern is the width of the front door. They need to be wide enough for EMTs in case of an emergency. These are just two examples of how building to code can save lives.

    ET - March 12, 2014 Reply

    Tiny houses don’t need two exits. There are windows. However, a window large enough to exit in lofts is good.

      Michael - March 13, 2014 Reply

      What about a single Mom (a signifigant percentage of the homeless population and prime candidates for tiny housing) sleeping in the loft with her infant? If a fire blocks the door, do you suggest that she throw her baby out the loft window and dive out after it? For that matter, how would YOU fare in the same situation? Fancy diving head first out a tiny window 9 or 10 feet off of the ground in the dark?

        Todd S - March 14, 2014 Reply

        Its the same situation as a second story window in the average house. Simply put if a mother and her child are sleeping in a loft and a fire develops blocking their path to the main door, then an operable window accessed from the sleeping area that’s large enough to escape from is better than not having a means of escaping at all. It adds an added level of protection to prevent death or serious injury. On of the reasons for an escape window from a sleeping area is when you can’t physically get yourself out, it allows for direct access for the fire dept.
        Not having a window large enough to get of adjacent to your sleeping area is not using common sense regardless of if its a code or not.

          alice h - March 14, 2014 Reply

          You can and should keep one of those very compact escape ladders inside the upper window, ready to deploy instantly in case of emergency. It’s not enough just to have the window, you need a way to get down safely from it too. If you’re in a panic you don’t always think well enough to do something sensible so it’s good to practise using the ladder so it’s a well established body memory.

          There are building code requirements for basement apartments to have a bedroom window big enough to get out of but a lot of people don’t have a way to get up to the window easily, especially if you aren’t very limber.

    Todd S - March 12, 2014 Reply

    Two actual doors is a lot to ask for a tiny home and not even required in a site built single family dwelling. However the need for an adequate egress window from sleeping areas is often not given thought but absolutely necessary.
    I agree about the front door. There needs to be at least a 32″ wide door if not 36″. A 30″ door puts the occupants at risk.

Anne - March 12, 2014 Reply

Very well stated Darren… I love that so many are now interested in tiny dwellings but have long been concerned that there appears to be a ‘fairyland’ quality to many of their ideas of the sort of ‘freedom’ it will afford them… It was complicated by a well known builder’s justification for attempting to sell his homes THEN wanting the ones who bought them to ‘fight for their rights’ afterwards, blaming the codes. Apparently not understanding this fight had been going on for decades. He offered nothing new, except the commercialization of tiny… Few places have NO safety codes.

To Dinah above, the problem in most states is not the movement of them usually, it is the parking of them. Even most designated trailer parks can’t accept a wood structure, especially a multi-story.

    Brian - March 12, 2014 Reply

    Anne, what do you suppose many trailers and RVs are made of? They may not be wood CLAD but they are wood framed. Please clarify your point.

    Brian

      Anne - March 12, 2014 Reply

      Full structure wood, on metal trailer. Too many think this exempts them… it actually does the opposite. If it can’t be easily defined as safe it will be assumed to be unsafe. (In this case a higher risk as a potential fire hazzard.)

      Anne - March 12, 2014 Reply

      Full wood structure on metal trailer… Perhaps you do not understand the safety difference in the two? Many think building this way exempts the TH.. it actually frequently does the opposite. If it can’t be easily defined as safe, it will be classified as unsafe. (In this case as a higher fire risk.)

        Anne - March 12, 2014 Reply

        lol… so my first comment did work… Kent, popular posts are still doing some odd things to the site 😉

Swabbie Robbie - March 12, 2014 Reply

Thanks for this article Darren. As the numbers of tiny houses grow it will become of more interest to communities both for codes, permits, and placement, but also for taxing. Obviously, if people are using the services of a community – schools, libraries, medical, police, fire, and social services, the community will want to collect taxes to support itself.

Scott Roseburgh - March 12, 2014 Reply

Having been in the manufactured housing industry the past 21 years I can tell you there is some false information in the original post here. The points are valid but HUD guidelines for manufactured housing have nothing to do with tiny house construction. A more valid code to apply here would be the ANSI code which applies to recreational vehicles and is the predominant code for building what are known as “park models”. These really are tiny houses as the codes limits their total square footage to under 400 feet. The code employs most safety features of other codes but allows for more “creative” framing and structural freedom.

    Darren Hannabass - March 12, 2014 Reply

    Scott,
    Let me be clear, the HUD code I mentioned in the original article I stated “may not apply” to a Tiny House. The purpose of this article was to raise awareness that the code is to protect the health, safety and welfare to an unsuspecting public. The locality or state regulate these things and the advice given to have the homeowner consider consulting with the jurisdiction to determine the applicable codes for the jurisdiction or jurisdictions the house will be parked in is solid advice because who wants a person killed from a substandard structure or what community wants to pay for a mess stemming from an individual building something without some reasonable accountability? That is irresponsible on not only the individual, but also on the part of the individual. I know if I did something wrong I would want someone to tell me before it killed someone.

Dave - March 12, 2014 Reply

Good points, There are a pile of issues that i sometimes see Tiny House owners gloss over. Part of the problem though is also with the code itself in different areas (i am in Southern Ontario Canada)Code for construction and “quality” of building is in my opinions too lax in many cases. But “Minimum legal size for a residence” is too restrictive. In some of the areas i looked at, a minimum size for a residence is 1200 square feet! Far bigger than i wanted to build my “small but not too tiny” house. It is those types of codes that leads people to find ways around all codes, in order to build what they want. Its a problem that needs adressing, but sadly is usually nearly impossible to do, aside from requesting a “one time variance” The whole building code system in north america needs to be rethought, to be inclusive of alternate ideas, instead of pushing people to work around the laws.

    Todd S - March 12, 2014 Reply

    Dave….you hit on a point that wasn’t really brought up in the original post. The biggest hindrance to tiny homes being a legal dwelling unit are zoning codes along with (in my opinion) evil CC&R restrictions. So many available tracts that would be ideal to put a tiny home are, are developed and then a CC&R for the development is created (supposedly for the protection of the owners).
    These are very limiting in what can be built (or placed) on a parcel of land you buy or lease.
    Even in progressive Seattle, the zoning codes don’t adequately address the need for multi-family micro housing which is desperately needed and has a ready market.

      Thomas Malkin - March 13, 2014 Reply

      The need for micro-housing will be addressed when developers can lock the cost of a hundred-square foot unit in at a quarter million dollars. Codes will change overnight. It’s not that they are against tiny houses, it’s just that they want to build them and charge you a whole lot of money. If you build it – if everyone builds their own – they get zilch. Nada.

BOBHENRY - March 12, 2014 Reply

Anyone who builds a substantial building and doesn’t tie completely from the roof to the foundation is an idiot. A tiny house only needs about 55 fastners to tie the roof trusses to the walls, the walls to the floor and the bottom wall plate to the frame. There is one other step that needs to be addressed tieing the unit to the ground itsself. I intend to dig and pour 4 bell shaped holes in the earth and fill with concrete with hold downs embedded in it for anchor points. The midwest is tornado alley and these simple provisions literally tie the roof to the earth thru a series of connecting plates. Take the time to look at a simpson strongtie web site or a catalogue at the lumber yard.

    Todd S - March 12, 2014 Reply

    Agreed…..It doesn’t take much effort or expense to provide the needed structural components to resist wind loads and seismic occurrences. It protects your investment and can save your life. Be smart about it.

Peggy - March 12, 2014 Reply

Sorry Kirsten and Stewart, but I agree with Darren. I have seen exit doors built opening into traffic and curtails draping on cook tops,. Yes, some may regard these micro and tiny homes similar to a truck load . But who lives in these containers, without being Renovated? Even for the non renovated there is usually codes via traffic Act where these trailers can be parked.
I read on this blog where a women bought land and parked her tiny house. Her neighbor complained, County said she had to move her home. Now she is mad at the neighbor.

    Thomas Malkin - March 13, 2014 Reply

    If neither you, or that neighbor, actually live in that tiny house, I can’t see how you are affected, or how it is any of your business. You and the nosy neighbor have no standing in the matter – I don’t see you arguing for the sake of the owner, as I doubt they would grant you the right.

      Michael - March 14, 2014 Reply

      If a neighbor has a junky home with derelict boats and cars in the front yard it does indeed directly affect the sale price of my home. We faced just this sort of situation in our tract. The solution was to sue in small claims for the diminished value of our homes. So far between 15 and 20 of us have done so and all of us have been awarded the maximum of $7500, of course we cannot collect, but as the liens against the home approach $150.000 they have taken notice. The for pay parties have stopped and the last time their Rottweiler got loose they actually bothered to come outside in daylight to bring it back home. The 3 boats on flat tired trailers are still in the front yard, the 4 other dead cars are still there and they still haven’t turned the sprinklers back on. The last is a moot point since the grass, shrubs and even the trees all died a few years ago. Home sale prices on our block have been consistently $20k to $30k lower than the same floor plan three blocks away, so yes what you do on your property affects me too.

frank - March 12, 2014 Reply

as long as there are RVs built out of 2×2 stick frame over cheep aluminum there’s no grounds for making restrictions on tiny homes. they are inherently more structurally sound then any manufactured rv. of witch there are millions around the country. this talk of rules and regulations is no different then the crap that took place in the 70s that made it so hard and expensive to live with in our means in the first place. the tiny house movement was never meant for people to make a profit off of or get rich from but to make it affordable for people to live in such economically hard times. when compared to the legal manufactured rv on wheels I do not believe I had ever seen a home built tiny house on wheels built less safe , all are much safer because people understand that they are built to transport .no nails, all screws.as far as the wind issue I ask what standard do the manufactured rv campers use? personally I have already planed on welding plates underneath the trailer to accommodate mobile home screw in tiedowns ,my idea is to weld square plates to the bottom of the tiedowns and dig holes and burry each one. but bare in mind that if we are talking tornado all bets are off regardless of what your living in.

    Todd S - March 12, 2014 Reply

    I find the RV argument unfounded and not applicable to tiny homes. RVs are designed for short term habitation and traveling down the road. Compromises are made for the towing effectiveness and to cut cost (RV manufacturers are in the business of making millions in profits).
    Just because you build it on a trailer and you can move it to a new location, does not put it in the same classification as a regular RV trailer you can go down to the lot and buy. Two different things.
    While I’m not a fan of over-regulation and the bureaucratic mess that is government, I do agree with the premise of building codes. Their primary intent is to minimize accidents and ensure quality construction. A goal that has been continually improved upon. You can’t argue that today’s homes aren’t safer or don’t provide for the basic needs of the occupant better.
    If according to your argument, its simply a matter of economics that people are building these “RVs”, then go and buy a real RV down at the lot. It will be cheaper, lighter and will tow better (because that’s what you do with an RV) than what is posted on this blog. If however you want a tiny home that you intend on occupying as a residence, then build them in a manner that at least makes an attempt at meeting the intent of the codes.
    The alternative is having a few fires or serious injury in a few tiny homes that have been built. That will only cause more of the oversight and regulation you’re so adamant about shunning.

Ken - March 12, 2014 Reply

I often laugh at some of the home designs I see on this page. Yes you can build anything, but anything is not necessarily safe, or will withstand the effects of time and weather!

One thing I have noticed on many tiny houses is the lack of egress. That put simply, is the lack of an exit in case of fire. All Recreational trailers, must have a rear exit in case of fire. These tiny homes will burn fast and furiously if the owner is careless enough to allow a fire to start. Think about it. You are sleeping in a loft. You have a heater or woodstove down below, near the entry. It starts a fire. How do you get out! In so many of these designs, you would be trapped, and burned to death. This is no joke people! Same goes for electrical service. If you are going to use electrical appliances, you should have the proper wiring. Propane? Propane is a liquid. If there is a leak, it will fill any crevice or opening in a floor. Light a match, and boom! One needs to consider all of these scenarios, when building their dream home!

