Call to Action: Help with the Tiny House Appendix Adoption Process

Appendix Adoption ProcessIf you are interested in seeing tiny houses legalized as primary residences across the US, we would love your help! As you likely already know, we won approval for a tiny house construction code through the International Code Council (ICC) in December. As such, we now have an official Tiny House Appendix in the 2018 version of the International Residential Code (IRC). This is HUGE news, but it’s not the end of the process. Now we have to move on to the appendix adoption process across the country.

We now need to move towards adoption of the tiny house construction code at the state level. Each state adopts IRC codes differently. Some adopt the code in its entirety. Others pick and choose the pieces they like and use them to augment their state code. Some states have statewide adoption process while others manage the adoptions at the local city or county level. Regardless of how codes are adopted in your state, we know that a code appendix is NOT automatically adopted along with the code. A code appendix has to be lobbied for individually. 

You can click the following link (State Adoptions_ICCcodes_Oct2016) to review a list of all 50 states and how they adopt IRC standards. Only pay attention to the column entitled “IRC” as this is where the tiny house appendix is approved. Some states offer statewide adoptions, others offer local adoptions, and still others offer a mix of the two. You will need to know how your state operates before you start investing time into the adoption effort. If your state adopts at both the local and statewide levels, I suggest you start with your local building departments. You can connect with them in person and over community specific concerns. You can work your way up the “ladder of communication” until you have connected with everyone engaged in the appendix adoption process.

It is so important to get this code appendix adopted. Not only for us as tiny house dwellers, but also for the building departments themselves. Without a code to point to, they won’t likely risk their necks to approve a tiny house. After all, if someone gets hurt and sues the building department, they will have no legal ground to stand on. If, however, they can point to an approved code, they are protected against lawsuits and have much more solid ground to operate from. This will allow them the security they need to start approving tiny homes.

On a very relevant side note, it’s important that we not call them “Tiny Houses on Wheels” anymore as that creates problems on the code side of things. It is very important that we start referring to them the way we have defined them in the code: “Movable Tiny Houses.” The nuances of language and word choices are extremely important in the code world. The difference between “tiny house on wheels” and “movable tiny house” is enormous and could mean the difference between acceptance and refusal. 

Steps to Take in the Appendix Adoption Process

Appendix Adoption ProcessFirst and foremost, be professional, polite, and respectful in all of your interactions with building officials and other contacts along the way. If we maintain a top caliber approach, we will have a much better outcome in the long process of code approvals and adoption that lies ahead. Please take a few minutes to get familiar with the appendix adoption process outlined below. Then take action to help get the appendix adopted and to provide a building code for LEGAL tiny houses. 

  • FIRST AND FOREMOST: Read the code appendix so that you understand what you are requesting and fighting for. You can find it here.
  • Review this document (IRC_StateCodeAdoptionInfo_3.14.17) for your state and any known contacts. These are the folks you will contact once you have a firmed up action plan. 
  • Let the contacts know that you live in the state in question. Tell them that you are very interested in the adoption of the 2018 IRC Appendix V: “Tiny Houses” into your state’s building code. To be clear, when referring to the code, it is Appendix “V” as in the alphabet letter…not Roman numeral 5. 
  • Encourage them to incorporate the appendix into the current code. Do so ahead of the next code cycle if possible. This will immediately help mitigate the numerous challenges that building departments face regarding tiny houses. 
  • Perhaps they cannot adopt the language immediately. If not, ask if they will support the adoption in the next code cycle. Do your best to get a commitment without overstepping your position.
  • Ask your contact(s) if there are any actions that you can take to help with the appendix adoption process. Perhaps there are study groups that you can join or other ways to get involved. 
  • Ask them if you need to make a formal proposal to adopt the appendix or if your encouragement is enough. You may be required to open a formal request if one has not already been initiated.

If you do not find contact information for people in your state, you will have to dig a little. You can start by going to the website of a larger city in your area and contacting the building department. Ask them who you should talk to regarding adopting an approved appendix from the IRC into the statewide or local code, depending on where you live. Once you find the right person or people to talk to, please leave a comment below this article with that information so that we can update the IRC_StateCodeAdoptionInfo_3.14.17.

