Tiny home

Is a tiny house safe? Codes and issues facing tiny houses

What is a tiny house? While the definition varies depending on who you talk to, typically it is considered any house under 400 sq ft. You could fit 6.5 tiny houses inside the average American home (which is around 2,600 sq ft). The tiny house movement is quickly spreading across America. For some buried in student debt, it is viewed as the only way to achieve the American Dream of owning your own home and for others, it is about getting rid of the excess and living more simply. Whatever the reason is, are they safe?

Some tiny homes have foundations or are built off-site and tied down to a foundation. Since these sit on a foundation, these have to meet local building code requirements.

Safety concerns are related to the large number of tiny homes being built on wheels. You'll see these referred to as THOWs (Tiny Houses on Wheels). These are presenting a problem for AHJs. Local building codes are not enforceable because they aren't built on foundations. Although you might think they should be considered RVs, they are not. The RV standards make it very clear that RVs are only meant for temporary living, not permanent. These tiny houses seem to have created a large problem in the codes and standards world.

Many in the tiny house movement like that they are living "outside the law". People build their own tiny homes with their needs in minds. This allows for arguably the most efficient use of space. But, they are technically illegal. While I'm not sure I'm ready to trade in my "large space" for a tiny home, I see the potential. Many have suggested using them to house the homeless or as women's shelters. I've even heard of military families using them. Before we consider using them for such great causes, we need to know they are safe.

Some of the major concerns with THOWs:

  • Required number of means of escape
  • Use of ladder in the means of escape
  • Size of windows if they are provided as a means of escape
  • Requirements for smoke alarms and sprinkler systems
  • Lack of foundations
  • Minimum room sizes
  • Plumbing requirements (many THOW owners want to use composting toilets which are largely illegal)

Are you ready to trade your "large home" in for a THOW?  Have you seen these in your communities? This seems to be a movement that isn't going anywhere. What safety concerns have you heard regarding these tiny spaces?

Picture Credit: The Move | A Tiny House on the Prairies

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Valerie Ziavras
Technical Services Engineer, supporting product and content development throughout the association.

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