The mainstreaming of affordable and energy-efficient small and tiny homes into our cultural consciousness has picked up tremendous momentum in the last few years, leading many to characterize it as a movement in its own right. Even though tiny homes won't be a fit for everyone, they could potentially help address critical issues like over-consumption and debt, while growing alternative and more sustainable building practices on a larger scale and making housing more affordable.
But the idealism of the movement has usually come up against the restrictive realities of existing zoning and building regulations. In many places, tiny homes exist in a legal gray area of sorts, on top of the fact that there are no widely agreed-upon safety standards for them, making it difficult for wider integration.
Things are slowly changing though. Tiny House Build's Andrew Morrison (previously here and here) is spearheading a proposed appendix to be added to the 2018 International Residential Code (IRC), which will address "ceiling heights, sleeping lofts, loft access, emergency escape and egress, and many other details".
Morrison relates some of the backstory leading up to their journey to the International Code Council's public comment hearing this weekend in Kansas City, and explains why having some kind of tiny house building standard is important at this juncture:
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.
Morrison notes, however, that the proposed appendix "would not impact those who build Tiny House RVs under RVIA standards as those are governed separately from the IRC" and explains elsewhere why it's better anyway to have tiny homes legally considered as permanent residences rather than RVs. In any case, this proposal is already a huge step forward to further legitimizing tiny homes, potentially providing builders and homeowners with some guidelines on how making them safer and easier to build.
If you're interested in attending the hearing last minute, get in touch with Andrew Morrison, or sign the online petition here, or donate to the effort here. It's late in the game, but you can also lobby your local officials who are voting members in the ICC, says Morrison: “Please contact your local building departments and find out who is a voting member of ICC. Ask them to support the proposal with their vote. I believed 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."
UPDATE: Morrison gives an update on the details on the ICC hearing over that weekend here, and there's a call to action for people interested in helping push the effort further here, with detailed instructions on petitioning your local ICC-voting building officials.