I recently came across a video on YouTube setting off alarm bells warning everyone involved in the Tiny House Movement that HUD (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) will soon make tiny houses illegal – mainly, living in them as a full time residence. And, it seems to have worked, people are frantically trying to find out what the new regulations mean and how it will effect them. IMO, this reaction is justified in light of many new laws that have changed in the last 15 years – of which, many have taken away more of our rights to live as we see fit.
However, I think the keyword here is “Proposal”, and this means just that, a proposed rule change regarding RV’s, manufactured homes, and now tiny houses – mainly how they will be classified and certified. The problem with a “Proposal”, is that it can change, and the final rule or regulation to be put in place is what should be of concern to anyone wanting to build or buy a tiny house and live in it full time.
I won’t get into the details of the proposed rule, I have included a link at the end of this article and it can be viewed on the Regulations.gov website. What I want to bring to your attention is the aspects and appeal of tiny house living and construction that may change – and I stress might.
First, have a look at the videos below for a little background on what appears to have started this negative news..
Personally I would suggest the author lose the gun, it takes attention away from the issues – as there are some good points in these videos.
So The Big Question is; How Will HUD’s Proposed Regulation Changes Affect The Tiny House Movement?
Overall, it is hard to say what the outcome will be, but I do think it will end with regulations that require tiny houses to meet the same standards as manufactured homes (mobile home as most of us would call it). A unit built to withstand transport, but intended to be parked for long periods in a permanent location such as a mobile home park or on a property.
This is where I think things will get tricky. On one hand you have people who want a tiny house for mobility similar to that of an RV, and on the other hand, many people will want to build a tiny house to minimize the cost of building and live in it full time on a property. That said, how will HUD write new regulations on a single type of unit that may be built as an RV, or as a manufactured home for year-round living? I would have to guess and say that there will likely be two sets of regulations and tiny house builders will have to build according to the intended use – RV or Permanent housing.
As a builder and contractor, I have say I have seen some pretty scary attempts at construction over the years by those who believe they know what they are doing. So, building codes do have their place and do help to ensure we are all buying a safe home or a renovation is being done correctly and meets the required building codes.
When it comes to tiny houses being built by people lacking building skills… inspections and codes may not be a bad thing. After all, these are homes that will be hauled down highways at speeds of 60 to 70 mph (100 to 120km) and they have to hold together! I would not want to be behind a tiny house when the roof starts to rip off and head in my direction – this and worse can happen if the tiny house is not built right.
Building Codes For Tiny Houses is a Good Thing
In the USA, The Manufactured Housing Consensus Committee (MHCC) and the Federal Manufactured Home Construction and Safety Standards combined govern how manufactured homes are to be built. In Canada, I believe it is CSA and the National Building Code (NBC). These organizations and resulting legislation oversee and assure Manufactured homes are built safely and meet quality standards.
I believe, when this new proposal and others related to tiny house have run their due course, NEW regulations for tiny houses will be the same, or similar to those currently in place for manufactured homes. Considering most people want to live in their tiny houses year round it just makes sense the industry will push for regulations that allow tiny house owners to do so.
Building Codes Will Provide Safety and Quality for Tiny House Buyers!
Tiny houses, like any other structure, will have electrical, plumbing, septic system, insulation and so on, pretty much the same as you would find in any regular house or mobile home (or RV if built to RV Standards).
Without regulations, codes and inspections, how will you know how safe the electrical installation is? The plumbing lines and connections (is the right piping uses?) Septic system? What about insulation and vapour barriers? All of these and more are very important to safety and quality. If a tiny house has been wired for hookup to the grid, without an inspection, how do you know it safe, if not, a fire may not be far off. If regular insulation was used without a proper vapour barrier, mold may become an issue, followed by rot. incorrect plumbing lines and connectors may result in leaks and serious damage or rot… The list goes on!
Think it can’t happen? Let me tell it can. Years ago I renovated a home for a couple who had just purchased the home. Before starting the reno, we checked all the plumbing and electrical – not only was it a mess, it was a fire waiting to happen – e.g. 14/3 wire running to the range (typical for a freestanding range/oven is 8/3 wire), 14/2 running to baseboard heaters, lines running along the ground under the house, faulty breakers and so on – Luckily, the prior owners never got so far as to power up these circuits! The plumbing was equally as bad with a main ABS septic line under the house that came apart – NO ABS CEMENT USED! There was much more wrong with this house, but I think that says enough.