Jen - March 12, 2014 Reply

I live in a tiny 120 year old home that doesn’t feel like it meets any current building or bylaws.
It’s completely unreasonable to have a basic project turn Into a full nightmare with excessive inspections and permits for every improvement.
Small homes or trailer parks need to be pushed as affordable, accessible – not subsidized housing to give people back their quality of life.
Reality and practicality have not been my experience.

    dextertracy - March 12, 2014 Reply

    Perhaps, since your tiny home withstood 120 years of inhabitation, it was well constructed enough to avoid burning down, or being blown down in a windstorm or suffering a roof collapse due to snow load. Somewhere along the line it was presumably wired for electricity and depending on when that happened, it may have old clothbound wiring, or plastic wrapped wiring from the 70s, or conduit. And does it still have lead pipes or were they replaced with copper? Older buildings of size, when renovated or sold, need to be inspected to make sure the systems in them are safe and to today’s standard. I’m sure your old building is lovely (I live in a 1896 building too) but it is always good to know what the code is and to know how to rate when it is time for an upgrade, whether you do it yourself or hire a professional.

    Darren Hannabass - March 12, 2014 Reply

    Jen,
    If you are renovating an old house like you mention, the building code, while seems stringent, has provisions in it that allows for things that have been built before codes were enacted. This is known by design professionals as “grandfathering”. Most people get the wrong perception regarding the code. The code is meant to give you a level of safety in any house whether it be a new one or an old one. The code also is for minimizing damage to property if a catastrophe occurs.

frank - March 12, 2014 Reply

I also believe if some one produced a video or a flyer on basic dos and do not’s for heating, stoves and burners and other safety issues it would be very valuable .instead of making this information available only to a county inspectors
.

    Darren Hannabass - March 12, 2014 Reply

    Frank,
    Many jurisdictions, for example, Fairfax, Virginia, has cutsheets to guide the homeowner if they say want to build a deck on the rear of their house. Having a video would be nice and perhaps this is the next generation of information that jurisdictions might offer. This kind of service can only be provided if the government has enough tax revenue to fund such services. We get what we pay for and for people to assume that something can be done for free aren’t living in reality. The government is as good as you make it. The government’s role is to educate the uninformed of what they should be doing to have a successful project. Otherwise we live in a state of poverty. I don’t think people want that.

Dewy - March 12, 2014 Reply

You can’t get away from the rules. Code is there to protect other folks from those without common sense.

    Todd S - March 12, 2014 Reply

    Funny but true. Sure….perhaps your wiring or heating system that isn’t to code causes a fire and you manage to escape unscathed. But if you’re parked in a public place, in an RV park or simply fairly close to a neighboring building, you’ve just put someone else’s life and money at risk. Not to mention the cost to taxpayers to have several firemen, police, EMT’s and their equipment to come save you and the structure you put your blood sweat and tears in to.
    The ridiculous thing about the argument against adhering to codes is that its not complicated or expensive or time consuming to meet them.
    I design and develop spec homes and there is nothing about the process that I can say causes me heartburn or to lose sleep over. A simple permit, accommodation of reasonable structural elements, safe electrical installations and all the proper smoke detectors, ventilation, etc. And then the code official coming by a few times to verify you’re actually doing what you said you’d do. Nothing to be so adamantly opposed to. I don’t want government invading on my rights and privacy, however this is an important element of construction that shouldn’t be ignored.

      Darren Hannabass - March 12, 2014 Reply

      Todd,
      You make some excellant points. The government would have a right to intervene in the event that a situation puts the public in immenent danger. The code just avoids danger and you have stated that simply. Thank you.

Larry - March 12, 2014 Reply

Sad to say, it’s clear the tiny houses often miss the code mark, even the HUD code written by the mobile home indistry. Trailer tie-downs are one excellent point. They are required in most jurisdictions and are intended to prevent wind overturns and hence to protect occupants’ safety. Staircase guard rails are also a safety issue that should be required to prevent one of the commonest injuries in the home, falling. There are quite a few issues related to combustibles and fire safety, required clearances, etc. Most of the better designed tiny houses can be made safer than they are now but as a national freedom movement against regulation blossoms, it’s sad to consider that injury and death will be necessary to require general safety practices uniformly applied. Building codes should be viewed as a guide to the public welfare, not an intrusion into the practices of uninformed or careless individuals. Here is an opportunity to be of service: publish a safety guide for the novice tiny trailer home builder. HUD is a start-point.

    Darren Hannabass - March 12, 2014 Reply

    Larry,
    Freedom doesn’t come without a price. There is a perception problem with regard to the code. People “think” the code doesn’t apply to them until something bad happens and then it is too late. Unfortunately there are permit officials that lack customer service and add fuel to the arguement that you’re trying to make, but to say there is a “Freedom movement” against codes will only result in one thing – the codes would get more stringent. I don’t think we want that.

    Years ago I worked with a Fire Marshal in Northern Virignia and he gave me an account of a building at James Madison University that burnt down because someone ignored the Fire Code. They put an extension cord behind a couch and one of the couch legs broke the insulation and shorted out and the curtains caught fire and consumed the entire building all due to the foolish act of someone who thought the code didn’t apply to them. The building was a total loss and subsequently the insurance claim resulted in about $4Million to replace the building all because someone wanted to ignore the code. The code is specific on extension cords whereby they are to be used in temporary situations and are supervised till the user has finished using them.

      Thomas Malkin - March 13, 2014 Reply

      The price of freedom? You die if it screws up. How many people have died of tiny houses, so far?

      You also die if the tiny house doesn’t kill you.
      You also die if you don’t live in a tiny house.
      You also die if you do anything else at any time, because, point of fact, you will eventually die.
      We all die. Reducing everything to avoiding death is reductive and one can justify anything that way, including reducing the world to a police state for our safety, which is exactly what has happened, without increasing our objective safety one bit. We are usually in far greater danger from the wrath of the law enforcers.

      If you really want to save lives, ban cars, the worst idea to move people around, ever; killed more people than all wars combined. And kills them horribly, in mangled metal and fire.

      If you don’t kill anyone else in your tiny house because of bad design, pretty much it’s your call on how you want to die in one. Not that anyone has.

      And this is about a personal tiny house, not a public building. We’ve been building our own houses since there have been houses. Kinda the only way they were ever built, as people didn’t wander around building houses for other people.

Michael - March 12, 2014 Reply

I know that this will be irrelevant to those who worship at the Altar of Freedom, but what about insurance? Most companies are happy to take your money for years and then deny the claim you might make if there is any code violation at all. The first thing they will do is research all the details of local codes with an eye open for reasons to deny your claim. If you are a hippie living in a tiny house you built from reclaimed lumber it is a moot point, but once you have $20,000 to $40,000 or even more with your possessions and furnishings insurance becomes a necessity. And what about the liability protection provided by a homeowners policy? How many are willing to risk their life’s savings over an uninsured slip and fall suffered by a guest in a house with code violations that make it illegal?

    Todd S - March 12, 2014 Reply

    Excellent point! Also consider the hopes that financing could be available for housing such as this. Some of us don’t have $30k bouncing around our pockets to pay for the construction in full. The opportunity to have institutional financing options available is only hindered by the worshipping of the alter of freedom.
    Live and let live is something I respect but it also has its boundaries……primarily when your actions affect others which this situation does.

    Thomas Malkin - March 13, 2014 Reply

    Why would you insure a 15,000 dollar house? Cheaper to build another house. Health insurance for injuries from fire or home collapse is different than home insurance. Liability is another issue – but the probability of a tiny house falling on someone is pretty low. Make them sign a waiver to approach, then, and avoid the issue. “You come near my home, you don’t have the right to sue. Sign this or leave. The End.” Banks require homeowners insurance because they lend you money to build the house. We don’t need the bank to lend us the money, so…

      Todd S - March 14, 2014 Reply

      Any lawyer will tell you that a waiver doesn’t completely negate liability. People sue and if you choose to not protect yourself with homeowner’s insurance then you’re opening yourselves up for asset loss.
      Also, you’re assuming that the only people who should be building tiny homes are those with tens of thousands of dollars available. Many many people would like to live in a tiny home who also $15k is a LOT of money they might not have. It would be great to have access to financing. And they also would like to lessen the financial impact of losing that $15k investment due to a fire or other damage that insurance would cover. Most people would insure a $15k car so why isn’t a house as important?
      Don’t get me wrong……I hate insurance companies too, but that doesn’t mean they don’t provide a needed service.

Ellen - March 12, 2014 Reply

I’ve been following this blog for months now and have always wondered if those building their tiny homes put in smoke alarms, carbon monoxide alarms or LP gas sniffers. Also, an egress window. All of them were part of our RV, which we lived in full time for several years. Whether you park your tiny home in your backyard, forest or out on the highway, an explosion could harm others and property very quickly. I’m happy to see this discussion brought forward.

Tricia - March 12, 2014 Reply

Thank you all for your valuable feedback. All these replies being very helpful and enlightening. Not only do I want to build a tiny home, I want to live safely and happily in a community that appreciates and understands the beauty of tiny house living.

Mark Janssen - March 12, 2014 Reply

This guy is a total wonk. This is America, the land of liberty. Building codes should only be for commercial construction. A person building a house is an adult who can and should take responsibility — and the risk — himself. Education of hazards is 100x better than legislation. Building codes and such are there only protect lawyers and construction agencies, not people.

Please.

    Anne - March 12, 2014 Reply

    Education is best… Which is why he wrote the piece.

    Todd S - March 12, 2014 Reply

    Yeah…..let’s advocate an anarchy position on this matter. That will make things better. Just like “responsible adults” don’t commit crime, perpetuate discrimination, or take advantage of others.
    Your opinion is your right and I respect that, however your statements, in my experience in the design and building industry does not supported that stance. That is an irresponsible position to take.

    Michael - March 12, 2014 Reply

    Not every person sleeping in a tiny home is an adult, what about minor children? Are they able to make informed choices about the safety of the place their parents build, I think not. And what about anyone who buys a 10 year old homemade tiny home, what assurance do they have that it will not kill them in their sleep. Or fall apart around their ears. If this movement is ever to become an industry, then one must be able to get financing to buy. And if there are no building codes, who will ever make a loan on a tiny home of unknown quality that could fall to pieces or injure or even kill the buyer.

    Nancy - March 12, 2014 Reply

    I think this article is a long time coming. Does it make sense for the owner to have the right to build a badly constructed tiny home or ignore safety issues that puts their family, neighbors, other drivers, or the environment at risk? These overlooked issues might cause death; then the owner could spend part of their life living in a barred cell much smaller than a badly built tiny home: talk about forfeiting rights… Besides, so many of the replies to this article have made the valid point: ignoring building codes only bring more stringent codes down on all of us.

    Todd S - March 12, 2014 Reply

    Granted the 2″ thick building code sitting on my desk can appear like a nightmare, its for the most part reasonable and necessary. You mentioned education in your statement. The codes were developed from education…….real world education…….usually from failures and death which is a big teacher and motivator to find out what is wrong with what we’ve been doing. Without the framework of building codes to construct to, the responsible adult who should educate themselves and take risk as you say is allowed to build his house however he sees fit, then the education will come from the same methods as how the codes were developed but possibly at great cost to you or others. You have just ignored historical evidence and study that has taught us what’s needed in construction. The codes are developed by educated, experienced people from the building industry…….not politicians. They have the best interest of us at heart (agreed that the execution isn’t necessarily 100%). Taking the narcissistic approach that its all about you and that you should be able to do anything you want is short-sighted

    Darren Hannabass - March 12, 2014 Reply

    Mark,
    You would be right in your assessment, but the problem is many people don’t assume their own risk and expect others to do that. That is plain irresponsible. The Freedom to build requires work and work requries reasonable care to construct a building safely. If you are a homeowner that wants to build your own house and you don’t know anything about planning, design or building a structure, be prepared to learn. Be lucky we don’t have the building code of antiquity known as the code of Hammurabi.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Code_of_Hammurabi

BOBHENRY - March 12, 2014 Reply

Ceramic tile to protect the stove wall and even added to the countertops from hot pans. A simple piece of corrigated steel roofing or perhaps a protective shield of 1/4″ cement board around the stove to protect the combustable cabinets. A hearth of decorative floor tile under the wood or propann heater.You only get one chance to do it right and these simple additions may be the difference between comfortable living and having no place to live.