Most code amendment cycles are about three years long. In other words, there is a lag time between when new codes come out and when they are implemented. What’s more, that process could be on a different cycle than ICC code development (i.e. year #1 of 3 in your state might be year #2 of 3 for the ICC). This could mean that even though your building and planning agencies support the idea of tiny house codes, they may have their hands tied in terms of adopting the appendix right now.

If that is the case, you may want to consider connecting with a state lawmaker in the House or Senate to see if they are interested in sponsoring a Legislative Bill to provide code guidance for tiny houses in the meantime. If you plan to take this route, please comment below so that I can help you with the specific language for the Bill. In fact, once we have developed the language for the Oregon House Bill, I will post it on our site for you to use in your own state. There are some important details to consider if going this route, so please comment below if you want more information.

What to say

Appendix Adoption ProcessYou may want to discuss the topic of tiny houses with your local building and planning departments before you take action. You will learn about the issues that your community faces regarding housing. As a result, you can better articulate how tiny houses are a potential solution. Some issues we know exist in many communities are as follows: 

  • Shortage of housing that is within the financial reach of the general population.
  • Shortage of rental properties that are within the financial reach of the general population.
  • Loss of community engagement and longevity as housing markets price the population out.
  • The city’s (or county’s) inability to cost effectively provide affordable housing to its constituents.
  • The population’s desire to live a simpler life; with smaller housing at the core of their needs.

Needs Met by Tiny Houses

  • Provides professional builders with a new, untapped market of opportunity. 
  • Creates housing that is affordable, as is required by the “Intent” (Section R101.3) of the code.
  • Offers housing to many demographics including students, young families, retirees, and more.
  • Helps cities meet their affordable housing requirements with little or no cost to the city.
  • Improves pride of ownership in communities.
  • Increases the money individual home owners retain after their housing payment is made. That money can be spent in the local community as a result, increasing the local revenue.

How to Respond to the Tough Questions You May Face

There are some common concerns within building departments when it comes to tiny houses. This is especially true with movable tiny houses. I have laid out some of the concerns or arguments you might hear from your officials below. I have also included some potential responses to address those concerns. 

Stated Concern:

A tiny house can already be built within the code as is, so why do we need to bother with this code appendix?

Response:

Appendix Adoption ProcessIt’s true that a tiny house, of sorts, can be built within the current code structure. However, the size and scale of that house is not in line with what most people are building when it comes to tiny homes. The appendix that we want adopted defers almost all construction details to the main body of the IRC. Indeed, it is almost entirely the same code restrictions used to build tiny as it is conventional homes. There are very few changes to the code within the appendix. The changes present are only there out of necessity to make the detailing and scale of the home viable.

The scale of tiny homes built to standard code requirements would be way out of whack if one were to try. Let’s consider an example. It doesn’t make sense to have minimum ceiling height requirements of 7′ 0″ when the entire structure is 13′ 6″ tall. Further, if the home is under 400SF, the width to height ratio would be off in this scenario. As such, the inclusion of a loft provision that provides safety for the occupants while limiting the impact of the scale of the design is essential. We have included such a provision in the appendix.

The definition of “intent” as defined in IRC Section R101.3 clearly mentions that housing needs to be “affordable”. Further, the code should not impact the affordability of a home such that it becomes unattainable for prospective homeowners. Tiny houses help insure affordability. However, some of the details surrounding those homes don’t work with current code standards due to their scale. Another example of scale issues is that of stairways. Standard stairways take up too much space in a tiny house. Adjustments need to be made to maintain the safety of the stairway while also providing adequate access to the loft area.

The statement that a tiny house can already be built to code within the current standards does not apply to a movable tiny house. If you are creating new legislation along the guidelines that I will present in the coming weeks (as used here in Oregon), then you can push for language on movable tiny houses as well. This changes the conversation from “it’s already doable” to “this is new ground that we need to address.” 

Stated Concern:

The State has no interest in adding vehicles to building department oversight.

