Despite the best efforts of reality TV shows to make "going tiny" look easy, the challenge remains for living legally
VBCOA Committee Chairs:
Thank you in advance for your review, replies, and assistance in guiding us through the process of consideration of tiny houses in Virginia.
I have summarized my message below into four areas to outline our existing efforts, challenges we collectively face, to request guidance, and offer a connecting with knowledge leaders and subject matter experts who can aid in the process of evaluation of tiny houses in Virginia. Your help navigating the process is greatly appreciated.
For the purposes of developing understanding and building synergy for the advocacy of tiny houses, I typically summarize our need for above-board inclusion as a two fold approach:
Tiny House Conundrum
Here's a quick series of thoughts surrounding the challenge for all involved in defining, regulating, constructing, and living in approved "tiny houses."
Applying IRC/IBC/VCC codes to tiny houses (tiny homes, micro-houses, mini-homes, etc.) built on conventional foundations may be a straightforward matter of defining tiny houses and defining their construction within guidelines held within the Virginia Uniform Building Code. As such, requirements for tiny houses on foundations (THOF) may simply be a matter of their recognition for construction within state defined building codes and any modified minimum square footage definitions (which it seems local municipalities may supersede by county, subdivision, or private community C&Rs).
As I am certain you understand, tiny houses on wheels (THOW) pose a different challenge as their "on wheels" attribute typically categorizes such structures as Industrialized Buildings, with approved dwellings meeting requirements of the IBSR. To date, most tiny houses are built by tiny houses manufacturers (some recognized as certified RV manufacturing facilities), tiny house builders (many licensed contractors), and "DIY" homeowner/builders (some working in part with licensed trade professionals).
As the Tiny House Movement has shown, when compared to manufactured homes, most tiny houses are built below the average dimensions (8' wide by 18' to 24' is typical), minimum size requirements (avg. 200-250 sqft compared to 400 sqft HUD minimum), less GVWR (avg. 10,000-12,000 lbs), and greater long-term towing capacity than manufactured homes (custom utility trailers with multiple axles compared to one-time use axles). Due to interests in convenience, builder specialty, and increased quality for cost, tiny houses are often built in different states than the homeowners intended destination; further, tiny house owners are apt to consider the mobile aspect of their tiny houses (which usually do not require special permits for towing) to be a greater advantage than the typical scenario for use of a manufactured home at a single site.
Where it seems the "on foundation" type of tiny house is much more easily solved than their "on wheels" counterparts. This unique form of alternative housing puts it between state accredited manufactured housing, industry certified recreational vehicles, and conventional home construction on approved foundations. As with anything new that doesn't neatly fit into any one category, definitions, rules, and regulations are needed to keep pace with product development, market demand, and constituent support.
Questions about Process
Here are my questions related to the Pending Issue for VCC: Tiny Houses:
? - Since codes do not yet exist that define the typical "tiny house on wheels," nor do we wish to attempt to modify the Virginia Uniform Statewide Building Code, how can we best legitimize (define) and legalize (regulation) tiny houses?
? - Do you believe a single-issue committee will be formed for tiny houses, and if one is established would we be allowed to attend their meetings?
? - If code changes are requested, is the new online system available and accessible to the public? Is there a template for change requests? Is submission (whether paper or electronic) required in advance of the March 23rd meeting?
Legal Interests and Efforts
In terms of our interests and connections, we are helping shoot the Living Tiny Legally documentary, which will be a freely available educational aid for tiny house advocates and officials across the country. We took a trip last weekend to the Georgia Tiny House Festival, during which we met with and interviewed several local, state, and national industry leaders including:
The purpose of my sharing the above is to illustrate the depth of interest, and level of support tiny houses are receiving across the country. We are seeing an unprecedented interest from a wide ranging demography in the more diminutive dwellings referred to as "tiny houses."
As a tiny house advocate and resident of the Commonwealth, it is my hope that Virginia representatives are receptive to the great economic opportunities and housing alternatives offered through tiny houses. I can quickly tap into a variety of resources who are familiar with building codes, and have existing efforts in the feasibility of tiny houses, development of codes, and construction using prescriptive methods for conventional and alternative dwellings.
For my part, I appreciate your inclusion in this process, and look forward to bringing the information and resources needed for appropriate consideration of tiny houses as permissible domiciles in Virginia.
Thank you in advance for your response to the above questions so I know what I can do to aid your teams in this effort.
Looking forward to the meeting mid-month.
Founder/CEO, Timber Trails LLC
Lead Organizer, RVA Tiny House Team (Meetup Group)
State Chapter Leader, American Tiny House Association