Bev - March 12, 2014 Reply

I wonder if the state “will allow” us to live in a cardboard box?

vina lustado - March 12, 2014 Reply

Kent, thank you for posting this article. I feel this is a very important issue that needs to be addressed. The comments above are all excellent points, and I certainly see both sides of the issue.

I just recently designed and built my own tiny house. I have been in the architecture industry for more than 20yrs. I built my house with the code in mind for structural integrity, as well as for energy efficiency and for a healthy non-toxic interior.

The codes are a very sensitive subject for tiny houses, and it DOES need to be taken seriously for the health and safety of the occupant. I think we need to start engaging public officials to resolve some of these issues.

As the tiny house movement grows, we should take this opportunity to engage building officials, to try to build relationships with them. We all want to live in safe and healthy environments.

    ET - March 12, 2014 Reply

    Could you please describe how you built to code? I wonder about minimum size etc.

    Anne - March 12, 2014 Reply

    Well stated and I heartily agree. In many communties they are now willing to listen.

    Todd S - March 12, 2014 Reply

    Well said Vina and its good to hear that you took a responsible approach to building you tiny house.
    I as well have been in the architecture industry for 20+ years. I’m sure we can both attest to some frustration with the many codes we are responsible for knowing and adhering to. While some things aren’t well worked through in some code additions or aren’t fully substantiated as being effective, the codes for the most part have produced better built, safer, healthier and more energy efficient structures.

David Remus - March 12, 2014 Reply

The primary purpose of regulations and codes is to ensure that builders are taking personal responsibility for the safety of their work both in design and execution. I am for an expansion away from accepted practices to newer and different methods of construction but without some standards public safety can be endangered.

If I build a house and invite you over, you assume it’s safe. If it falls on you causing permanent injury, now you have no income and lose your own house, you probably aren’t going to be satisfied with a lecture about how you should have studied architecture and known my house was unsafe. You are going to want me to take personal responsibility for the quality of my work.

And when it comes time to legally sell it, if it doesn’t meet code you are stuck either keeping it forever or bulldozing it.

The building codes have a lot of room for improvement in the approval of newer methods of construction and more leeway in what is allowed to be built where, there is no doubt about that at all.

Untill the codes are changed they help keep the general public safe from those unscrupulous individuals that would endanger lives by avoiding taking personal responsibility for the quality of their work.

The primary fight for the Tiny House movement is the changing the attitude of the general public into accepting the fact that not all homes need to cost 6+ figures, be 3000 sq. feet, or require 30 year mortgages. The general business community should be supporting this to the hilt since homeowners without mortgages have a lot more disposable income.

    Clif - March 12, 2014 Reply

    I agree with this statement a lot! Things need to change, but there does need to be some sort of code or education that is readily available. The Tiny House Community should get together and write a code, then submit that to municipalities and states to encourage constructive change.

      Darren Hannabass - March 12, 2014 Reply

      Clif,
      Very good idea. To self regulate means less goverment intervention.

        Thomas Malkin - March 13, 2014 Reply

        Governments don’t get around to legislating until a critical mass of curtain-twitchers complain… it ain’t government that’s the problem, it’s people who have the sense of entitlement to control other people, a management disease for which there is no cure.

          Anne - March 13, 2014 Reply

          Or you could check the codes before you build something then you would eliminate your problem with the neighbors. They can’t complain if what you are doing isn’t against the laws in the area. You appear to be forgetting their right not to put up with you… it isn’t all about your rights.

Brian - March 12, 2014 Reply

Darren, are you confusing manufactured home with RV? The former is regulated by the IRC/IBC. The latter is regulated by NHTSA and RVIA/ANSI. Manufactured homes are meant to travel once and be parked. RVs are meant to be built on and stay on wheels, occasionally traveling.

The author appears to be a bit misguided or confused.

Ken, I suggest you take down this post as it will only cause further confusion. Needs a total re-write.

    Darren Hannabass - March 12, 2014 Reply

    @Brian says:
    March 12, 2014 at 9:01 am
    Darren, are you confusing manufactured home with RV? The former is regulated by the IRC/IBC. The latter is regulated by NHTSA and RVIA/ANSI. Manufactured homes are meant to travel once and be parked. RVs are meant to be built on and stay on wheels, occasionally traveling.

    The author appears to be a bit misguided or confused.

    Ken, I suggest you take down this post as it will only cause further confusion. Needs a total re-write

    Brian, I am not confused because the Tiny House is being manufactured on a trailer and transported to a site and occupied semipermanently. An RV was meant for temporary habitation. The law is clear in this especially in Virginia in reference to “Manufactured Housing”.

lisette - March 12, 2014 Reply

sorry, the only people that the regulations are there to protect are the tax collector, the developer and the professional building contractor. I agree that safety should be discussed more fully and people have the responsibility to inform themselves and to use common sense, such as not putting trailing fabric within reach of open flames. But seriously, you can build the safest structure in the world, but if some idiot can’t find a safe place to set a candle, or passes out with a cigarette in hand, well, not much anyone can do. It should be further noted that most people who build tiny houses are singles, or childless couples. When it comes time to raise kids, a 100 sq ft rolling house won’t work. and that, in my view, is time enough to start paying school taxes. those of us who live lightly in teh community are perfectly within reason to try to avoid a huge property tax bill when in fact we DON”T use the services those taxes pay for. I for one feel that plying beneath the radar of codes is a matter of asserting personal freedom to live as one chooses. If I’m not selling the home, and not raising babies in it, it is no darn business of anyone else’s whether I choose to live in a tiny house, a tree or a hollow log.

    Bev - March 12, 2014 Reply

    I concur

    Todd S - March 12, 2014 Reply

    I want what you’re smoking!
    The codes are only meant for developers and contractors? I develop houses. If I were to tell my subs to not worry about the codes, they wouldn’t skip a beat in cutting corners to get it done quicker and cheaper. A developer’s primary goal is to build a house for the least money possible and sell it for the most they can get. They only see codes as a hinderance to that end. And if you’re referring to protecting them from litigation, then read the paper. A developer who doesn’t even cut corners still looks to the future as hoping to not get sued, but when will they get sued. Its a fact of business…..lawyers buy houses and condos. That’s what limited liability corporation, insurance and bankruptcy are for. Close shop…..open 6 months later under a different name. Happens all the time. If your statement is true, why would every time the code council goes through a code revision cycle, the building associations lobby them to minimize the impact on them? If the codes were only there to protect them, why wouldn’t they be lobbying for more stringent codes? And the tax collector? Come on……they don’t even know or care how the house is built…..I’ve watched them assess one of the new homes I did. They walked around it for about 3 minutes and hopped in their car and left. All they care about is size, location and general appearance and then they assess a value. Your statements are simply uninformed.
    The argument that people are responsible enough to build a home in a safe and reasonable manner I find comical. There are far too many individuals in this society that have their feet firmly planted in the shallow end of the gene pool. Are you blind to the extent of irresponsible behavior that exists all around us?
    Sure, you can’t save idiots from themselves if they’re going to start a fire by a misplaced candle or such. Consider their friend or child that’s asleep up in the loft that now has a ball of flames between them and safety outside the flaming structure. Adhering to an evil code would have made sure there was an operable window large enough to escape from. The tiny home movement is and should be inclusive of people from all sorts of living situations. To say that life safety codes are not an issue because only one person or a couple that like to live dangerously is ever going to be in the house….and if they want to burn themselves up in an unsafe dwelling then so be it……ignorance.
    I’m a big proponent of personal freedom and protection of our rights and privacy, however this is an issue that can’t be left up to the individual to hopefully be knowledgeable and care enough to address.
    Furthermore, I’d like to meet someone who never uses any of the services that property taxes support as you claim you do. Unless you’re in the middle of Siberia you have some impact on the needs of the community around you that taxes pay for.
    If you’re inclined to live in a hollow log, then that person (who most likely was dropped on their head as a child) should be able to live (with the ants, lack of proper sanitation, etc) without the Man dictating how many windows are needed in said log to provide proper ventilation. I’d accept that. If however, you want to be part of a legitimate movement that wish to build an actual dwelling to live in comfort and safety, then do the responsible thing and advocate for a reasonable regulation that provides for the health and welfare of the occupants, visitors, neighbors and the community. If you want something less than that, then go deep into the wilderness and chop down some trees and live apart from the rest of society.

      Nancy - March 12, 2014 Reply

      I support Todd. Though somewhat different: a transferable case in point: The Titanic. Don’t we all agree that it was essential to change the code; requiring enough life boats, building watertight sections, and keeping stairwells unlocked to better assure a chance at survival? If the shipping companies and ship builders could save money by overlooking these issues, I’ll bet they would do. Or, a better case: if inspectors had done their job and the business owner had followed code, there wouldn’t have been so many people killed in the California nightclub fire.

    Darren Hannabass - March 12, 2014 Reply

    Hi Lisette,
    All due respect the tiny house should be taxed based on square footage or value like any house which is small if your house is a 100 sf. Even you use police, fire and roads to transport your house. Also it becomes everybodies business when your house is built unsafely because at some point someone has to deal with a potential mess you’ve decided you wanted to create. That is just irresponsible and not fair for those who are trying to abide by the law.

Wendy - March 12, 2014 Reply

While the original poster makes a lot of valid points- I can think of dozens of times I have seen “consult your local building department for local code requirements”. Certainly every single business that has been featured here has that prominently on its website.
The reason the building code can’t be posted here permanently for people to refer to is that it is a local thing- every city/county/state has its own requirements and what is fine in one place (for instance, outside city limits) may not be allowed in another (for instance, inside city limits in that same county).
For instance, composting toilets are illegal in California, for some stupid reason, although I know a number of off-the-grid people who use them.
Working with the local planning/building departments CAN be incredibly frustrating as a number of civil employees seem to be bent on making things as complicated as possible. I remember standing in line at the county building department in back of a man who was trying to get approval for a room addition. He had drawn up a plan of the project and the site, including existing landscaping. He had indicated his son’s tree house, for some reason. The clerk at the planning commission told him he didn’t have a permit for the tree house and would have to tear it down.
We bought a 1906 solid redwood lath and plaster bungalow that was slated to be torn down and moved and restored it. There was a small covered lean-to back porch attached. When the building inspector came out, he discovered that the outside wall of that little room was 2″ lower than current code- so in order to get the project finaled, we had to remove the roof, change the slope of it, and raise that wall by two inches.
This is the kind of stuff that just makes you want to tear your hair out and is one reason why people tend to try to avoid involving getting permits to do things.
Personally I feel that if you’re going to live in it yourself, you should be able to decide how strictly you want to adhere to local building codes. If you are going to rent it out or sell it- then that is a whole different ball of wax and you have to make sure you meet whatever is required by building/housing/health department codes.
But as I said- the original poster did make some valid points. Maybe instead of being critical-he could submit an article covering “Basic Safety Issues for Small House Owners”, which would outline some of the things he alluded to and give solutions.

    Todd S - March 12, 2014 Reply

    To add to your post and clarify your code statement: There used to be several model building codes that governed depending on where you were building. Its not so much that there are different code regulations among the jurisdictions. These days there is primarily one model code……the International Building Code (or International Residential Code which can be used for single and 2 unit residential construction). Then the local jurisdictions either adopt the whole code as is, choose to not adopt certain chapters or sections, or amend elements. Or they may drag their feet in moving to the latest edition of the code. With the exception of California which is whole different world when it comes to regulation, most places you choose to build will be relatively similar in their requirements. The changes that do exist usually make the model code more stringent. There are also, depending on what aspect of the construction, other documents referenced in the building code that have standards to be adhered to (ANSI is an example). The latest codes tend to differ to product manufactures for the installation requirements which then gets you into further trade association standards and such. Enough to make your head spin I know.
    Our laws, codes and government in general is inefficient and can be detrimental to what’s best at times. However building codes are very important. I think they could be improved upon by simplification, flexibility, and focussing only on the key elements that they should be addressing.
    As far as what the main elements that the tiny home community could be addressing better to be more in line with the codes: Proper agrees, ventilation, fire protection, electrical wiring and fixtures, adequate sanitation facilities and structural soundness including consideration for shear forces and uplift. These are all simple things that can be accomplished without much effort.

