Need to Meet or Exceed "Code Minimum" Standards

Pulling back the layers of codes and standards is like peeling an onion. Here's what we're finding.

Shrek's Little Onion Analogy

Remember the movie Shrek? The two lead characters are seen walking along the path discussing the depths of personality. Shrek suggests "ogres are like onions," and made up of layers. His gabby friend Donkey reminds him that not everyone likes onions, suggesting he be more like a cake. "Everyone likes cake, and they have layers!"

Well one thing's for sure, in the tiny house community: The subject of codes and standards really stinks!

Business Planning and Product Potential

While peeling back this onion, I consider my work to be due diligence in fact finding. Rather than looking for loopholes and means for "cracking the code," I'm seeking a route that navigates the proper course of legal work in this infant industry.

Morally, many tiny house builders prefer to take the "high ground" with customers, but none can provide you with the assurance that your tiny house will have a place to call home throughout the U.S. That's a shame, and something many seek to address as a true brobono effort that's "for the good of the people."

Personally, I believe that the sooner we solve the issue of classification for tiny houses, best practices, and building standards, the better for all (especially the DIY home owner/builder). The tiny house craze is generating many structures that fit a variety of categories in-part, but none wholly enough to legitimize them for full time occupancy.

In my role as Virginia's State Chapter Leader for the American Tiny House Association, I am working as a bridge between tiny house builders and local municipalities where tiny homes might reside in Virginia. As we neighbor the nation's capital, our efforts are likely to gain national attention. When contacting key administrators industry leaders, we're doing what we can to do it right... for the good of the people!

Conflicting Quotes and Applying Codes

Existing entities suggest that "it is virtually impossible to build a structure that can meet HUD residential building codes, and still be able to drive down a highway and handle necessary wind shear requirements." We believe that a blend of panelized construction and assembly of pre-cut materials CAN provide a means for full-time habitation in an RV-sized home built by HUD standards.

While the prescribed minimum of R-5 insulation for floors, walls, and roofing in ANSI 119.5: Recreational Park Trailer Standard is a far cry from what is cited in most state's Uniform Building Codes, the use of structural insulated panels (SIPs) provides a means for design, fabrication, and assembly of mobile tiny houses that "meet or exceed" the prescribed standards for insulation and engineering specifications where wind shear, snow loads, insulation values, and fire retardancy are concerned.

Many states seem staged to adpopt ANSI 119.5 as their minimum standards for accessory dwelling units (ADU) and efficiency dwelling units (EDU), I'm sure there is legitimate concern about using RV standards -- and even RVIA certified park model units -- for the purpose of full-time habitation.

Whether considered good or bad, the lines between recreational vehicles (DMV regulated) and manufactured/modular homes (HUD regulated) are clearly drawn, but tiny houses are crossing, and blending, the boundary.

A Framework for Success

My research is uncovering lots of codes, and there seems enough consistency between the standards that could create an adaptable framework that could meet both municipal needs and those of tiny house builders (whether professional or do-it-yourself). There are lots of layers here, but just as much hope.

Like leaders in the mobile home industry once worked to "voluntary industry standards" until their manufactured homes were incorporated into the HUD Code, tiny house builders have the means to safeguard the interests of our collective customer base in using their tiny houses for full-time habitation. "May the buyer beware" cannot be over emphasized. Just calling it a "tiny house" does not make it a legal domicile.

That said, there is a lot of attraction to using ANSI standards for tiny houses. Namely, it secures the right for members of the RVIA to manufacture turnkey tiny houses as certified recreational vehicles. Additionally, following prescribed standards for HUD Minimum houses, albeit third-party inspection and approval, could provide the means for "mobile" tiny houses to be used in specially zoned planned developments that expand the campground model into long-term co-housing communities and ecovillages.

Third-party inspections may seem costly and bothersome, but securing approval may provide that ever-important piece of paper that provides a home for your tiny house in an RV campground, mobile home park, or legally zoned private parcel of land.

Making a Compelling Case

For now, I remain a curious person trying to make enough sense of the codes to create a business that designs code-approved components and certified turnkey structures that provide "safe, efficient, and affordable housing alternatives."

Up-start initiatives like the Tiny House Movement raise lots of tough questions where and challenge existing regulations and restrictions. Given the choice, I believe we all "prefer fire prevention instead of fire fighting," and suggest customers carefully consider their options where tiny house habitation is concerned.

Persistence is the Key

While peeling back the layers and pursuing proactive progress currently stinks, it may one day be a lot more palatable. Here's hoping authorities will meet us in this challenge and on day say of all these legal layers, "let them eat cake!"

Wishing you all the best with your tiny house hopes and dreams.

Live Large -- Go Tiny!