Response:

A movable tiny house that is compliant under IRC based codes would be designed to be placed on a permanent foundation to meet the intent of the code in a fashion similar to how manufactured housing is approved and is not considered a vehicle. A house that is designed to move all the time would not be considered permanent housing. That type of tiny house would have to be certified as an RV. That is NOT what we are discussing within this appendix.

Stated Concern:

Movable tiny houses are just glorified RVs and so should be handled by the RV industry.

Response:

A movable tiny house is not an RV when it is designed for permanent occupancy, contrary to what some have called it. Although some people are interested in moving their homes every few weeks, the vast majority of individuals within the tiny house community are looking for simple, affordable, permanent housing. The wheels provide flexibility should dramatic life changes occur; however, the primary focus of this appendix is to create permanent housing.

Stated Concern:

Tiny houses should not get any special treatment and should meet the code like any other house.

Response:

Agreed. Tiny houses are required to meet all of the provisions of the code other than the specific elements identified within the appendix. These small changes are necessary to build the home to proper scale. They provide adequate provisions for occupant health and safety, in line with the intent of the code as defined in IRC Section R101.3. Exceptions are used throughout the body of the code and in other appendix language. There is nothing new or unprecedented about the inclusion of a tiny house specific appendix. In fact, the tiny house appendix was actually created at the specific request of the ICC Code Committee.

Stated Concern:

How do I know that the provisions of the appendix are of high enough quality to be adopted in our state?

Response:

Appendix V went through an extreme, 4-stage vetting and voting process in order to be passed.

  • First, the appendix was reviewed and approved by the code chairman of the ICC and his staff.
  • Second, we won a vote to allow our appendix to be heard at the ICC Code Hearings in Kansas City this past October. That vote was a simple majority of the 250+ building officials and fire marshals present in the room.
  • Third, during our hearing in which we presented testimony and where both opponents and supporters had a chance to share their views, our appendix won the 2/3 majority vote of those same 250+ officials, moving us on to the next and final stage of vetting/voting.  
  • Finally, we won the last stage of voting: 2/3 majority from ALL voting members of the ICC nationwide. There are 20,000 members, all of whom were given the opportunity to cast their electronic vote on the issue. We have been told by numerous officials that a code change of this magnitude typically takes a minimum of 6-9 years to be written into law. Appendix V was approved in record time (7 months from first draft to official approval). 

Stated Concern:

We don’t allow for ladders/lofts in our state building code. Why should we allow tiny houses to be able to use them?

Response:

Appendix Adoption Process

Lofts, defined as mezzanines in the IRC, are code approved at the national level. Ladders, ships ladders, and alternating tread devices (ATDs) are all approved options in the IRC for a secondary means of egress from a loft or mezzanine. When it was approved in December, Appendix V changed the use of those loft access options to allow for them to be the primary form of egress from the lofts. The main reasoning behind this decision is, once again, the scale of the home and the loft itself. With the space being so small and the lofts so low compared to conventional housing, the risks of injury are greatly reduced. 

An example of how things could be handled in what I would consider to be an overly relaxed fashion is what recently passed in Washington State. There, they have simply removed small lofts from any oversight as an exception within the code. This means there is no way to ensure that egress standards are met. This also means that there is no oversight, whatsoever of the space. I think this is less than ideal and certainly less that what we are requesting in our appendix. Here is a copy of the language Washington State has implemented:

Section 1011  STAIRWAYS

1011.17  Stairways in individual dwelling units.  Stairs or ladders within an individual dwelling unit used to access areas of 200 square feet (18.5m2) or less, and not containing the primary bathroom or kitchen, are exempt from the requirements of Section 1011.

What we present in the appendix is based on existing code standards from other sources, such as ANSI, or it defers to the main body of the IRC. The details of the lofts are not outrageous or dangerous. They contain provisions for guardrails, minimum size standards, and emergency escape and egress. Without oversight of sleeping lofts, people will simply label the space “storage” and ultimately use it as a sleeping loft in the future. This leaves the building department unable to oversee the safety of that space and could lead to life threatening situations. 