    Darren Hannabass - March 12, 2014 Reply

    Wendy,
    Your point is well taken. I used to work as a permit official at a local college and I saw the same thing. What the permit officials lack is customer service skills and forget you as the taxpayer is paying their salary. Permitting is meant to help the home owner achieve their goal and not be a hinderance. The people and the regulations are supposed to be transparent, but unfortunately it is not sometimes. Realize that the system consist of humans and is not a perfect system. Considering I have seen substandard conditions in Africa we have paradise here because we have codes to live by. Imagine being in Africa and living there with no codes or standards.

tinyhousetom - March 12, 2014 Reply

It is much easier to get the bylaw enforcement officer to go away if you can show them the relevant codes that you have made an effort to comply with. With cameras on most cellphones it is easy to document every step of construction.

While you may try claiming “load on a trailer” it might be better to meet code as a fall back position.

Allen Laudenslager - March 12, 2014 Reply

Most of these units fit into the “travel trailer” category and not the mobile home. If you put them on a foundation and use mobile home hurricane tie-downs you run the risk of being reclassified as a true mobile home and most jurisdictions have strong regulations about where a mobile home may be set up. Travel trailers generally get overlooked since they can be, and generally are, set up on a temporary basis.

    Darren Hannabass - March 12, 2014 Reply

    Allen Laudenslager says:
    March 12, 2014 at 9:50 am
    Most of these units fit into the “travel trailer” category and not the mobile home. If you put them on a foundation and use mobile home hurricane tie-downs you run the risk of being reclassified as a true mobile home and most jurisdictions have strong regulations about where a mobile home may be set up. Travel trailers generally get overlooked since they can be, and generally are, set up on a temporary basis.

    If you setup a travel trailer (which is for temporary living) for permanent living quaters you run the risk of setting up an unsafe condition. You’re suggesting using something that was not originally inteneded to be use that way. Not cool!

Todd S - March 12, 2014 Reply

The point to remember in this discussion is that tiny homes are clearly built to be a “dwelling unit”. Once that threshold is crossed, you are most definitely under the jurisdiction of at least 1 code. This negates the argument of “load” or its just a trailer.
Having been in the architecture industry for over 20 years, I can appreciate the necessity of codes (while frustrating). Its for the safety of the occupant and to ensure quality construction. The problem here is that the codes need to be modified to accommodate tiny houses.
The codes are pretty clear whether a tiny house is governed by that particular code. The only time a tiny home would be subject to the IBC is if it is placed on a foundation of some sort and not on a trailer, unless it meets the definition of “modular home” in Appendix E of the IBC. 99% of what is on this blog do not meet that definition (320+ sf, more than 40′ in length or more than 8′ in width). The IBC references HUD’s The Manufactured Home Construction and Safety Standards which would be the applicable code for most tiny homes built on a trailer.
The problem becomes that the HUD regulations are more difficult to meet with a tiny home than the IBC would be. The minimum size is 400 sf and you have to have 2 exterior doors spaced a certain amount apart. So for the most part, the tiny homes I’ve seen do not meet the applicable codes unfortunately. I haven’t thoroughly researched the regulations required to be a licensed RV, however this wouldn’t negate the HUD regulations.
Rather than take a stance that you’re going say eff it to regulations (which is understandable), lets work to get jurisdictions and the code organizations to adapt to a new paradigm that is the tiny home. If you must turn your nose to the regulatory entities that govern, please be smart about your design. Provide a clear, unobstructed path of egress and an operable window that you can escape from a sleeping area in the unfortunate event of a fire. Also, build so that the structure is structurally sound and has positive connection from the roof to the base along with resistance to shear loads. And unless you are truly using it as an RV (which for the most part I doubt), create some sort of tie down for safety during a seismic event or hurricane. It doesn’t need to be a full foundation…..could be some threaded rod cast in a concrete pile poured in solid ground that you can securely fasten your structure to. Not attempting to meet basic code requirements only creates opposition to this movement and also the safety of your lives and protection of your investment.
I’m very excited to be involved in moving this concept forward into something better that can allow people to live lives that are based on their own ideals rather than feeling like they need a 2,400 sf waste of resources.

    Darren Hannabass - March 12, 2014 Reply

    Todd,
    You have some good ideas that should be addressed with the International Code Council. The ICC has a process to include new regulations into the code and it is an efficient process.

    Thomas Malkin - March 13, 2014 Reply

    That’s a great post.

    A better code, designed just for THs. Possible, but the urge to stop change is so much more powerful than the need for it. Also, so much nonsense could be larded on, especially if they legislate the need for paid designers and contractors.

    Perhaps if we build the houses-on-trailers in a factory or maker space, fully inspected according to a good TH code, we could have all the win in one basket. Tow to site, and we’re good.

      Todd S - March 14, 2014 Reply

      That’s exactly how the manufactured home that currently exists operates. The HUD standards are that……a standard to say this is what we say should be the minimum. Its not a code (law). Manufactured homes are built in a factory. A third party inspector inspects the process and the homes being built for meeting those standards. Then the home received a certification sticker.
      Its a process that is done by the manufacturers to say that their homes meet or exceed a standard.

alice h - March 12, 2014 Reply

I think when most people refer to not worrying about the building code they really mean not worrying about size regulations and any code requirements that don’t work well in smaller scale dwellings. Some also use the term building codes when they actually mean zoning regulations that don’t allow accessory dwellings on a foundation and try to get around those by building on a trailer. Most tiny house builders are aware of safe building practices and many will actually build to better than basic code standard. Some building code regulations make practical sense, some are “political”.

Span tables, sheer load info, best and safest practices for all aspects of building are readily available from many sources and some building code standards are lower than what many tiny house builders find acceptable. I’ve often seen references to that information on various tiny house blogs including this one.

I agree that there are certain minimum standards that should be adhered to for the health and safety of people and the environment but there also has to be a certain amount of sense applied and not just slavish adherence to a set of rules that may or may not work in any particular case.

    Todd S - March 12, 2014 Reply

    Well said Alice. I’d have to say that you do see a lot of well designed, well built tiny homes. My concern is that many don’t know or fully understand the technical aspects that are important. I know I see many on this blog that I can tell didn’t give consideration to those things.
    Many are built with high quality solid materials and a lot of attention to energy efficiency and are well designed in form and function, however that doesn’t mean shear forces, wind upload path, proper ventilation, egress from sleeping areas, smoke & CO detectors properly placed, etc are completely addressed.

Mike M - March 12, 2014 Reply

Over the years building codes have evolved to protect the dwellers from poor building practices. Many inspectors discourage the owner/builder vs professionals. Some years ago I built a home. The state electrical inspector spent many hours looking for any violations. The only one was an outlet too far from a door way (I put it on the wrong side of a stud so it was off by less than 6 inches). I inspected several contractor wired houses that were passed and found dozens of violations. I was an industrial electrician dealing with 480 VAC and 800 amp services, I just did not have a contractors license. All said try to exceed building codes and use a lot of common sense. Include the smoke alarms, make sure you have egress windows in your sleeping areas, don’t put stoves under windows. It is your house and your life at risk – do it right!

Dewber - March 12, 2014 Reply

Two sides to this coin but it should be noted that the majority of people on this planet live in shelter that wouldn’t hold up to half of the building codes in the Western world to ripe old ages, almost 70 years old in fact. That’s long enough for me, thanks. If I catch my curtains on fire and let out my last uh-oh at 65, that’s fine.

    Anne - March 12, 2014 Reply

    They seldom choose to and suffer much worse casualties in disasters for the pleasure of it…

    But I agree you are welcome to kill yourself any way you wish as long as you endanger no one else and don’t ask to park on my land while doing so. lol.

    Todd S - March 12, 2014 Reply

    You make a valid point. I like to read and research how people build in other parts of the world. Its sad to see how in the industrialized world we have forgotten the fundamentals of how to build efficiently.
    True, there are millions of people who live in housing that would not come close to meeting current US building codes, however that does not mean its right. There are thousands and thousands of people who die of starvation every year also. What is the life expectancy or infant mortality rate in 3rd world countries? Way worse than industrialized nations. Why? Because they live in sub-standard conditions. Also, look at how much devastation is caused when an earthquake or hurricane rolls through one of these places. Had structures been built to today’s standards the impact would have been greatly minimized. Those types of houses you speak of are continually being replaced by structures built to code or at least incorporating the main elements of the codes. That’s because people outside the 1st & 2nd world countries would like to live in relative safety and health that a proper domicile presents. Apply your argument to the auto industry. The rate of death in an auto accident has dramatically decreased. Why? Because of standards cars have to meet. Cars are built to better quality, more efficient and much safer than they were 50 years ago which has resulted in countless lives saved.

      Darren Hannabass - March 12, 2014 Reply

      Todd,
      I would also go onto say that homes built in tornado alley that have been destroyed or in places like Lousianna were destroyed were built by code, but remember that code are minimum requirements because the code was also written to balance the economics to build.

    Michael - March 12, 2014 Reply

    I am guessing that you are several decades away from your 60th birthday at a minimum. As a 61 year old in fine health, I would say a lot more than “uh-oh” if my stupidity was the reason for burning to death 15 or 20 years ahead of my time. My Mom is 94 and my Dad 96, and I expect, barring any misadventure, to live as long. Would you consider the first 33 or 34 years of your life to be a meaningful length of time? If so why would I not feel the same about the last 33 years of mine? It is rather ageist of you to think that my life is less valuable than yours. For shame…..

Thomas Malkin - March 12, 2014 Reply

Few points and an idea.

People build tiny houses for one real reason. Cost.

A huge part of the American population has been downsized out of a good job. Some have no job at all, but a bit of money put aside. Some used to have a pension, but thanks to a court decision, pensions became corporate property and are being confiscated, leaving people with nothing but social security and savings. We’re nearly broke.

We will not have enough money to buy a home, as most homes are gigantic and are priced accordingly. Tiny houses on foundations would be great, but they are forbidden. We can’t rent, not for the prices landlords can get now because people can’t buy houses, for lack of capital or the fact banks simply won’t lend money anymore – they invest in derivatives now, not people. Houses plunged in cost in 2007, but few could borrow to buy – and that was intentional. No-win is the new game in bank city.

We’ve no place to live, not without becoming paupers, slaves to landlords. Bet you cheap rentals you can find are *not* up to code, and no one cares.

Tiny houses give us an option. If one person lives there, the onus and the consequences of the build are on that person, if waste disposal and fire prevention is adequately covered (no spreading fires to other people’s houses!). Code would be “protecting” us from ourselves, always an interesting concept for a grown adult to examine. We are being “protected” by being forced to live in trailers, or in someone’s garage, or becoming homeless – a code word for “can’t pay rent”.

Tornadoes- no matter how you tie a house down, a tornado will remove it from the foundations. One should indeed hurricane tie-down a mobile structure, of course, to keep in from bouncing away in a sub-tornadic wind – rude to the houses and people it might hit as it rolls. Achievable.

Real protection could be addressed by fiberglass-sheathed wooden structures planted underground with skylights – underground tiny houses, an idea I an others have been noodling. Tornado proof as one can be. Sunny, bright and easy to make. Nice for the landscape, too.

The codes are nightmares. No one knows what applies, really, and this gives towns and inspectors a great deal – no, the absolute power – to stop anything short of a McMansion being built.

These tiny houses can be built for 15 grand. If we go the route of regulation, we’ll be looking at architect fees, taxes, permits, bribes (yes, I said it) overview from the curtain twitching minority that is terrified poor people might be coming, building contractors and subcontractors, and endless delays. After all that comes in, the damned house will cost 80 grand. Which I have to say is the point of it all. Middle men want their blood, and banks want you to work for them most of your life. Safety is good, but do we have to be so safe we’re homeless?

