Proposed Tiny House Code for the 2018 IRC
I am really excited (no seriously…REALLY EXCITED!!!) to announce that I recently finished writing, and have submitted to the International Code Council (ICC), a proposed tiny house code appendix for the 2018 International Residential Code (IRC). If approved, this would become a model code for all tiny houses used as a primary residence within the United States. The code would not impact those who build Tiny House RVs under RVIA standards as those are governed separately from the IRC.
Remember those old “Choose Your Own Adventure” books? The ones where you had to decide to “read on” or “skip to page xyz?” Well I’m going to use that approach here. If you want to read in detail about how this all came about, what is included in the proposed code change, and how you can help, please continue on… If, however, you just want to know how you can help, then please scroll down to the bottom of the page and look for the “Your Official Call to Action” header. We need your help, so please get involved whether you read this whole blog post or skip ahead. Okay, back to the action…
So how did this happen? The ICC held hearings for the dozens upon dozens of code proposals hoping for inclusion in the 2018 IRC this last April in Kentucky. A friend of mine from California who was at the hearings in support of a different proposal told me that there was a proposed tiny house code (actually written for “small houses”) that had been submitted and that I should try to watch the proceedings via live-stream online. Trouble was that there was no way to know what date (it’s a 7 day event) or time this particular proposal would be heard. What’s more, I was camping in the desert at the 20th anniversary of the California Straw Builders Association and so had no ability to watch. By chance, Gabriella logged in to their website and began watching literally minutes before the THOWs measure was up for review. Check out the video below to see what a big deal this ICC Hearing stuff is!
In great anticipation she watched and recorded the event. Much to our shock though, the person that had placed the proposal was not there, which angered the committee. Then a familiar face showed up on the screen, our friend Martin Hammer! He was there presenting changes to the straw bale code. Being interested in tiny houses he had shown up for this particular proposal. The original measure was unanimously denied (frankly it was terrible so we don’t blame them at all); however, the ICC board made a public statement that “the issue of small houses and apartments is important and the IRC needs to address them in some fashion.” We sent an email to Martin right after seeing him but were dejected when we realized that the next opportunity for a proposal submission was around 2019.
A few weeks ago, I became aware of an opportunity to submit a “public comment” related to the denied proposal. I also discovered that there is an option to “replace proposal as follows” within the ICC public comment process, and that’s exactly what I did. I hired my friend Martin as an advisor, being that he has successfully written code provisions in the past and is currently working on revising several others. He understands this very complex world of the ICC.
One thing I learned early on is that writing a proposed tiny house code appendix is no easy task. The language is very specific. The code referencing and cross-referencing has to be exact. Knowing what to say, what not to say, what to reference, and what not to reference is very complicated. Having a seasoned expert on board has been unbelievably valuable and may, in fact, be the tipping point towards success. To that end, I have assembled a team of “co-commenters” made up of licensed building professionals from designers and architects to engineers to help review the proposal and lend their name to it. I am really grateful for their input and support. Please raise your hands for a high five for Martin Hammer, Macy Miller, James Herndon, Chris Keefe, Tiffany Redding, Nabil Taha, Brandon Marshall, and of course, Gabriella Morrison. Your feedback and support has been and continues to be much appreciated!
We will know if the appendix is accepted in October when the follow-up round of hearings and public comment reviews takes place in Kansas City. The proposal will be accepted or denied on an all-or-nothing basis. In other words, if the proposed tiny house code appendix is accepted as written, it will be officially in the 2018 code; however, if it is not accepted, it will be fully denied with no time for edits for the 2018 code. If that happens, we will be out of luck for IRC approval until the next round of code hearings, slated for the 2021 code. That’s a long way off, so I am hopeful that the proposed tiny house code appendix will be accepted.
As you know, I am a firm believer in the need for codes when it comes to construction having been a building professional for over 20 years. Over the years, I have seen construction that is sub par (even WAY sub par in some cases). This is simply not an option for our tiny houses because they have the added stress of road forces such as wind, road rattle (potholes), deceleration, and more. It’s not just a simple house on a foundation anymore.
I am aware that not everyone believes in building codes. The reality is that areas that enforce building codes require any house within that area to meet those codes. If you don’t like codes, there is nothing wrong with building in areas that do not have them to enforce. If, however, you want to live in an area that does have code enforcement, this proposed tiny house code appendix (if approved) will allow you to legally build your tiny house to code and to receive a certificate of occupancy. Keep in mind that zoning may still be an issue in some areas, but that is outside of the scope of the IRC and must be addressed at the local level.
