Despite the best efforts of reality TV shows to make "going tiny" look easy, the challenge remains for living legally
Despite the best efforts of reality TV shows to make "going tiny" look easy, the challenge remains for living legally in a tiny house. Thanks to the efforts of Andrew Morrison and his team -- as well as countless tiny house advocates, building officials, and zoning officials -- there are now building codes that can be applied to Tiny Houses.
There are many things that are MONUMENTAL in the adoption of Tiny House construction codes by the IRC. Among them, that architects, designers, builders, community developers, and (maybe most importantly) zoning officials have a means of recognizing Tiny Houses as an official form of permissible dwelling. This provides an opportunity for tiny house advocates to introduce statutory and municipal adoption of the new Tiny House Appendix during regional Code Change meetings.
From a design standpoint, the Tiny House codes provide a breath of fresh air for small space designers. Previously, our best efforts to design small spaces were pitted against prescriptive building codes that worked well for larger homes, and enforced a bloating of small spaces to accommodate "code minimum" sizes for stairwells, ceiling heights, and other standards for habitable spaces (especially sleeping quarters).
Starting small, a design for a tiny house on foundation quickly expands when incorporating elevated habitable spaces like lofts, for which code compliant stairs, full height ceilings at the top of the stairs, and a second story are all huge space hogs. The new codes downscale these elements without great sacrifice to the health, safety, and general welfare to a dwelling's occupants or fire fighters and emergency responders. These needs are the stated intent of the International Residential Code (IRC), and critical considerations for the development of building codes and the adoption of appendices through the public comment portion of the ICC's triennial Code Development Cycle.
As the newly adopted Tiny House building code presented, there are also many reasons to consider building a Tiny House of 400 sqft or less, especially where material use, overall cost, and long-term energy efficiency are concerned. Tiny houses use far less materials, lower up-front costs, and ongoing expense for utilities and maintenance. Best practices for sustainable design and "green building" start with size. In short, the smaller the building, the better.
Due to the scope of the IRC, the newly adopted Tiny House code currently only applies to Tiny Houses on Foundations (THOF). To touch briefly on "movable tiny houses," more commonly referred to as Tiny Houses on Wheels (THOW), the challenge will be a potential conflict of THOWs with defined codes and parameters for other forms of dwellings including Manufactured Homes (MH) and Recreational Vehicles (RV).
In both cases, the most compelling departure from conformation with IRC standards is the permanent chassis below them. Until the Tiny House Movement, both MHs and RVs were exclusively built within certified manufacturing centers. The Tiny House Movement opened the door for can-do DIY builders to construct their dwellings on trailers, something not currently covered by HUD Code for Manufactured Homes, or compliance inspectors working within the RV industry, which generally focuses on support of mass produced, factory-built units.
Taking a broad view, prescriptive standards exist to protect the health, safety, and general welfare of a dwelling's occupants, neighbors' property values, and economic health of the municipalities in which they they exist. These codes can be applied to Tiny Houses -- whether on-wheels or a permanent foundation. Further, construction of Tiny Houses should be available to "backyard builders," custom home builders, as well as manufacturers with certified production facilities. To this end, it all comes down to application of prescriptive standards, inspection of construction, and certification for occupancy.
Many foresee 2017 to be the year of Tiny House Legalization. Throughout the country, and around the world, tiny houses are being accepted as accessory dwelling units and homes in pocket neighborhoods. While the new Tiny House addendum has further to go before being broadly accepted by state and municipal building officials, we are now another step closer to seeing Tiny Houses used as legally permissible primary dwellings on private property.
We are witness to the dawn of legal tiny house living, which starts with: Legitimization -- Tiny Houses built as dwellings to prescriptive construction and safety standards. The next step is: Legalization -- Zoning Officials developing Tiny House ordinances allowing for tiny houses in their municipalities.
After a decade of hard work and dedication by Tiny House advocates, we have real hope for legally living in our tiny homes. As always...
General Manager, Housing Development Institute
GoTiny.com, All-American Tiny Houses, & Timber Trails LLC
State Chapter Leader (Alabama)
American Tiny House Association