Idea. Ever see Minecraft? A game in which you use online parts, like Lego, to build things in an artificial world? What if, let’s imagine, there was a program in which one could use a trailer (specs from real life trailers) model, and add bits made of standard materials – 2×4’s, 2×6’s, Tyvek, plywood, corrugated steel, all of it. An autocad for tinyhouses. Then we could design places virtually, and upload them to a sort of wiki-overview site, and people could pick apart the errors and so the design could be improved, even brought up to code, whatever that is. And after you’ve designed it, you would have a precise list of parts and even a building guide.

    Todd S - March 12, 2014 Reply

    This is a good point of discussion for this topic. I don’t believe that the primary focus of the small home movement is inexpensive housing. Granted that’s a motivating factor but not by least the only goal of a tiny house. When you consider the higher level of details and materials used, maintenance, insuring, and space fees (either taxes and purchase price of land, lease payments or expensive RV park) are not the most affordable route.
    If however your primary goal is to create affordable place for you to dwell, then there are cheaper ways of accomplishing this that are more easily achievable.
    The point of your comment that makes an even stronger point of discussion is……where do you draw the line between what would be considered a house that should be built to a form of standards or codes and other forms of housing for homeless or those who can’t afford normal housing? In many places its legal to live in your vehicle on city streets. There is a flow of homeless when the sun sets that make their beds wherever is convenient. We’re not rounding up those individuals and requiring them to live in code approved buildings.
    My opinion is that while the lines and implementation is gray, homelessness is an epidemic that needs to be adequately addressed. Most people on the street would choose to live in a safe, healthy code approved dwelling. They’re at risk otherwise. The next step is cheap options for housing homeless such as tents, trailers, and some other great designs that have been proposed. The line there is that those types of structures are there as a temporary means of transitional housing. They’re not meant for the long term needs of an occupant. They should be built to some standard but not be under the realm of building codes. I think the category we’re talking about here and what the overwhelming majority of the tiny homes are is to fill the purpose of long term housing. In code speak…..a dwelling unit. That definition (which applies here), puts tiny homes in a position where we should be seeking out a standard that applies and provides for safety and welfare that the building codes do.
    People are trying to stuff tiny homes into an RV classification which is not the proper classification and is not supported by regulations or standards.

      Thomas Malkin - March 13, 2014 Reply

      My point is not that we are trying to build homes for homeless people. We’re trying to create a home at significantly less cost so that someday we *don’t* become homeless, and have a life with some dignity and cash left over. The people who are already ruined are not being helped by anything we are doing in this area. No money, no house.

      A social security income should be sufficient to live on if we don’t have to spend 3/4 of it on a slum apartment – if any such are allowed to survive for us to rent. The idea is to spend the money on a tiny bit of land, preferably where McMansioners don’t want to live, build a house for $15,000 and up, and be done with it other than maintenance and property taxes. If the house burns down, it’s cheap enough to build another. And another.

      We don’t want to be a problem, and we don’t have to be.

      As for homeless by accident- remember Katrina’s unhomed, who were lent FEMA trailers? The trailers’ cost were enormous, were shoddily made and leaked gases into the living space. Those cost the taxpayers a fortune. Every solution brought forth by private industry for the homeless winds up costing ten times what our tiny houses cost. More. I recall the cost of building a subsidized apartment is a quarter million dollars per unit. These costs are injected costs. The materials cost no where near that much, the labor is paid near minimum wage or below (I have experience here), and the results are sometimes terrible. Further, the way buildings are made now make them collapse in twenty years, thanks to the capital funds who bought up the forestry rights 25 years ago. As you’ve said, they won’t let us have real wood at a real price when they can sell soft pine or poplar, or sawdust mixed with resin, at ever higher prices. Pure crap, and code should never have approved it – if code protects us, then how did that happen? Code apparently is about approving of what capital funds want to make for ever more profit. If it was about health, safety and structural integrity, the butt-ended soft wood and glued-together beams would be against code. That anything goes for money invalidates the thesis that code=our safety. The building code is for sale. I’ve seen what used to be called construction and what screwed-and-glued softwood junk is called construction now.

      We don’t want to live in tents. We don’t want to live in quarter million dollar slums. People have made their own homes for a quarter million years, one way or another. We claim that right, if we harm no one else but ourselves. We don’t have time for discussions – we need to start now, as the sooner we remove ourselves from the wheel of enriching banks and landlords the more we’ll have left over from expenses to live as other than paupers.

      It’s odd that this came up in this blog, esp. with so many agreeing with the premise that tiny houses shouldn’t be built at all. People who would agree with the premise wouldn’t read this blog, much less post in it. Is there a counter-strike from the building industry starting here, as a prelude to a nationwide ban on tiny houses?

        Todd S - March 14, 2014 Reply

        You make very valid points Thomas. I do have to agree with the profit motive point you make. Tiny homes are a grass root movement to fill a need that isn’t being met. I totally understand the financial goals that tiny homes meet (because they are mine as well).
        I am in the design and building industry and have seen what materials cost for low quality crap, what it costs for labor, and the amount of fees and taxes imposed. All this contributes to the cost of the typical house. What is pushed as affordable housing ($250k per unit as you mentioned) is ridiculous.
        My motivations come from wanting to see real affordable, quality, well designed places that people can reside in which allows them to pursue the freedom from the cost and impact the typical 2,400 sf house in today’s society creates. My motivations are most definitely not to squash this movement, but to see how I can best be involved to move this forward in a responsible manner.

Thomas Malkin - March 12, 2014 Reply

One other thing – I’ve not looked at house construction close-up since I was a kid. I’ve looked.

What the hell happened??

Butt-joined studs held together with galvanized steel plates and strips screwed to the wood? That was what clowns used to do to fix up sheds! This is CODE? This is carpentry? Houses built like decks! And it costs more than it ever did when carpenters used actual joinery. Houses are being built to fall apart in twenty years. Planned obsolescence. I think I’ll build mine they way it used to be done. Well.

    Todd S - March 12, 2014 Reply

    Dimensional lumber is not what it was 30 years ago. We harvest lumber sooner and finger joint smaller pieces together to make a stud. The standard grade for construction (#2 or better) is definitely of much less quality and to get something better is cost-prohibitive for the average home build. This isn’t because of the codes……its because of the change in the trees harvested and lumber manufacturers trying to maximize profits.
    The codes have kept up with the decreasing quality of dimensional lumber and have modified the span charts and such accordingly. I use solid 2x material for wall construction due to economics. Its frustrating to get a load of lumber and have to reject 20% of it because they’re chewed up or twisted. Not to mention how difficult it is to get a nice flat finish wall.
    On the flip side, there are now the option of engineered wood products which are higher performing and use less resources.

      Thomas Malkin - March 13, 2014 Reply

      It started, as 60 Minutes documented back in 1988 or so, when a few capital funds – hedge funds, leveraged buy-out scamsters and others – bought up lumber harvesting rights from lumber companies.

      They then, at the moment Clinton took office as President, tripled the price of lumber, blaming Clinton for increasing their costs and because hippies made them do it, or something, in 1992.

      Home construction prices went sky-high. Steel became used in wall construction. Crap construction methods became code, such as glued-beam, “manufactured” wood made of sawdust and resin, trusses made using galvanized steel L brackets. Beadboard, soft wood, wood that people wouldn’t have used to make a chicken coop became code-approved. Houses are built much like trailers homes now.

      We *could* have hardwood, if we took back the lumber rights from capital funds which bought them for a pittance, and had government manage the planting of oak, maple, and other good construction material. We didn’t run out. We let bastards take over and let them force changes to the building code. We let robber barons turn the forests into soft pine plantations, with the goal of increasing profits every quarter. Capital funds are so rich now they are effectively becoming independent nation states.

      At least with small houses, it is possible that we can get a hold of small quantities of actual wood, and build something *other* than a capital-fund-approved softwood home that will fall apart after twenty years. We can build better than code.

        Michael - March 13, 2014 Reply

        It sure sounds Iike you are infuriated by the idea that the Government could tell you how to build your own house on your own private property. Yet you have no problem advocating that that very same Government tell other landowners exactly which species of tree to plant on their own private property. There is word for that starting with an H and ending with a Y and it ain’t honey.

David C. Burdick, Construction Manager - March 12, 2014 Reply

“Tiny houses don’t have to meet building codes because they’re registered as a vehicle so they fit in with criteria of the Transport Agency, which means a maximum of 12.5m long, 4.25m high and 2.5m wide. And they can’t weigh more than 3.5 tonnes.”
~ Bryce Langston, Living Big In A Tiny House (Australia), “Twelve Questions: Bryce Langston”, The New Zealand Herald, Thursday Mar 13, 2014, 5:30 AM (They are past the prime meridian)

Julie M. - March 12, 2014 Reply

This has been a very informative thread even though I live in Toronto and none of the specifics of the agencies apply. But of one thing I am certain; as this movement grows if it does not do so responsibly, our government will step in. If the fire dept has to be called you better believe there will be repercussions!
This was also helpful because it gave me just the basic terminology to begin a search about building codes, zoning regulations and what would be classed as an RV, “modular home” and a “load” on a trailer. This is the first time I have heard liability insurance mentioned! I hope I find it easier to research here with our federal and provincial governments because for instance, the punishment for a crime is the same from sea to sea. I hope to find more uniformity from community to community here as I choose a location possibly outside Ontario.
How I wish I were doing this in my 20’s when I could do all the work myself.
I look forward to more informative articles and sane discussion!

    Darren Hannabass - March 12, 2014 Reply

    Hi Julie,
    My article achieved its purpose. Codes aren’t that bad once you know what you’re looking for. Most codes are pretty straightforward, but I do admit, even as an architect, I have noticed some of the structural requirements are difficult to understand, but there are people in the building industry that care enough to educate the public. If you have a building authority generally they are helpful and can point the homeowner in the right direction. I was recently pulling a permit for a commercial client of mine and I didn’t know something related to the permitting process. I was in Arlington County, Virginia and over the years I have noticed the county has gotten better in serving their citizens when it comes to the permitting process. It was an interesting experience – weird as that sounds I know. I went there and they took me through the entire process and I’m happy to say even I missed some things during design that I’m happy to correct as a result. A lack of care in construction has no place other than bringing harm to the public.

      Todd S - March 12, 2014 Reply

      Darren….I also have found out of the many projects both commercial and residential that I’ve permitted have been a relatively painless process.
      What I’ve usually found whenever there has been an issue during permit approval and inspection comes from a lack of experience or not being familiar with a certain product or construction method. Especially 6-10 years ago when jurisdictions struggled to keep up. The jurisdictions had to hire plan reviewers that were very green. The solution is to take a proactive approach and open dialog with the jurisdictions from the very early planning stages. This typically avoids the types of problems mentioned that people have experienced. My experience has been that the building officials want to help and make the progress easy on you.

David C. Burdick, Construction Manager - March 12, 2014 Reply

Mr. Hannabass:
There seems, no is, convolution as to the real definition of a “Tiny House.” Until one can be nailed down, the national, county, & municipal codes cannot really apply. E.G., Palm Harbor Homes, Model 12351F
(http://www.palmharbor.com/model-center/austin5/stock/stock-131452-51-150-12351F/) is denoted as a “Single-wide, Manufactured” home BUT is only 339 s.f., which is comparable to a single-story, large Tiny House. I’m firm believer in the incorporation of codes for just your reason herein, “…there are a lot of people out there that will take unnecessary shortcuts and provide unsafe housing.” I’ve already seen this in the electrical wiring. I see the movement as feverish as legalizing pot; some builders of Tiny Houses are in it for the quick buck, performing terrible workmanship, and thus don’t care for the customers in the long run.

    Darren Hannabass - March 12, 2014 Reply

    David,
    Your points are well taken. I’m glad to see the debates are going well here as I really wanted to increase public awareness on the subject.

    Others had made important points of taking these issues to the building officials to have them become allies in achieving their goal. Anyone who has been in the buliding industry long enough know how imperfect the process is and yes there are some unscrupulous people out there. Websites like Angie’s List try and flush out who is good and who isn’t Websites like the Virginia Department of Occupational and Regulation (VDPOR) is a great resource for the potential building owner to determine not only if an architect is reliable but a contractor as well.

