The Perfect Tiny Home?
Since Vancouver’s EcoDensity Laneway House initiative was launched in 2009, laneway houses have been gaining more and more popularity. There are a ton of proposed benefits to these mini-homes (financially, environmentally, economically) but how often are they credited for their beauty and design?
A certain laneway house production company caught my attention: Lanefab Design. From what I’ve seen on their website they build pretty amazing mini-homes. They also innovate. They are the creators of a sustainable, solar powered, rain-water harnessing home called the Net Zero House. And it doesn’t look like a giant greenhouse: this little home is stunning.
This 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.
While the 2015 IRC has eliminated the requirement for a house to have at least one room of 120 square feet or more, states will need to adopt the new code in order for it to be effective. In addition, the IRC still contains other minimum size specifications that prove challenging: rooms (except for bathrooms and kitchens) must be 70 square feet, ceiling height must be 7 feet, etc. (additional code discussion). Accordingly, while it is possible for a tiny house to meet building codes, a house built on a foundation on its own land is more likely to be small (more than 400 square feet) rather than tiny. In addition, a building permit will probably be required.
Zoning regulations pose more of a challenge than building codes. Many cities and counties have minimum size requirements of 1,000 square feet or more for construction of a new home on its own land. The specific minimum will be determined by your zone. For example, in Manatee County, Florida, new houses in zone R1 must be at least 1500 square feet, but in zones R2 & R3 only 800 square feet. In contrast, in Sarasota County, Florida, there is no minimum house size. Call your local Zoning or Planning Department to find out what the minimum is for your land.
If a tiny home on its own land isn't possible, explore building your tiny house as an Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) or granny flat in the backyard of an existing home. Here's a handy guide on How to Build a Tiny House (ADU), written by The United Way in Brevard, NC. While the information is specific to Brevard, much of it would also be applicable to other states. Be sure to check zoning in your neighborhood as only some areas allow ADUs.
As small houses may be attractive as second homes or retirement houses which 2 out of five people are over 50, their increased utilization may lead to development of more land. People interested in building a small home can encounter institutional “discrimination” when building codes require minimum size well above the size of a small home. Also, neighbors may be hostile because they fear negative impacts on their property values. There has also been opposition based on this fact, due to concerns about increased taxes.
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