WHAT ARE TINY HOUSES?
Nearly all news stories addressing what are tiny houses say something like, “A common definition for a tiny house doesn’t exist…” Well we have good news; if you’ve been wondering just what a tiny house is, a definition has FINALLY been established!
In 2017, Andrew Morrison and Martin Hammer wrote International Residential Code (IRC) Appendix Q: Tiny Houses, and after intense vetting and a three stage voting process, it was approved by the International Code Council (ICC). After months of effort, advocacy work, and overcoming a lot of obstacles, we are VERY pleased to reveal the official definition of a tiny house:
TINY HOUSE. A dwelling that is 400 square feet (37 sq m) or less in floor area excluding lofts.
Plain and simple! Why is it important to have a uniform tiny house definition?
• If you want to go the legal route for your tiny house build, at some point you’ll need to go into the building department. Using the right terminology will help officials see that you know what you’re talking about (which will make them more likely to give you a building permit and Certificate of Occupancy).
• Being able to definitively answer the question what are tiny houses places us all on the same page when addressing the tiny house movement, what challenges we face collectively, and where we go from here.
• Having a definition helps us know what a tiny house is NOT. A tiny house is not a Park Model (trailer type RV designed to provide temporary accommodations for recreation, camping or seasonal use). A tiny house is not a Manufactured Home (Manufactured Homes are built by a certified manufacturing plant as dwelling units of at least 320sqft with a permanent chassis to assure the initial and continued transportability of the home). As a point of clarification, Manufactured Homes are often misidentified as “Mobile Homes”. However, the term Mobile Home only refers to Manufactured Housing built prior to 1976. Anything built post 1976 in this classification is officially and legally referred to as Manufactured Housing. Finally, a tiny house is not an RV (vehicle designed as temporary living quarters for recreational, camping, travel or seasonal use).
• A definition for Tiny House allows people in the community to speak with banks and other lending institutions and show them that the home they’re considering is actually a legally defined entity and one that comes with it’s own code language and guidelines. This makes the home much more official in the lenders’ eyes.
• The official definition also allows those of us in Tiny Homes to work directly with insurance agencies to identify the home in legal terms. Once again, the inclusion of an official definition and an official code guideline (Appendix Q) legitimizes the home for insurance agents and their underwriters.
One of the most exciting aspects of Appendix Q: Tiny Houses, is that it creates a legal pathway for people to occupy their tiny as a full time residence by acquiring a Certificate of Occupancy (CoO). A CoO is not attainable through an RV certification, nor with Park Models. They are possible with a Manufactured Home but DIYers can’t legally build their own Manufactured Home.
As far as the DIY builder goes, the only option for acquiring a CoO for a Tiny House (and thus a legal residence) is by following Appendix Q.
This is really important because most of us living the tiny house lifestyle are looking for HOUSING options, not recreational options. In most cases, without a CoO, you simply don’t have a legal residence. To be clear, there are locations around the U.S. and around the world that currently allow for people to live in RVs full time, or in homes without any code oversight. However, those areas are few and far between and they certainly don’t exist in most residential neighborhoods.
Some people in the tiny house community have suggested that a tiny house is simply a small home, outside of the realm of conventional housing. They suggest that the size of the home is relative to the inhabitants and not something that one can pin a number to. In fact, Andrew himself says something similar at our workshops and in his presentations when he discusses the “feeling” or “perception” of a tiny home. He talks about “Human Scale” as the focus of housing. For example, a family of 10 may not find living in 400 square feet to be an option. For them, an 800 sf home may be the way to go and it will, believe me, still fit the description “tiny.” It won’t, however, meet the definition of a Tiny House in legal terms. So yes, tiny may be relative from a feeling standpoint, but not from a quantifiable, legal perspective.
Find out more about Appendix Q, where things stand nationwide, and how you can help our mission to get it adopted into each state by clicking here. To find out how you can financially support the cause, and help us travel to different states to represent the Appendix with top building officials and commissions, please click here. Our GoFundMe campaign actually became one of their staff’s favorites and they donated an additional $1,000 to our cause!! <3
We have created an infographic (below) that sums up the details of this article and answers the question: what is a tiny house. We hope that it clearly lays out what a tiny house is and is not and who oversees each.
Thank you for helping us spread the message that a standardized and legal definition for tiny houses finally exists!
PLEASE FEEL FREE TO SHARE OUR INFOGRAPHIC FAR AND WIDE!!