Cracking the Code – A Guide to Building Codes

cracking the code

I receive many emails regarding tiny houses and building codes. This is a very difficult subject because every location is different. However, up to this point there has not been a good resource to send people to show them how to go about the process of getting answers in their local area.

Ryan Mitchell of The Tiny Life blog has recently published a book to help you find these answers. I have had a chance to look at the book and would highly recommend it if you are doing this kind of research.

Here is Ryan’s description of his his book and what it will help you accomplish:

This guide is designed to help you navigate all the red tape when it comes to tiny housing. I have designed this manual to help you quickly familiarize yourself with some of the key bureaucratic road blocks, suggest possible pathways to building your home from the legal perspective, and several strategies to make it a success. If you are hoping to build a tiny house, this is information that you will need. For those who purchase this they will also get and additional 180 pages of reference materials and free updates on future versions!

Thanks Ryan for this great resource. To learn more and to purchase the book click here.


Click here to purchase the book.

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Wayne - May 19, 2013 Reply

Really interesting. I would like to someday build one around Winslow, AZ, What are typical construction materials recommended for that climate?

Sima jean - May 19, 2013 Reply

Check out to fund your tiny house!

Walt Barrett - May 20, 2013 Reply

What is the bottom line? Can you beat them or not? Personally I will never build or buy a house on wheels and I really like micro homes and micro apartments.

Hoopajoo - May 21, 2013 Reply

Kinda funny story. I live in Lynchburg, Va. and when checking the codes before starting on my geodesic dome greenhouse, the city code official told me that anything 150 sq.ft. and under doesn’t need a permit or inspection.
“Ok. And that is with the ceilings how high?”, I asked.
Blank expression.
“If I build a shed 10′ X 15′, the footprint is 150 sq.ft.. Considering the maximum allowed volume before a permit is needed, how high am I allowed to make the ceilings?”, I pushed further.
“Let me check…”, the official said and hurried off to confer with the engineers. “There is no provision in the bylaws for height, so any height you need.”
“So, basically you’re saying I could build a 100 story skyscraper, without a permit, provided it’s footprint is no greater than 150 sq.ft.?”, I asked not believing what I just heard.
“Essentially, yeah. Crazy, huh?”, the official chuckled

    Bob H - May 21, 2013 Reply

    I think max would be 150 sq. ft., not 150 x 100 stories or 15,000 sq. ft.

alice h - May 21, 2013 Reply

You can build no higher than 15 ft from the ground to the highest point on a permitless 100 sq ft shack in my area. If the ceiling height is over 5′ in an upper section it’s considered another floor and that area is added to the square footage. Technically you are only allowed to have the permitless shack if you’re building a permitted dwelling but they’re pretty loose about interpretation, so far. Trailers can be any size but are supposed to hook up to a septic system and again, they are a bit loose here as long as you aren’t obviously living in it full time and being sloppy with greywater and sewage. Unless they get a complaint they are unlikely to bother somebody and with so many not quite compliant places scattered about from the last 30 years or more there aren’t too many people willing to start that kind of thing.

Deek - May 21, 2013 Reply

Max is 12 feet high in my area…..make sure you all check….(for shed like accessory structures)

Walt Barrett - May 25, 2013 Reply

Always check with the local building inspector unless you want to end up tearing down or moving your micro home.

Keni - May 25, 2013 Reply

Mine is 15ft as well under 100sq ft—no permit. I plan on building on a foundation not a trailer. I’m going to take my chances and build it without a permit,in the backyard, slowly over a period of time as monies permit. I had asked once about a shed and they told me then no permit if the roof area was under a 100 sq ft. I asked if there was a limit to the number of sheds and they said no. So you could technically build a bunch and connect them with a breezeway.

D. Whit - May 26, 2013 Reply

The problem with many is that they do not want to see building codes evolve to address tiny homes thru education of those that set the guidelines.

Tiny homes are smaller and compact, they are not closets and/or trailers and modern shanties or lean to’s.

Those doing a true small building will find an audience with building inspectors.

I hear too many that just want the benefits of everything the building codes were established to protect.

You cannot have something for nothing. It just seems that too many don’t want any mortgage, any insurance, any tax basis or any owned land to support community and believe their modified tool sheds are the answer to housing problems.

The problem isn’t the housing.

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