You may have heard that a tiny house is under 500 square feet–or 1000 square feet. Real Estate agents routinely refer to any house under 2000 square feet as tiny. And for some, anything over 200 square feet isn’t what they consider tiny, and definitely not a proper tiny house.
So what is the official definition of a tiny house? How many square feet can it be, and still qualify as tiny? For many years there was no official definition of a tiny house–so everyone was free to make up their own definition! But recently things have changed.
As of August 2017, when the International Code Council (ICC) approved Appendix Q we got model code with an official definition of a tiny house. The 2018 International Residential Code for One- and Two-Family Dwellings (IRC) defines a tiny house as…
TINY HOUSE. A dwelling that is 400 square feet (37m2) or less in floor area excluding lofts.
That’s the entire definition. There’s nothing more to it! The thing that defines a tiny house officially, is that it’s under 400 square feet.
Of course Appendix Q only applies to tiny houses on a foundation, and not moveable tiny homes–so what about tiny houses on wheels? How big can a tiny house on wheels be? That depends on where you live, but in any state that defines a tiny house on wheels as an RV, then the maximum size for a tiny house RV is 400 square feet, according to the NFPA 1192 Standard for RVs. If you’ve ever seen a park model RV, they are often around 12′ wide and 33′ long, just under the 400 square feet maximum.
So with the IRC now defining a tiny house on a foundation as under 400 square feet. And with the ANSI Standard for RVs also allowing for a maximum of 400 square feet for tiny house RVs, it seems we now have an answer to the question of how big is a tiny home. Any home that is under 400 square feet in area, excluding lofts, whether it is on a permanent foundation or on wheels, fits the definition of a tiny house!
A group on Facebook is in the planning stages for a tiny house pocket community in the City of Rockledge, Florida, where it will be possible to own your own lot, and build a tiny house on a foundation, or in some cases place a tiny house on wheels. The houses will range from 170 to 700 square feet, and the community will feature “a common greenspace to encourage interaction.”
Pocket neighborhoods are clustered groups of neighboring houses or apartments gathered around a shared open space — a garden courtyard, a pedestrian street, a series of joined backyards, or a reclaimed alley — all of which have a clear sense of territory and shared stewardship. They can be in urban, suburban or rural areas. —pocket-neighborhoods.net
And from the Rockledge Tiny House Community Facebook Group… “The site plan that has been submitted to the City of Rockledge for approval has 12 tiny foundation house lots and 3 THOW lots. Only 25% of the houses can be THOWS per the ordinance.”
Jenna from Tiny House Giant Journey addresses one of the biggest issues self-built tiny house on wheels owners struggle with–insurance!
“Here’s the deal: insuring a self-built tiny house is challenging. I’ve struggled. Others have struggled. Insurance companies don’t know how to categorize our strange, rolling homes, let alone insure them for damage and theft. Luckily, with the popularity of the movement growing, it is becoming easier to find tiny house insurance.”
A “home-made, specially constructed, or kit vehicle” is a vehicle that is built for private use, not for resale, and is not constructed by a licensed manufacturer or remanufacturer. These vehicles may be built from a kit, new or used parts, a combination of new and used parts, or a vehicle reported for dismantling (junked) that, when reconstructed, does not resemble the original make of the vehicle that was dismantled.”
A vehicle verification done by the California Highway Patrol (CHP). You must start your application process with the DMV prior to contacting the CHP for a vehicle verification. DMV verifies trailers with an unladen weight of 6,000 pounds or less.
Proof of ownership, such as invoices, receipts, manufacturers’ certificates of origin, bills of sale, or junk receipts for the major component parts (engine, frame, transmission, and body).
NOTE: A motor vehicle bond is required when proof of ownership cannot be obtained for parts valued a $5,000 or more.
Official brake and light adjustment certificates. When an official brake and light station that inspects specific vehicles such as motorcycles and large commercial vehicles is not located within a reasonable distance, DMV will accept a Statement of Facts (REG 256) from a repair shop attesting that the brakes and lights are in proper working order. Brake and light certificates are not required for off-highway vehicles or trailers weighing less than 3,000 pounds gross vehicle weight.
A weight certificate for commercial vehicles weighing 10,000 pounds or less.
On February 4th, 2016 the state of California released a document meant to “clarify the legality of use, design and construction approval of any residential structure that may be commonly referred to as a tiny home.”
The Information Bulletin doesn’t change any existing law, but instead simply clarifies the existing law, making it easier for those interested in a tiny house in the state of California to know what is legal to occupy.
The document describes when a tiny home fits into one of four definitions–which are all legal to occupy. The basic classifications are recreational vehicles (including park trailers), manufactured homes, factory-built housing, or a site-constructed California Building Standards Code dwelling.
A tiny home sold, rented, leased or occupied within California may be legal if used on an approved location, complies with all applicable laws, and is either:
• Built on a chassis with axles; contains 400 square feet or less of gross floor area (excluding loft area space); is considered an RV, CC or PT; is not under HCD’s jurisdiction for the design and construction of the unit; and its construction and occupancy is enforced by local enforcement agencies with appropriate jurisdiction; or
• Not constructed on a chassis with axles; is placed on a foundation or otherwise permanently affixed to real property; and complies with CBSC or FBH standards; and may be enforced by local enforcement agencies having appropriate jurisdiction.
In July of 2015, the city counsel of Walsenburg, Colorado approved an ordinance changing the zoning of a parcel of land purchased by Sprout Tiny Homes, allowing a proposed 28 unit tiny home development. Waldenburg is located about 90 miles south of Colorado Springs.
The parcel of land is located behind the Walsenburg library.
Sprout Tiny Homes manufactures tiny homes on wheels up to 290 sq. ft. and homes that are secured to traditional foundations with up to 760 sq ft of living space, and are located in La Junta, Colorado.
Every state is different, and the rules can vary widely, but one tiny house owner in North Carolina describes the process necessary to legally place a tiny house on wheels on his own property.
The process for what was called “the custom modular” sounds fairly simple: hire a structural engineer to certify that the house was structurally sound; put the trailer on piers and strap it down, much like would be done with a mobilehome; then apply for a building permit.
The Berzins Family had their biggest tiny house fear almost come true in 2013. They were found to be in violation of the Universal Statewide Building Code in Virginia because they didn’t get a building permit prior to building their 168 sq. ft. tiny house.
As Hari Berzins writes…
The code in Virginia puts any dwelling into the jurisdiction of the local building inspector. So even though we built on wheels (constructing mostly in Florida) and have a license plate, we still needed to have a building permit and inspections.
Their story has a happy ending–the inspection process was painless and they got their Certificate of Occupancy. But if you’re living or building a tiny house on wheels in Virginia, it might be smart to read their story…