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The definition of a tiny house is subjective, but for me, it's a home of 400 square feet or less, either on wheels or a foundation. I consider a home of between 400 and 1000 square feet to be small. Due to size specifications for rooms, clearances and distances between fixtures, building codes are a little more difficult for tiny houses to meet. (However, it is possible. Please see "Navigating Minimum Square Footage".) Small homes can easily meet building codes. Zoning is a challenge for both tiny and small homes, as many communities require houses to be 1,000 square feet or more.
The increase in popularity of tiny houses, and particularly the rapid increase in the number of both amateur and professional builders, has led to concerns regarding safety among tiny house professionals. In 2013, an Alliance of tiny house builders was formed to promote ethical business practices and offer guidelines for construction of tiny houses on wheels. This effort was carried on in 2015 by the American Tiny House Association. In 2015, the nonprofit American Tiny House Association was formed to promote the tiny house as a viable, formally acceptable dwelling option and to work with local government agencies to discuss zoning and coding regulations that can reduce the obstacles to tiny living.
One of the biggest obstacles to growth of the tiny house movement is the difficulty in finding a place to live in one. Zoning regulations typically specify minimum square footage for new construction on a foundation, and for tiny houses on wheels, parking on one's own land may be prohibited by local regulations against "camping." In addition, RV parks do not always welcome tiny houses. DIYers may be turned away, as many RV parks require RVs be manufactured by a member of the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association "(RVIA)".
Tiny houses on wheels are considered RVs and not suitable for permanent residence, according to the RVIA. From RVBusiness, "The RVIA will continue to shy away from allowing members who produce products that are referred to as 'tiny houses' or 'tiny homes. (However, the RVIA does allow “tiny home” builders to join as long as their units are built to park model RV standards.)"
In 2014, the first "tiny house friendly town" was declared in Spur, Texas, however it was later clarified that a tiny house may not be on wheels but must be secured to a foundation.
Legally, a tiny house on wheels is considered an RV, and a tiny house on a foundation is considered an accessory dwelling unit (ADU). We tiny housers need a new legal definition for a tiny house, separate from an RV or ADU, but that will take time. For now, we need to work within this framework.
If you're building your own tiny house on wheels and plan on getting it registered as an RV with your state, then research the DMV regulations ahead of time. In most states, a self-built RV will need to be inspected before the DMV will issue a license plate. Have detailed plans drawn up and take photos at each step of building, so that you can show electrical and plumbing work without having to cut into the walls at the DMV! Some folks avoid this step by purchasing a flat bed trailer manufactured by a company that provides a Vehicle Identification Number. They register the trailer but then don't go the extra step of re-registering it as an RV when finished building the tiny house. This isn't strictly legal, as many states charge fees based on weight or re-sale value. If you're planning to live remotely off-grid, you might consider it, but if you want to stay in an RV park or obtain RV insurance, you'll want to make the extra effort and get your tiny house registered as an RV.
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