It is important to always steer your state regulators to the fact that the language of the appendix has already been heavily vetted by building officials, fire marshals, and industry professionals. The fact that it was approved so quickly shines a light on the need for this appendix in our communities to address the ever growing tiny house movement. We need to ensure that these tiny houses are built in a way that ensures the health and safety of the occupants and any emergency workers that might appear on site in the future.

Knowing exactly what will come up in your conversations is impossible. However, I hope that the potential scenarios above are something that you will feel comfortable defending should the need arise. The truth of the matter is that this code is well vetted and ready to go. Your state may make some small changes during the appendix adoption process. The States need to ensure that the appendix fits their specific needs. That said, those changes should be few. 

It may also be helpful to let your officials know that other states are already moving to adopt the appendix. In fact, Idaho, Oregon, and New Mexico are considering both the adoption of the appendix, and the expansion of that adoption to include language specific to movable tiny houses. As we have seen, once there is a precedent, others can jump on board enthusiastically. This is because they can point to other areas and say “see, they did this, so we can too.”

Appendix Adoption ProcessYou can do this! The more voices that are heard in support of this appendix, the more likely it is to be adopted. The appendix adoption process is in place so that your voice can be heard. Please take the time to support this amazing opportunity. We are literally within reach of our goal of LEGAL TINY HOUSES in the United States. It’s THAT important. After all, if you intend to build legally, how good would it feel to have your plans stamped “approved” by the building department?

Let me say it again clearly. The adoption of this appendix in your area will create a path for LEGAL TINY HOUSES. Those houses can be considered actual real estate and your “permanent residence.” This is life changing for many people. It means they can afford to own their own home once again in this bloated real estate market. Make some calls. Get the word out. Let’s get this appendix adopted in every state across the nation!

 

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15 Responses to Call to Action: Help with the Tiny House Appendix Adoption Process

  1. Thom Stanton March 19, 2017 at 8:38 am #

    Kudos again, Andrew. I look forward to helping foster adoption of Appendix V throughout the US.

    Our work continues in parallel on a clear definition of tiny house construction standards so DIY and Pro builders illustrate our industry’s interest in proactively meeting IRC standards through voluntary compliance inspections and certification.

    Tiny House 3.0 is here, and you’ve helped usher in this new era of official acceptance as legitimatized dwellings fit for legalized inhabitation as permanent residences.

    Thanks again for your efforts and leadership!

  2. Kristina Sullivan March 20, 2017 at 11:30 am #

    Thank you so much Andrew, -this is immensely helpful!!

    A few questions; have you come across the question from building officials that they’re wondering why one would limit the hight to 13’6″ if the house is not movable (and thus create necessity for the lower ceiling and loft hight approval)? Since the appendix doesn’t include movable tiny houses. Or do you bridge that over to that most tiny houses are built movable and working in that..?

    And second possible question/concern from building officials: If the house is movable it doesn’t really add to the real estate value in their county, if the houses move away later? (This might be argued differently if one talkes about ADUs vs the only house on a property) Or is that where the affordability comes in, -that not everything is about real estate value?

    • Andrew
      Andrew March 20, 2017 at 12:51 pm #

      Hi Kristina. Thanks for your questions. My answers are below.

      1. The height of 13′ 6″ is specific to movable tiny houses; however, smaller scale homes simply make sense. This is the approach I take with building officials asking about the ceiling heights. If a 200 SF house was 20′ tall, based on conventional ceiling heights, distance from grade, and framing, it would look crazy. It would basically be a tower that is 10′ wide, 20′ long and 20′ TALL. That doesn’t work for most home owners. Further, it would potentially cast solar shading onto neighboring properties which would not be an issue with lower profile homes.

      2.The reality is that tiny houses that are approved through the IRC guidelines will most likely require a “permanent set” similar to the way manufactured housing is handled. Although the wheels would be removed, they would still be “movable” if the owners desired to make a location change. If there is an issue within the building departments about this level of flexibility in the permanence of housing, they have not shown that in regards to manufactured housing. Why would Tiny Houses be any different in their eyes? (that’s a rhetorical question for the officials)

      Cheers!

      • Albert Dezotell May 19, 2017 at 7:17 pm #

        Ceiling Heights Should be set at 6′ And above I’m 5’7″ and the home I plan to build just might keep me from kneeling down in the loft because my knees are really bad.