Susan Bst - March 12, 2014 Reply

I would like to point out the obvious. Every house that ever burned down, slid down a mountain, collapsed in an earthquake, got crushed by a tree, got flattened by a tornado or hurricane was up to code. The World Trade Center was up to code. This is about power and money, not necessarily safety.

    Todd S - March 12, 2014 Reply

    Building codes have been around for over 60 years, yet they didn’t really get serious for residential construction until the 80’s. Permits for new homes rarely got a second look by building departments before approving prior to this time.
    Yes…..buildings built since the middle of the 20th century were mostly built to code. What you’re not considering is that codes have changed and adapted because of those failures and accidents and continual investigation and testing. Your comments sound as though you’re assuming the code today is the same as the code back then. In fact they are drastically different resulting in much safer buildings and lives saved. The World Trade Center was completed in 1973 when the codes were a lot less stringent. Buildings today are more structurally sound, more energy efficient and safer than the houses in the past.

      Mike - March 13, 2014 Reply

      Last I looked, the building code didn’t have a requirement for surviving wide body jet infiltration.

        Todd S - March 13, 2014 Reply

        You’re not familiar with the current codes then. True, the events of 9/11 would have been tragic had the twin towers been built today, however the loss of life would have most likely been reduced and possibly not have the catastrophic structural failure that brought the entire buildings down.
        The codes use 1, 2, 3 or 4 hour fire rated assemblies that are tested and approved. This doesn’t necessarily prevent fires from eventually destroying an entire structure, but the point that’s missed is that the codes are meant to contain and slow the expansion of fire and allow time for and clear egress from the building. Things that weren’t as well developed or enforced in 1973 when those towers were built.
        One of the results that came from that tragedy that is now being codified is that stairs cores now are being required to have luminescent marking. This allows for fleeing people in a dark smoke-filled building to find their way to doors and miss obstructions.

Richard Bryant, AIA - March 12, 2014 Reply

Good work Darren in bringing the many code violations in Tiny Houses to the forum. You are absolutely correct that many of the units built by companies for sale and by DIY folks are often filled with significant health and safety violations.

Given the ambulance chasing nature of our legal system, design and construction firms that hope to sell their units and bloggers and publishers who hope to attract advertising income are setting their companies up for financial disaster.

Promoting, offering, recommending, and selling Tiny Houses that contain serious health and safety problems will make one a target.

Just because the Tiny House concept is attractive to a unique (some say pioneering) segment of our society, does not mean that blog promoters and builders will not become a prime target for a law suit. If an owner or guest falls off a non-code stair or deck, dies in a tragic fire due to a non-code installation of a wood stove or cook stove, becomes ill due to off-gassing of toxic chemicals and spread of toxic mold spores, or simply expires due to carbon-monoxide poisoning, then you can and should be sued to the full extent of the law.

Tiny House folks are likely very adept at finding both rookie and seasoned lawyers who will gladly take a product liability legal case on a contingent-fee basis. Such lawyers spread their legal net far and wide and will drag in everybody remotely associated with a death or injury caused by known or “shudda-known” problems that seem to appear too often in the pages of this and other Tiny House blogs, magazines, advertisements and books.

Let the Buyer and Seller beware.

    Anne - March 12, 2014 Reply

    Very true Richard, it is the #1 reason many who allowed people to park them on their land no longer do. (Most amusing attempt I have heard of was a TH dweller who threatened to sue for falling on their OWN step because ‘the ground wasn’t level enough’. lol)

curt - March 12, 2014 Reply

Interesting post. Three issues. 1. zoning(the real big bad wolf) 2. Building codes(one size fits all) 3. Local rules and regulations(not in my backyard) The creation of a small house on a wheel foundation-a response to try and get around zoning. Building codes- really are a good thing- remember the codes are a minimum you can always build better- just the building codes do not recognize innovation and alternative materials and can be a little bit rigid. I must admit The idea of a loft with no alternative escape route-freeks me out. Then you have Local rules- I was reading my home counties zoning-and laughed when I saw that no mobile homes are allowed. Remember zoning is not “BAD” Just usually designed to be average and conforming and economical for the city to run-creativity = lots of manpower to review and research and gray areas- government loves standardized forms and checked boxes. You also do have home owner associations, neighborhood associations,historical community districts, nosy neighbors all who want a say in how the neighborhood is managed.
You can always do what you want until you get caught. So be a good neighbor-do things over time so they are less noticeable and realize that eventually you might need to tear the building down or that it has no resale value.

    Todd S - March 13, 2014 Reply

    Exactly…..zoning and CC&R’s are the biggest obstacle for tiny homes. Not necessarily the building codes. You’ll be hard pressed to find a parcel that isn’t completely rural that you can legally place a wheeled tiny home on for a long term basis.

BOBHENRY - March 13, 2014 Reply

Zoning is generally where I can put it and code is related to how it was built.

My biggest concern when building my 8 x 20 tiny house was the total lack of wind shear from long side to long side due to having no interior cross walls. To overcome this I designed a rather radical roof system. I radius cut 17″ x 8′ 1/2″ cdx plywood rips to a 10 foot radius. This cut left about 11 inches at the outside ends. These routed roof joist were paired as a set and the ends were glued and screwed to each side of a 2×6 wall stud that then carried the roof load to the bottom wall plate. This roof and incorporated stud made a horseshoe shaped component without the hinge point that a common truss connected to a top plate would have created. I have no engineering degree and am quite sure that this non standard framing will leave the building inspector ready to red tag my caboose. However it has proven to be a very soild method of framing that leaves no wiggle and flex in the frame even before it was sheathed. I am far less worried about the building codes than I am about the zoning board. I have the tiny house built and the property purchased I now have to place the home illegally on the property and start the request for varience or exception. They tell me I must apply as a one unit campground as they are catagorizing my tiny house as an RV. They have also alluded to the fact I have a snowballs chance in hell of it passing. I have no intention of adding tail lights and side marker lights and a license plate to give them further creedance that it is an RV. IT IS NOT AN RV it is a tiny house and until this catagory is offered the tiny house movement is at the mercy of each and every local bureaucrat and the powers he can muster. I am certain I will be ticketed, fined and court ordered to vacate the property but all the while I will be contacting every newspaper, web site , and TV station in an attempt to gain some support and to add an embarassment factor to the local goverment officials. I may be asking for a letter writting campaign from each of you to come to my aid by showing support.

    Todd S - March 13, 2014 Reply

    Great story on how you understood the deficiency and came up with a solution. One of the problems that can be in my experience frustrating about codes are they historically haven’t allowed a lot of options without expensive outside engineering or testing. That’s beginning to change with the latest revision.
    Its refreshing to see your approach. You understand that tiny homes fall in the cracks of code definition. You understand its an important movement that needs to be recognized and allowed. You’re doing what you can to make your tiny house legal. And you understand that this rubbish of classifying a tiny home as an RV is wrong. An RV is a vehicle meant to travel around and be used as shelter temporarily. Not to live in long term as your dwelling. That’s a house.

    Jane - March 15, 2014 Reply

    Bob,
    I’m with you. I’m buying the land, and having a very stable tiny house built, and then will apply for whatever variance I need. I have planned on becoming a very vocal activist, also, so I’ll be here to help you, and you can return the favor. I’m near Seattle. Where are you?

    Anne - March 16, 2014 Reply

    “I am certain I will be ticketed, fined and court ordered to vacate the property but all the while I will be contacting every newspaper, web site , and TV station in an attempt to gain some support and to add an embarassment factor to the local goverment officials.”

    Be sure to know what doing this will mean in your area… It may or may not work. More likely to if you are in a rural, depressed area. Many places it will get your property destroyed. The fact that you appear to think this is a new strategy tells me you are new to the TH movement, so please do your homework and know what your losses will be before you attempt it. Especially if you have sunk your life savings into it…

Mike - March 13, 2014 Reply

I don’t suppose that the irony that the Tiny House movement is a direct response to what architects are not providing in the housing market has occurred to anyone. Regulation is all well and good, but regulating tiny house construction is akin to regulating a tree house. Unwelcome and an inappropriate level of oversight.

Better to provide a Design Guide for Safety versus the heavy hand of a jurisdictional authority sucking all the joy out of things. That’s all the regulation needed and concerned architects might just want to get going on it. (Hint, hint.)

Some folks are far too involved with their inner parent to consider the ratio of the joy of a tiny house versus the small likelihood of a fire or the frustration of a code officer showing up. It’s true, I’ve seen tiny homes with too few windows (and tiny ones at that) for an alternate egress, most especially in loft sleeping areas, but then again, how far does a tiny house owner have to travel to get out of danger? Certainly not as far as someone in a 5500 square foot McMansion…

    Dewber - March 13, 2014 Reply

    Nailed it.

    Anne - March 13, 2014 Reply

    Your first comment is only partially true, it is part of the reason (btw, in many places that regulate, tree houses are restricted and/or regulated, at least partially. In some for instance 8×10 ground structures aren’t but when elevated, they are.) The push against McMansions is rather new 20-30 years, largely because McMansions are a new thing. The original TH movements were for many reasons…

    There are places you can build with no regs, they just tend to be isolated. One of the more recent trends in TH is the ones who want them like the benefits of conventional society, they just don’t want to pay the price of that choice. It will likely take another 20-30 years to balance the reality of the different attitudes. (For instance, in most applications compost toilets can be made safe now, but it will take time for communities to understand you aren’t talking about bringing back old style outhouses.)

    Todd S - March 13, 2014 Reply

    Your first point is a great comment that hasn’t really been touched on in this discussion. The TH movement is definitely in response to the lack of options in the current housing market. Traditional Japanese architecture often saw 3 generations living in 600 sf. The average US house size in 1950 was around 950 sf……today it is over 2,400 sf! The TH is a knee-jerk reaction by informed people who realize the current housing trends aren’t what’s best for them. Whether its economic, sustainability or freedom.
    Where the argument falls short is placing the blame on the design community. Tiny homes do lack a large support by the design industry…..until now, its been more of a grass roots DIY type movement. However the reason we have McMansions is because that’s what people want. We live in a society of bigger is better and edifices for the inner ego. Architects respond to the demand their clients are asking for. If they didn’t, they’d be out a job.
    I develop spec homes and do my best to keep them “right sized” for what they are. On my last house I squeezed as much square footage out of it the CC&Rs would allow. It’s gigantic by the tiny house standards at 1,542 sf yet I can’t sell it because its too small. The other houses I’ve built that are 100-300 sf larger were snatched up instantly. It will however be good to see more involvement from the design industry and see what we can do to move this concept forward.

Mike Kephart - March 13, 2014 Reply

Good Replys:
I’ve worked as an architect for 40 years and recently sat through two full days studying the new version of the International Residental building code as I do with every update of every code that I am responsible to follow.

I confess to a blind spot here. I found it reassuring to think that something could escape the clutches of regulations just by adding wheels. I design small houses which are larger than Tiny Houses and none of my designs are on wheels, but I have been laboring under a gross misunderstanding if it isn’t true that wheels are the path to freedom. I am disappointed but, I would be willing to wager (mentally only) that this revelation will not stop the clandestine building of Tiny Houses on wheels. Roll on in the name of freedom.

    Anne - March 13, 2014 Reply

    Wheels still can be freedom, just not the way the ones who fell for the ‘total freedom, no rules’ sales pitch thought. Given time and more commnities willing to allow (with proper safety standards) it may turn around. Until then I suspect the ones who put their life savings into something before finding if they can actually use it will learn some hard lessons…

Seen It All - March 13, 2014 Reply

I have been a building inspector in a rural area for a very long time. While I have enjoyed reading this blog for the past few years, some of the designs make me cringe a bit too. Some people like to rant about their right to live where they want and in what they want, these same people will not hesitate to call for emergency services when a catastrophe happens. Incorrectly constructed buildings of any size can be hazardous and life-threatening, whether it is electrocution from faulty wiring, structure collapse, fire, asphyxiation, carbon monoxide poisoning or a host of other problems.

This puts all emergency responders and neighbors at risk. There are dangers for these brave people in trying to save your life, and the staffing, training and supplying these departments costs all taxpayers. Additionally, homeowner’s insurance premiums for different regions are based on a variety of factors which include how effective and well trained the inspection department is and what is allowed to be built in that region.