Without inspections, codes and standards we would see a lot more tragedies in North America, and I think they are a must in the Tiny House industry and movement! It is about safety for all builders, buyers and renters of tiny houses.
I See 2 Sets of Standards Emerging – 1 For Tiny House RV’s Status & 1 For Tiny House Manufactured Home Status
The tiny house movement has two types of owners, those that like the mobility, and those that simply want a small, affordable house on a inexpensive piece of land somewhere. Currently, HUD is proposing regulations that will determine how tiny houses will be classified and what regulations must be followed. Considering the two distinctly different ways tiny house owners will use their homes, this will be problematic for HUD.
It will make it hard for HUD to implement one standard to suit both parties – I can see HUD having to come up with 2 types of certification with regulations and standards that apply to each uniquely – mobile (RV) or fixed location (as with mobile homes).
The Downside of New Tiny House Regulations & Standards
I only see a small downside to any set rules and regulations and this may involve the use of recycled or used materials.
One of the appealing aspects of building a tiny house is how well they lend themselves to the use of recycled and used materials. They are small so one can easily score enough roofing, used windows and doors, flooring and many other parts for a tiny house.
If new standards are introduced and you have to use materials that meet new standards, say with windows, you may not be able to use old windows or doors, roofing materials or old plumbing fixtures – it all depends on how strict any new standards and regulations are. Until we get to that point and time, it is hard to say how tiny house builders will be effected.
A proposed regulation change by HUD (United States Department of Housing and Urban Development) may remove the option of legally living full time in an RV smaller than 400 square feet… This may also come to include tiny houses, this part of the proposed rule changes could be the real threat to tiny house owners and builders. Do note the wording “”living full time in an RV smaller than 400 square feet – the keyword here is RV – How will this apply to a tiny house built to manufactured home specifications and standards? IMO, this is the area of these proposed changes that we must pay attention too! If you build a tiny house as a manufactured home, what is the minimum size? Where can you live? What is required for transport and so on? These gray areas need to be resolved so the tiny house movement can move forward.
What Can You Do To Make Sure Your Tiny House Will Be Legal & Meet Possible Future Regulations?
First and foremost, you’ll need to decide if your tiny house will be built as an RV with mobility in mind, using RV toilets, pumps, water tanks and so on. If you are looking to keep it simple and build for a permanent location on a property or park, then you may choose to build to manufactured home standards.
This is where I would do my best to meet the standards currently in place for RV’s or manufactured homes depending on your choice. While it may not be easy, I think it would be wise to see if you can have anything that will be buried in walls, floors and roofs inspected and/or certified as you progress through the building of your tiny house. A pain in the butt, yes! But it may save a ton of headaches down the road.
This may not be easy, you likely will need to talk to local RV companies that provide installation services to see if they are able to certify your work. It is possible that you may have to have qualified RV personnel do your electrical and plumbing to acquire certification. Extra cost, yes, but it may save a lot of problems later, and make your tiny house easier to sell in the future if choose too.
If you are building to manufactured home specs, or those of regular housing, you may have to talk to local build inspectors and see if it is possible for them to provide inspections and approvals on each stage of your tiny house build – this will be tricky and likely require a little research. They may not provide inspections or permits due to the size of your home, or the fact that it can be moved out of state or province where regulations may vary slightly and so on. You may have to seek out a manufactured home builder and see what they suggest.
I personally hope we see a set of standards and regulations emerge that will provide two types of certification, complete with standards and regulations that apply uniquely for the two types of tiny houses likely to become mainstream – mobile (RV) or fixed location (Manufactured Home).
This will have a huge upside. When complete (and know one knows when that will be) it will give everyone, professional or DIY’r, the guidelines and standards to build within. It should provide a means to have either type of tiny house inspected and certified providing owners with the peace of mind needed for safety, quality and future sale of a tiny house.
I sincerely hope that HUD and the various organizations involved in developing standards for the tiny house industry do so, and do it as fast as possible. Then we can move forward with confidence, and know that the house we build today, will be legal and certified for it’s intended use in the future.
I personally would play it safe and build to Manufactured Home codes and standards with the intent of permanently placing my tiny house on an inexpensive property. In addition, to avoid issues from meddling neighbors and city officials, I would be looking for a rural or remote piece of land a little off the beaten track – if possible that is.
More info on HUD’s proposal…