        • Andrew
          Andrew May 20, 2017 at 10:19 am #

          That’s not an option within the building codes at this time. We have to work within an existing system and there are far too many layers of oversight to approve a ceiling height of 6′. Keep in mind that although you can walk in that comfortably, the building code has to provide guidelines for construction that work for the industry, not individual builders or home owners. They also have to provide guidelines that keep emergency rescue crews safe. Picture a firefighter with an oxygen tank on coming into a home with 6′ ceilings. There’s a good chance that he/she would be in danger in that situation.

  3. Seth Berry March 20, 2017 at 1:18 pm #

    Hello,

    I am a State Rep in Maine and am working to accelerate adoption of the Appendix you worked on. Thank you for that! If you want to weigh in, please contact me.

    • Andrew
      Andrew March 22, 2017 at 2:14 pm #

      Hi Seth. Thank you so much for your interest and support in this. I have sent you an email and I look forward to connecting.

  4. Mike April 18, 2017 at 11:59 am #

    I have direct access to a local politician that is a childhood friend. He was recently elected d to the House Of Representatives in Florida. Would that be a branch of government that could get something moving forward here in Florida?

    • Andrew
      Andrew April 19, 2017 at 8:24 am #

      Absolutely Mike. We wrote a House Bill here in Oregon and are moving on that front to get the appendix adopted in advance of the code change cycle that is 3 years out… I will post what we wrote in a blog soon. Stay tuned.

  5. Albert Dezotell May 19, 2017 at 7:25 pm #

    I Think FL has some rules on the books ( Transcend Tiny Homes ) Just Past a Cat 5 Hurricane test

    • Andrew
      Andrew May 20, 2017 at 10:17 am #

      They do not. Martin Hammer and I wrote the national code that was approved last year and is now moving towards adoption in many states. Florida has not adopted it as far as I know. There may be some zoning ordinances that have been changed, but no building code that I have heard of. I checked the website of the company you mention and they refer to the appendix that we wrote as the upcoming building code changes that could arrive as soon as 2018. On fact, the appendix is being adopted much earlier than that in places like Oregon, Idaho, Maine, New Mexico, and others.

  6. Aaron May 26, 2017 at 9:58 pm #

    Hello!

    My wife and I are looking into having our tiny house built in the next year but we are having a tremendous amount of issues trying to find a potential place to put it (like everyone else). We live in Austin and would love love love to stay here but from my understanding, it’s a zoning/code issue. There’s honestly very little I know about zoning and Austin code but when I searched up what IRC Austin uses it said, “Effective July 5, 2017, the City will follow the 2015 International Residential Code”. I’m assuming because the city hasn’t even implemented the use of the 2015 IRC the hope of having Appendix V implemented any time soon would be very small. We want to help make tiny houses in Austin a primary dwelling place it just feels a like an extremely uphill battle.

    • Andrew
      Andrew May 30, 2017 at 9:29 am #

      Hi Aaron. It’s possible that the state of Texas will adopt the appendix before they adopt the rest of the 2018 code if there is enough call for such adoption. I suggest you reach out to the building department and ask them. A couple other options:

      1. The area just outside of Austin is unincorporated county and does not require the same level of code compliance/inspections. For example, I did a workshop a couple years ago on a straw bale house that required only one inspection: the septic. Everything else was left to the owners to complete on their own.

      2. You can make application for your tiny house by referencing the details of Appendix V and then submitting under code section R104.11 of the 2015 IRC which allows for alternative designs not covered in the code. You would require engineered plans, especially if you plan to put the house on a trailer, but this could be an effective way to get it approved even without the adoption of the appendix.

      Good luck!

  7. Bianca June 7, 2017 at 4:49 pm #

    Is there a way to have a tiny house legally in NYC? I want to know where it might be possible to park it.

    • Andrew
      Andrew June 28, 2017 at 8:51 pm #

      Hi Bianca. At this time there are very fwe places in the US that you can legally park a tiny house that’s built on a trailer. NYC is not one of them. Small or even tiny houses on a foundation are not a problem, but the trailer is a killer.

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