We all collectively live in a community and a society that we expect to conform to a set of standards and rules, allowing certain freedoms and rights, and in return, for the common good, these communities and society expects each of us to conform to the same minimum standards.

Even if you think that you may be exempt from certain codes by a technicality or loophole, every person building a house of any size themselves should get a professional review of their construction from a second set of eyes. Get a licensed electrician to come over and take a look, take your plans to a structural engineer and explain your ideas. Most often, this costs far less that you may think. The electrician may be able to stop by, driving between jobs and be so interested in your project that he will do it for coffee and some homemade muffins. He may also suggest a product that will work better and last longer. The engineer may suggest a different method of construction that would make your building stronger and save you money. You have a substantial amount of time, energy and money into this project, so don’t skimp where it counts the most.

    Thomas Malkin - March 13, 2014 Reply

    Has any of that actually happened? How many hurt so far? As a result of such bad design, I mean. How many hurt in cars, BTW, which are rolling death machines with liquid explosives onboard; we never consider risks of cars as we do everything else,’cause we like riding cars.

    If a tiny house catches on fire, the owner drops out a window to the ground, worst case most of the time. Same thing in a regular house, actually. Worst case dead, of course, but you can die in a regular house too. What are the numbers, not the perception?

    Use of emergency services: who put more of a strain on a fire department – tiny house on fire, or McMansion on fire? Which has more fuel contained in the structure? Which has more people in the structure who can be trapped in the smoke? Which has the least distance to a possible exit?

    a CO detector in a tiny house works faster than one in a six room house, because it will go off so much faster – less travel time for the gas before it hits the sensor.

    Safety is not our only concern in life, not if we’re sane. No absolute, ever-increasing safety. We are the safest horde of monkeys ever to live. Our perception of danger is insanely out of proportion to the reality. We can’t make the universe baby safe.

      Sheila McChesney - May 12, 2014 Reply

      Completely agree! I live in an area where the false concern for safety and building codes have just been an excuse for creating revenue for the county. I am hyper vigilant about the safety and strength of my home and have followed all the building rules. I don’t think I should have to pay well over 1200 dollars for a permit that no one even pays attention to. Our county requires a 50 dollar permit to build a dog house, is this for the community good??

      TJ Houston - January 1, 2016 Reply

      well said Thomas Malkin

    Anne - March 13, 2014 Reply

    Nicely stated, Seen It All. You sound like our local 😉 Common sense with a sense of adventure and an acceptance of the new as long as it meets basic safety requirements in the community. After all, why pick a community to live in the first place if you don’t like it?

    Paula - March 21, 2014 Reply

    I have to say that I am a rebel at heart and I’m one of those that will be quick to say that someone has no right to tell me how to live or what to do with my property. There are FAR too many rules and regulations out there for my taste.

    HOWEVER, I do have to say that you make some great points and I especially appreciate how you stated “We all collectively live in a community and a society that we expect to conform to a set of standards and rules, allowing certain freedoms and rights, and in return, for the common good, these communities and society expects each of us to conform to the same minimum standards.”

Todd S - March 13, 2014 Reply

This has been an incredibly engaging and needed conversation. Due to my lack of understanding on the RV regulations that have been brought up, I’ve been doing my research and would like to share what I’ve learned. While I’m pretty versed in the building codes and somewhat the HUD standards, I dug into the various standards and regulations for RVs that are out there.
First of all, if you are not building on a trailer and you build your tiny house on some form of support and you occupy it, it is most clearly a dwelling as defined and governed by the International Residential Code. That means you need escape windows at sleeping areas, a 36″ wide entry door, smoke/CO detectors, ventilation, minimum of 120 sf with no dimension in a habitable room less than 7′ and a ceiling height of 7’6″ min. Also must meet the National Electric Code, International Plumbing Code, the applicable energy codes and more. All of which seem like a lot, but are easily accommodated.
If however your tiny house is factory built or built off site, attached to a permeant chassis (trailer) and placed where you intend to occupy it, then it is defined by code as a manufactured home and is subject to the HUD standards and Appendix E of the IRC. HUD references the various supporting codes such as the National Electric Code. The problem here is that the HUD standards is even more problematic in applying to a tiny house. Per HUD, a manufactured home has to be at least 400 sf, 8.5′ or more in width and 40′ or more in length. Also they have to have 2 egress doors. This is larger than many tiny homes seen here.
Where the ambiguity lies is if your tiny house’s dimensions don’t meet the HUD minimums, then they’re not governed by the HUD requirements
This brings us to the RV argument which I think is not accurate. As my other posts have stated, an RV is for travel and temporary recreational shelter…….not a residence. If, however it were true that you could classify a tiny house as an RV, then this is what would be required. First of all an RV has to legally travel down public roads. This means certification by the NTSA and labeled as such. This requires a VIN number. If you build on a trailer that has a VIN and have all the proper lights, plates, etc then you’re good there. Looking at what defines an RV in the standards, tiny homes fall most closely into the category of “park trailer”. This definition is regulated by ANSI/A119.5 as well as the national electric code. These two standards define life safety requirements, fire prevention and such much like the building codes. NFPA 1192 would also apply. I do not have copies of these standards to see the details, however they should be fairly stringent on ensuring that life safety measures are met just like the IRC and HUD. Also, RVs are in many cases not allowed to be occupied in one location for other than a temporary basis if at all (by ordinance or zoning).
The main point being the tiny homes are meant to be a occupied dwelling which by definition should be to the standards that other housing adhere to (albeit, modified to allow for the needs of tiny home which they currently don’t). Just because a tiny house is very small and goes against the norm for housing, does not mean its anything other than a house.
The choice to not involve a permitting jurisdiction and thumb your nose at government intervention is your prerogative and I can understand that position. However, I would strongly suggest you educate yourselves and build to the codes regardless if you want to pay the Man and having them watch over you.
I am currently doing contracted inspection on a multi-family housing project on a native reservation. They are autonomous and can build however they want to as many of you are suggesting should be allowed. However, all the projects I’ve been involved with on reservations are designed and built to current codes. The reason is they understand that this is the best approach for the safety of their members and protection of their money spent. The few cases I’ve heard of where they cut corners and didn’t build to the codes, the structures were failing within a few years and were a loss. They had to tear them down and replace them with buildings that were to code. You can’t argue that current codes better protect the occupants and the community and ensure quality construction and energy efficiency.

    Anne - March 13, 2014 Reply

    Thank you Todd and Darren (and others) for your expertise. This is perhaps the best convo on it I have ever seen and I have been on Kent’s site (among others) for many years. Those who ignore the safety rules do so at their own peril now, they can no longer claim ignorance of them.

Michael - March 13, 2014 Reply

IMHO, it is inaccurate to suggest that the TH movement is only about getting cheap housing. It may surprise some folks that people who could afford a traditional sized home might choose otherwise. It is not all about saving money: using fewer resources, leaving a smaller footprint on the land, being able to have two or even three tiny vacation homes in different locales for the price of one big one, etc. I cannot imagine spending tens of thousands of dollars on a tiny home and not have it insured and it is simply inconceivable that we would risk assets that we have spent a lifetime working hard to aquire

Michael - March 13, 2014 Reply

IMHO, it is inaccurate to suggest that the TH movement is only about getting cheap housing for young people. It may surprise some folks that people who could afford a traditional sized home might choose otherwise. It is not all about saving money: using fewer resources, leaving a smaller footprint on the land, being able to have two or even three tiny vacation homes in different locales for the price of one big one, etc. I cannot imagine spending tens of thousands of dollars on a tiny home and not have it insured and it is simply inconceivable that we would risk assets that we have spent a lifetime working hard to acquire by going without a liability policy. Yet this is effectively what would happen were we to buy or build a TH that does not meet code and is thus uninsurable. Even if we were to get a policy, if the home was found to be substandard in any way after a claim that claim would be denied. No matter how many payments we had made.

If the tiny homes are ever to transition from a Movement to an Industry buyers, insurers and especially lenders have to be assured that these homes will neither fall to pieces prematurely nor kill or injure their occupants. How else can this be done except by having a recognized and uniform standard of construction?

Doc - March 13, 2014 Reply

I have to say that the original article here may be somewhat misled. The tiny house movement as a whole does not support building substandard housing. Quite the contrary. Even more so when on wheels. They have supported building beyond average standards to include corner strapping, superior screw fasteners, glued everything joints, hurricane tie downs in excess at the studs joists and rafters, insulation up the wazoo and so on. They have stressed avoiding government inspections and the accompanying permits that would be imposed on traditional structures.
As for manufactured housing rules they do not apply here as they require inspections throughout each stage of the building process to be certified as such. These are simply “loads on a trailer”. Again, you want to build beyond code on a trailer as these are moving down the road at tropical storm speeds and the vibration of an earthquake while traveling relative to the home.
Plumbing, electrical and gas installation should be performed by professionals if you do not possessed the skills to do it safely yourself. Again, building these beyond the minimum standard of codes as these will also be moving with the structure.
As small as they are it has been proposed that you can build this higher quality home ad these features do not cost as much as they would similarly appointed McMansion homes. You get a smaller better built home that is mortgage free, possibly without property taxes and utility bills frequently in the single digits per month. So the “cheap” among us reap the rewards after the building cycle not cutting corners during the construction phase.
But that’s just my opinion. 🙂
Keep up the good work here!

Bill Kastrinos - March 14, 2014 Reply

As owner of Tortoise Shell Home, I am a little reluctant to enter this discussion, but among the excellent comments, I see there is confusion by some of the posters here. First, a tiny home may be built to ANSI 119.5 RV standards without special business licensing, if the home is under 8 ft 6 in wide and under 40 ft long. HUD has nothing to do with it, or any other Manufacturing Home Regulations. Membership in RVIA is a good idea for manufacturers, but not necessary for home builders. Independent inspectors to verify compliance are a good idea, but not mandatory at this point. True, by definition, RVs are for temporary residence. Retired people among others, however, live in RVs both on the road and parked, often times permanently parked, by the millions. Your choice here, possible clash with bureaucracy? One caveat worth mentioning, RV rules are self enforced by the individual manufacturer. Additionally, V.I.N. numbers reflect the trailer, and if the house is treated as a load, that could get sticky with a bored DMV official. In California one can have the finished home inspected by an independent inspector approved by DMV, and they append the trailer paperwork to reflect the tiny house attached. Park Models are built to slightly different ANSI rules, but they are still the Wild West in some requests. Keep in mind most manufactured RVs or Park Models, are built in clean dry environments, unlike stick built homes. Stick built homes in the Pacific Northwest can get a tremendous amount of water before the home is enclosed. I cringe when I see drenched osb joists and sub floor, repeatedly getting wet in the rain before the roof is finished. Controlled environments yield superior homes in many ways. The idea that really offends me in this discussion, is the idea that the average person is too dumb to build a house without a government inspector or engineer. Or that the average Manufacturer is too concerned about profit to do things right. I poured a 50 ft concrete beam for our home deck, 16 ft in the air. You bet I paid an engineer for those specs. But my experience also shows engineers often beat the minor details to death, and will ignore specifics on attaching that 20 foot chimney. Worried about liability are we? A standard built house, however, is already engineered. And many Building Codes recognize that, even publishing standard beam spans, frame member spacing, and foundation cross sections, for instance, to make sure you are within approved design parameters. As far as other concerns, I have never met anyone that would wire their own house, unless they had experience doing that, or poured a bunch of time and study into how to do it. And then having someone who knows take a look, is a no brainer too. Again, is stupidity assumed here? As far as building inspectors, no offense intended, but most are experts (like all of us) in certain areas. Many do not know electrical, for instance, other than simple load understanding. Ask them to check out that 4 way circuit for correct wiring, forget it, let alone your automatic generator switch. Also, to assume that discussion is not taking place on securing homes once parked, is not right. I don’t ever recall reading an article or cautions about securing your Manufactured Home, but I have never seen one that was not secured with hold down straps, in the absence of a foundation. While most of the time a tiny home (like the RV in your drive way or your car for that matter) is fine not secured, if you are parked semi permanently, hold downs should be considered, and used in our opinion. Get hit by a tornado, hold downs will be all that remains of your house. I would be glad to write an article on how to secure a home, something we discuss with all of our customers, if Kent would like. Much more to be said, I spent years in the aviation industry, including as a Repair Station Inspector (A&P Mechanic), and I will tell you, Home Built Aircraft are absolutely awesome. Check out Oskosh. There is that Wild West Mentality somewhat, but the craftsmanship I have seen over the years is absolutely remarkable, and often superior to Manufactured Aircraft. And those aircraft are not inspected by the FAA per se, the FAA only inspects that they are built according to the plan provided by the homebuilder, who assumes the roll of manufacturer. Any horror stories? Sure. Any horror stories about Contractors and Building Inspectors? Sure. I see that same pride in the Tiny House Movement, and many contractors and building professionals might even learn a thing or two from the enthusiasm and craftmanship I see in these modern day pioneers. And there is nothing like the satisfaction of building your own home. A singularity, unique, personal.

