Bracing Your Community for Tiny Houses

by | Mar 19, 2017

Bracing Your Community for Tiny Houses

The benefits of being prepared and considerations for your community.

Spurred by the notions of affordability, sustainability, and freedom, tiny houses are sweeping the country and spreading the concept of big living in small spaces. It’s true that these miniature forms of housing offer a variety of appealing benefits—for homeowners and communities alike. But for many municipalities, tiny houses often fall into building code “blind spots,” causing confusion and frustration among municipal leaders and staff, tiny home builders, and residents.

To help your community experience the potential perks of tiny living, it’s important to get ahead of any problems so that your municipality can solve them with forethought. Creating and implementing detailed building code regulations for tiny houses will help communities like yours to:

  • Reduce internal and external strife—within your municipality and among residents
  • Incentivize builders and residents to follow the proper permitting process
  • Simplify code enforcement and limit troublesome violations
  • Encourage permit process transparency and prompt ongoing development

If your community is looking for ways to make tiny house regulations a part of your building code ordinances, there are a few considerations you should keep in mind, including upcoming changes to IRC guidelines and code issues requiring the most attention.

IRC Guidelines

Tiny living advocates and communities that want to support this trend will be happy to hear that the 2018 International Residential Building Code (IRC) will contain an appendix dedicated to tiny house regulations. State and certain local governments can choose to adopt this appendix into their own ordinances—opening the door for tiny houses and defining building codes that apply to them.

The tiny house appendix, RB168-16, was championed by Andrew Morrison of TinyHouseBuild, along with a group of builders, architects, designers, and educators. This addition to the 2018 IRC will allow people to get Certificates of Occupancy for tiny houses that are built in accordance with the provisions in the new code appendix. To help guide safety and building standards around tiny homes, the appendix encompasses important definitions and regulations that include but are not limited to topics such as:

  • Square footage
  • Minimum ceiling height
  • Minimum loft areas
  • Loft access
  • Stairways
  • Emergency escape and rescue openings

Building Your Own Ordinances

The updated 2018 IRC will undoubtedly simplify building code conundrums around tiny homes. In the meantime, however, communities like yours can stay a step ahead, taking the necessary steps to decide on standards and develop ordinances around these unique dwelling units.

As you look to fill-in the gaps in your existing building code for tiny houses, there are three big issues that require the most urgent decisions.

  1. Regulations for moveable and stick-built units – Consider how your municipality will distinguish tiny houses from RVs and standardized accessory dwelling units (ADUs). Defining tiny houses apart from these other dwellings types will help clarify expectations among municipal staff, builders, and homeowners and simplify the permitting process.
  2. Minimum dwelling sizes – We’ll go out on a limb and guess that most tiny houses won’t meet the minimum size standards in your current ordinances. So, evaluate possible provisions for tiny houses, and clearly delineate minimum requirements for room sizes, ceiling heights, square footage, etc.
  3. Safety considerations – Because tiny houses are not built to regulated standards (i.e. HUD or RVIA), they don’t always follow the same safety specifications set for traditional homes, RVs, or even ADUs, including emergency and escape openings, accessibility, etc. Decide on acceptable safety regulations for tiny homes in your community and communicate them plainly in your ordinances.

Perhaps your municipal leaders are just wrapping their heads around the idea of the tiny house movement, or maybe your community is ready to start building its own tiny home ordinances. Either way, thinking through the special considerations, possibilities, and decisions involved with tiny house regulations is a critical part of bracing your community for this rising trend.

If your municipality wants to get the ball rolling on designated building codes for tiny houses, hop over to our next post to explore “3 Essential Steps Toward Tiny House Regulations.”


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