I had to make some last minute changes to the code to remove the word “movable” from my original proposed appendix entitled “Movable Tiny Houses.” Unfortunately, the head of the ICC code approval process said that he would not accept the proposal as written because he believed it was what they call in the industry a “hijack” of the original proposal. In other words, he believed the proposed appendix had too much reference to details not originally addressed and therefore would not accept it. After many conversations and emails with the official, I decided to amend the proposal so that he would allow it to move forward. So although slightly disappointed, I am still super excited about getting this baby in front of the full voting ICC members in Kansas City.
The proposal addresses ceiling heights, sleeping lofts, loft access, emergency escape and egress, and many other details. The one provision that the code official would not allow was a specific section related to trailers. I intend to continue to move forward with addressing the use of trailers in the tiny house community; however, their inclusion does not make them impossible to pass through the IRC, even today. By removing all of the other challenges (ceiling heights, egress, access, etc.) each owner can work with either their building department or an engineer to create a foundation system that meets the intent of the code and does not require the complete removal of the trailer tires. More on this another time. For now, let’s focus on the AMAZING OPPORTUNITY in front of us.
You can review the proposed tiny house code appendix and reason statement by clicking here. To be clear: THIS IS NOT AN OFFICIAL CODE AT THIS TIME. If approved, the proposal will become official code in the 2018 IRC, but we are not there yet. Do not attempt to use this code for construction purposes right now. Wait until there is an official acceptance by the ICC. Don’t worry, I will most definitely be posting updates as they occur and you will be among the first to know if the proposal is accepted.
*****YOUR OFFICIAL CALL TO ACTION*****
Help get the Proposed Tiny House Code Approved!
We need your help! There are many challenges still ahead of us in the approval process and we need your support to make this proposed tiny house code change a reality. Many of you have asked what you can do to help, and now I finally have an answer to that question. Please check out the list of things we need below and let me know ASAP if you can help.
- Read the proposed code change. Click here to read the full proposal, including the required “reason statement.” As I mentioned above, it focuses on all of the challenges of building an IRC compliant tiny house but does not specifically talk about tiny houses on wheels. That is by design because of the feedback I was given by the “official manager” of the code change department in the ICC. The good news is that there is still a path to approval within the IRC for THOWs regarding foundations and trailers. It will simply have to be handled on a case-by-case basis with local building departments until we can get the proper language in the code; something that is not an option this time around.
- More than anything, we need help with fundraising. To reach our crowdfunding campaign please click here: https://www.gofundme.com/TinyHouseCodes I hired a professional with multiple code change approvals under his belt to help with the drafting of this proposal and, although an amazing resource, he did charge for his time. We will also need to travel to Kansas City for several days to attend the hearings. We will also continue to travel and submit codes as things are either accepted (the proposal will need to be improved if it is accepted. For example, including the language specific to tiny houses on WHEELS.) or denied (we would need to resubmit a full proposal should this current version be rejected and then travel to the hearings to speak in support of the proposal). We are not charging for our time here. Nobody is receiving money for their efforts other than the man I hired to guide me through the process. Everything else is just to pay for the costs of travel, etc. Watch a short video from Andrew about how to donate.
- Lobby your voting ICC members. Please contact your local building departments and find out who is a voting member of the ICC. Ask them to support the proposal with their vote. I believe they can vote electronically without attending the hearings, so it should be easy for them. Let them know that this proposal provides safe solutions to the difficult question of what to do with tiny houses. The more votes of support we have from ICC members, the better!
- Speaking in support at the hearings in Kansas City (October 22, 23, and 24). I am looking for several building professionals to speak and represent specific portions of the proposed code change. We get VERY few minutes to make our case. Each person who gets up there receives 2 minutes for initial comments and 1 minute for a rebuttal. If we gather 5-10 people on our team, we increase how much time we have to present the data dramatically. In full disclosure, I have to warn you that it is possible that the proposal won’t be heard at all. If there is not “adequate reason” to re-open the original proposal and revisit it, this may be all for naught for the 2018 IRC code book. This is highly unlikely though as the ICC board members themselves stated the need to address the tiny house movement.
- Physical numbers. If you are able to join us and be a body in support at the hearing that would be amazing. I have not personally been to an ICC hearing yet, so I don’t know exactly what to expect; however, I imagine that having a lot of people in support of a proposed code change would make a powerful statement to the ICC members. If you live locally or want to make a road trip to join us, let me know. The dates are October 22, 23, and 24th. There is no way to know which of those days our case will be heard because they roll through each proposal without any idea of how long each one will take. If you are able, plan on being there for all three days just in case.
- Input moving forward. There are many paths available to code approval beyond just the ICC and all options need to be explored. If you are experienced with building codes, are a building professional (builder, engineer, designer, architect, etc.), are versed in code language, and want to help me develop further code change proposals, then I would like to hear from you. It is very time consuming (I have spent two solid months working on this already) and there is no reward other than knowing that you have helped the tiny house movement. If that sounds like your cup of tea, I look forward to hearing from you.