    Anne - March 14, 2014 Reply

    Love your designs Bill, but the issue isn’t so much what can be built and transported legally as what can be parked and lived in. Knowing the rules in ones area will avoid them needing to unload the TH on someone else in 6 months because they did not do their homework.

    It is all well and good to have a vision as long as pertinent information is not left out to make a sale. (Not that you would do this, but others have…)

      Bill Kastrinos - March 18, 2014 Reply

      Thanks Anne. Just for the record, our houses cannot be removed from the trailer. Technically, in California, the only place you can be sure you won’t get hassled is an RV park that allows full timers. Many people park on friends lots, farms, etc., but then you have to be aware of what Counties allow, overlook, or do not permit at all. More and more RV parks, however, are catering to small houses. Take a look at Jay Shafer’s Sonoma County Planned RV community as another alternative. Fantastic! We will be seeing more of that I am hoping! And once again, seeing some more posts, most Tiny Home Builders that I am familiar with, build to and are exceeding RV ANSI rules, we are not building to manufactured home rules, or local building codes. Several inspectors have told me (including a state inspector), correctly, “you are not within our jurisdiction, as long as hook-ups stay hook-ups, and you are on wheels.” Thanks again for allowing me to chime in!

    Angela Alcorn - March 15, 2014 Reply

    Bill,
    I want to thank you for all that you said in this post. I know you wanted to avoid being involved in the discussion but I’m glad you spoke up.
    I am a wife and a mother of two girls, and I am a tiny house “Enthusiasts”. My husband and I have been planning our tiny house life for over 6 months and we’re doing it by choice! I’m a dental hygienist (20 yrs) and my husband a computer programmer, prior to this he served in the USN. We have spent our entire lives as a middle class family and never living above our means. But, life has a crazy way of changing and God had other plans for us. My husband had always worked from home so one of us could be with our children, but then he lost his job. After looking unsuccessfully, we began planning a new future for our family. Over the past six months we have become involved in the tiny-house community and have extensively researched the build of our tiny-house. I’ve had people ask, “why don’t you just buy an RV?” The reason is, RVs are built for recreational use, our tiny-house will be better quality than some traditional homes. We are building our tiny-house because we believe our time is more valuable than things. The stress of keeping up a mortgage and all the bills was tearing our family apart. So many people are in the position of living paycheck to paycheck, this isn’t living! We came to realize that our purpose on this earth was to live a life full of quality and not quantity, and that’s what we plan on doing. I could tell you more but I’ll stop here. I hope this helps some of the tiny house critics see the view from a “tiny-house enthusiast”.

Cynthia McDaniel - March 14, 2014 Reply

Such regulations would also protect those who buy tiny homes. There have been many tiny homes posted for sale only months after they are built. Where is the guarantee that they are built to a higher quality as Doc has suggested? Yes, many are but there are also some where it is clear that the amateur builder is making decisions based on guess work. These decisions will impact the quality of the tiny house.

Bill B - March 14, 2014 Reply

In case anyone is interested, here are links to various building and construction codes.

Internation Code Council Online Library
http://publicecodes.cyberregs.com/icod/

International Residential Code for One- and Two-Family Dwellings
http://publicecodes.cyberregs.com/icod/irc/index.htm
or
https://archive.org/details/gov.law.icc.irc.2012
pdf download at
https://archive.org/download/gov.law.icc.irc.2012/icc.irc.2012.pdf

International Fire Code
http://publicecodes.cyberregs.com/icod/ifc/index.htm
or
https://archive.org/details/gov.law.icc.ifc.2012
pdf download at
https://archive.org/download/gov.law.icc.ifc.2012/icc.ifc.2012.pdf

Manufactured home construction and safety standards (pdf dowonload)
http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CFR-2013-title24-vol5/pdf/CFR-2013-title24-vol5-part3280.pdf

Wahoo - April 1, 2014 Reply

I live in a 150 year old home in NY State. Ive spent the last 10 years upgrading many of its substandard attributes such as completely empty walls with zero insulation. How the people who lived here before me could have withstood the harsh sub zero temperatures is beyond me. But there’s more. The basement was only dug down 5’6″ largely due to the original builders hitting the water table bellow that. the walls of the basement were made out of stacked stone with no mortar and an outward lean. From what Im told that was a common method back then but no longer acceptable by modern building standards. lol Mind you it stood in place for 150 years, what a gamble that must have been. There are many, many more such issues I found while dealing with such an ancient structure. Yet they all had to be redone to Modern standards. Why is my question. If we have buildings in existence that are thousands of years old, why do these modern building “experts” feel the need to regulate and control new buildings ? It is a simple answer. It has nothing to do with wanting to do what’s right or better for the community at Large ! LMAO Get real it is always about justification, power, control and money. When touring South America recently I noticed the preferred building method was little more than a couple of 2x10s with dirt compacted by foot making walls. Yet you just never read or hear of the buildings they have made crumbling around them and killing all inside. nice fear tactics used as per usual. Nobody is saying mistakes aren’t made, and yes sometimes people are injured. But very few when looking at percentages and those people very rarely are killed or even maimed. So they pick up the pieces figure out what they did wrong and rebuild it. Heck you “Experts” act like humans never could have managed without your help like we did for thousands of years before you got your “expert” name tags that cost you years and thousands of Dollars to justify. Now you need to make a living as well so you use fear tactics to legislate your power to control others freedoms. All for the sake of the mighty dollar, you should actually be ashamed and I hope we have a national reset that leads to a more common sense approach to who has power over what and when and why. instead of giving Boy Scout “experts” the power to tell little old ladies when, where, why and they will cross the street, even if they don’t want to!

Jonathan - April 29, 2014 Reply

Agree with Wahoo here. The author of this piece clearly has good intentions, however it is also clear that he has spent years investing himself in the industry, its practices, and its propaganda making him an extremely biased source. I’ve seen pieces almost exactly like this many times claiming that the codes and regulations are these benevolent guidelines meant to protect home dwellers from untold catastrophes, but never any evidence to back this up. Just once I’d like to see the independent statistics compiled that reveal all these saved lives and avoided injuries, as opposed to mostly enriching construction manufacturers and county coffers.

AnthonyRizzo - July 12, 2014 Reply

Who wants to have a shanty town of poorly constructed rolling tiny houses parked in driveways and backyards in their neighborhood?

This becomes a necessity when municipalities fail to address the need of a community to build smaller or add better suited accessory dwellings to their current homes.

RON WILL - August 18, 2014 Reply

Not everyone is a good builder but most people are capable of building a small structure such as the Tiny Homes by Jay Shafer. There will be some errors along the way by a few and some will get leaks and some may even over stress a member here or there, but once the structure is assembled and sheathed, the whole is generally greater than the sum of the parts. That’s true for development homes and even those designed by architects and engineers. Architects are not perfect in every way either (I can attest to that, being one for over 43 years – I have actually made a few errors over my career). Engineers typically over-design so you have to wonder whether they are necessary for small structures like those mentioned here. A few real idiots who can’t nail two 2x4s together make it hard for the rest of us to do as we should be allowed to do. I’m not against inspectors, but most of those I have had contact with were more interested in sundown and payday than checking how construction was being done by the contractor. Incidentally, the primary concern of many, if not most, contractors is bottom line, schedule and margin of profit. I have personally spent many, many hours riding herd on contractors whose superintendents like nothing better than sitting in the cool or warm (as seasons require) construction trailer while the subcontractors and grunts sweat through getting the building finished on time – the plans be damned! I would say that most people who are reasonably intelligent and basically responsible are capable of building a small structure up to about 1200-1500 square feet. Small structures in the 500 sf +/- range should pose virtually no problem for them. As to wiring a structure, that only gets complicated when you have something other than simple outlets, light fixtures and switches. Yes, polarity has to be maintained and proper grounding is absolutely mandatory, but that is not particularly complicated. I would suggest that all wiring be inspected by an electrician prior to covering as a safety precaution. Most plumbing is also simple, but cross connections venting problems can occur if one is not careful, so I would err on the safe side there, too and have a plumber check it over before it is covered. Beyond that, the only other thing you have to worry about is whether the fit and finish is something you can brag about or make excuses for and whether the roof will drip on you when you’re in bed. Sticking windows and doors are a good indicator of poor quality control, but they can be corrected without too much effort. It is my opinion that small structures in the 500 sf +/- should be permit free and inspection optional. I wouldn’t expect a municipality or county letting an opportunity get by them without collecting a fee, but it should be minimal – in the $25 to $50 range. Where such a structure sits on the site is a matter of concern if in a subdivision since there are setback and easement requirements that must be met. If it’s built on a acreage tract that should be of little concern since most people would not get too close to the road or a property line anyway in order to enjoy the freedom that the acreage gives them.

Todd - September 24, 2014 Reply

http://www.rvia.org/UniPop.cfm?v=2&OID=1202&CC=7616

this file outlines several states where the Park RV laws/codes are not only “unregulated” but are not mentioned in any law at all.

be safe and all…but, im just saying…

Jacksonville Guy - January 20, 2015 Reply

Every state in North America requires by law a parcel with a structure have a county inspection prior to bank and legal dealings.. No permit with licensed electric contractor and inspector sign-off and you get an instant demolition order from the county signed by the chief of county building division.

You get passed that with RV laws and zoning? No. Every state has a temporary permit to go with build permits, that allow manufacturer and RV on the parcel in residential zoning.. Recreational zoning requires fees and a registered entity(business or organization)..

Get passed those by using manufactured zoning parcels? No. Inspection before you can do any appraisal or banking with the parcel. If you ever get asked for your permit, like when you get a nuisance claim, and can’t deliver one with a licensed electrician and inspector sign-off, instant demolition order

Lyn - October 29, 2015 Reply

Glad you brought it up.

I have been looking at some (used and new ) tiny homes for sale and the thought did cross my mind whether these “builders” had some codes to adhere to. I don’t want to buy it and then spend more money to fix things later.

Jessssss - February 23, 2016 Reply

WE ARE BUILDING A TINY HOUSE BECAUSE OUR CURRENT HOUSE IS SO POORLY BUILT! The housing in my neighborhood is about 50-60 year 7-9 hundred sq.ft single family homes, clearly built by people who didn’t understand michigan climate or care about how well the homes were built, as long as they appear to be “nice”. The tiny house movement is about becoming your own expert, self empowering and creating the life you want without someone regulating, charging and destroying your creative solutions to your own personal needs. If someone builds a crappy tiny house, so what! They are living in it, so that’s on them! If your dumb enough to buy a tiny house and not do research first and it falls apart, that’s on you. The current housing that is deemed “up to code” is still made of paper and chemicals… all will crumble and fail given a little time. If you build it yourself, you know how to fix it! It’s small, not overwhelmingly excessive. Forget regulating tiny houses, building code guy. This isn’t a new market you can bank on.

Kevin R. - May 13, 2016 Reply

If you build on a camper trailer or landscape trailer there are no building codes. If you where to build on a mobile home trailer, like a “double wide” then yes you have to be up to code. But most mobile homes only use 1x2s for framing. Ask yourself if the codes and fees are there for our safety or is it for uncle Sam?

guillermo matamoros - September 3, 2017 Reply

I’l like to make some tiny houses

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