Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Number 1 Tiny House Question...that I can't answer

Hands down the number one question that I get asked when it comes to tiny houses is:

"What are the codes in my area for building tiny houses?"

Now, this question can be formulated in a number of ways so it doesn't always look exactly like that, but the desire for an answer is always the same.

In talking with other folks in the tiny house community this question is popular across the board.

Now, I can't speak for anyone else, but I wanted to take a moment to address this question because it is the one question that I can't answer. 

Building codes are, in general, implemented and enforced at a municipal level. This can mean that the city has one set of codes but the rest of the county that city is in works with an entirely different set of standards. This country is vast and the codes in rural Michigan are going to be quite different than those of the city of Portland, Oregon.

There is really only one way to learn about the codes in your area and that is to talk to the local government. But be prepared. Tiny houses are still a thing of mystery to most people. Even though we understand and value the concepts of building small homes doesn't mean that it will be embraced by the code enforcement office.

One fantastic resource to consider if you are interested in building and living in a tiny house is "Cracking the Code" an eBook by Ryan Mitchell which is available at his website, The Tiny Life.

I really wish I had a magic answer for all the people who ask me about zoning or building codes. My only suggestion is to chose the general area where you want to live and do your research about what is possible. Sometimes rural areas have fewer restrictions but this isn't a universal truth. Other times you may fly under the radar by putting your home on wheels, but you'll need to be prepared to deal with the consequences if you get caught.

It does make me happy to hear from so many people interested in moving forward with changing their lives. Keep up the good work and learn all you can about how to make it happen for you! 

3 comments:

  1. One of my favorite tiny houses (very frilly and feminine) is owned by someone who says she wants to relocate near your area...

    http://shabbychictinyretreat.blogspot.com/

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  2. I am not sure of the ins-and-outs of the building codes here in Australia - I am still navigating the sea of statutory planning codes (land use). But what I do know is that a dwellings of very few square metres (feet) are permitted provided they satisfy certain criteria. And, like the in the States, the decision ultimately lies with the municipality.

    The criteria is pretty reasonable, things like, and I quote from an article about a tiny house owner here in Australia that wasn't up to code: "electricity, water and sewerage, and must include a kitchen sink, food preparation facilities, a bath or shower, and a toilet and washbasin"[1]. This tiny house owner didn't follow the building application process - generally not an expensive process seeing it is usually based on per sq/metre - properly and didn't get a certificate of occupancy. (Which is silly, considering if he did - if he spent a few thousand extra getting the place up to code - he might have been eligible for up to $25k in government grants as a new home builder.)

    I was quite surprised to learn that I wouldn't have to build on a trailer and very thankful.


    [1] http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/victoria/david-bell-faces-building-and-planning-laws-battle-with-buloke-shire-council-over-his-tiny-birchip-house/story-fni0fit3-1226664089584

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  3. The code issue is so so tough. I can say that through the many years we have been building with straw bale construction, we have seen a huge turn around with the codes and building departments. Because tiny house construction as a whole is in it's infancy, it will take some time for building departments to come around. Can you imagine how many times we heard "You want to build your house out of WHAT?!?!" when we would mention straw bales? And to think that today there is no longer an issue with getting straw bale houses passed through building departments and there is a national building code that is just weeks away from being passed. In time the laws will come around. In the meantime, we must all be advocates and to be polite and friendly with building officials and give them accurate information. :)

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