Building Codes in the Tiny Housing Boom

As more people embrace the tiny home movement building codes are starting to change to reflect the times.

| October 2016

In Living Large in Our Little House (Reader's Digest, 2016), Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell had been subconsciously trying to live up to this American Dream when circumstances forced her and her husband into a 480-square foot house in the woods. What was supposed to be a writing cabin and guest house became their full-time abode and they quickly discovered that they had serendipitously discovered a better way of life.

You can purchase this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: Living Large in our Little House.

Data aren’t readily available on how many people are living in tiny homes in the United States. Home-ownership data are typically collected by the mortgage industry, and since real estate experts say 68 percent of tiny home dwellers don’t have a mortgage, data are difficult to find. However, the  national Association of REALTORS estimates that little homes under 1,000 square feet make up about 1 percent of the market.

If so many people are interested in the idea of little house living, why aren’t there more folks living that dream? A primary factor is that many people don’t believe they can give up their large homes (and all their stuff) and still be happy. Dale and I didn’t think we could, until we did. But the movement is also held back in part due to building codes on minimum square footage, and requirements for permanent water, sewer, and electrical sources.

The majority of people building or buying little homes are building or parking them in rural areas because codes in most cities don’t allow for tiny homes. In addition, cities generally require dwellings to have a permanent water source and flushing toilets (while many portable tiny homes have composting toilets).

Many of these codes were put into place after the Great Depression and during the post–World War II boom. During the Depression, people were forced to create shantytowns just to have a place to sleep. Most of these dwellings were not only unsightly, but also unsafe. Local governments wanted to make sure residents were building safe homes and not “tenements” or “shantytowns.”

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