Think About Safety When You Build Tiny Houses

©. Full Moon Tiny Shelters

Tiny houses are a big deal these days, and a lot of people are getting into the business of designing, building and selling them. There is a reason that tiny houses are on chassis and are less than 8'-6" wide outside: on wheels and that width, they are not considered buildings and are not subject to traditional building codes or zoning bylaws. There are rules for Recreational Vehicles or RVs, but they are pretty vague and there does not appear to be lot of enforcement.

Over at Tiny House Talk, Rich Daniels of Rich's Portable Cabins starts a discussion about designing a safe tiny home, concentrating particularly on the issues of loft beds and stairs leading up to them.

interior of pod

© Brett Rubin

Although many of the designs I have been seeing lately on your medium [Tiny House Talk] are brilliant in many ways, some if not all are lacking the safety features that all manufactures must conform to....Some obvious points are a lack of railing to prevent someone from falling from the loft, or off the stairs. By law, whether the home is considered an RV or a Park Model RV, there needs to be proper egress to the outside of the cabin from the loft. These lofts are not considered storage lofts and are clearly for sleeping and therefor must have proper egress.

alternating stair

© Rocky Mountain Tiny Houses

Yes, and although I keep showing those ladders and alternating tread stairs with no handrails, he's right- the RV code may be vague but it clearly says that "Minimum exit facilities providing unobstructed travel to the outside of the vehicle must be available." There should also be a window big enough to get through in case the way down the stair is blocked.

Rich's tiny homes

© Rich's Portable Cabins

However there are other issues beside simply emergency exits and handrails. Here you have really small spaces built of combustible materials, with a wall mounted propane heater on one side and a gas range on the other. Is there makeup air designed into the system? Is there controlled ventilation to ensure that there is enough oxygen? Some would question whether you want to be cooking and heating with gas in such a small space; perhaps it's better to insulate more and go all electric. If you are living year round in such a small space, air quality should be a major concern.

credit: Christopher Tack

© Christopher Tack

Another issue is the issue of the health and safety of the materials chosen. The RV standard NFPA 1192 says "Interior finish flame spread limitations are required." But these are all knotty pine interiors, often with wood stoves sitting right in front of them. The standard also says that "Fuel burning appliances must be listed for RV use and labeled by a nationally recognized testing agency that has found the product to be suitable for its intended use."

©. Tiny Tack Toilet/ Chris Tack/ click here for more bathroom photos

© Tiny Tack Toilet/ Chris Tack/ click here for more bathroom photos

Really, we have all the plumbing, wiring, cooking and heating systems of a real house squeezed into a very small space, and very little regulation of them since they are not buildings subject to the building inspectors, and they are not RVs built by major builders who are regulated by the NFPA standard. And the free-spirited tiny home types like it that way; as one commenter complained on Tiny House Talk:

I think the last thing tiny house folks want is to be coded and regulated to death. Try the typical 30 year mortgage, working yourself into a slow grave and see how Safe and healthy that is. Falling out of a loft, really? Fire hazards?.... The whole idea of this movement is freedom, I'm sorry to step on toes but you can have accidents any time, anywhere, most of these tiny houses I see are very well thought out. If we give in to more regs we are back to square one, I'm out.

He is not alone in thinking this way. And it is true that one of the reasons the tiny house movement is so interesting is that there has been such an explosion of creativity in small space design. One would hate to see that gone.

On the other hand, if you are manufacturing a product for sale to another person, having a standard protects you the builder as much as the person who buys it. It's a new business, and someone is going to get hurt or dead and someone is going to get sued and nobody is going to get insured and that's the end of the tiny house movement as we know it. That's the way the world works.

Should tiny houses be regulated?