What makes a home tiny? What makes a tiny house luxurious? It’s not an oxymoron – there really are such homes. Tiny homes can be beautifully crafted of weather-resistant logs, shipping containers with modern aesthetics, or factory-built cedar, cypress and other siding materials. Metal roofs can feature skylights and hold solar panels. Doors can be upgraded to French doors. Flooring is durable hardwood and/or tile. Appliances are compact, including stackable washer/dryers. Bedrooms can be situated in lofts or on the first floor using raised platforms that increase storage possibilities.
The possibilities are endless for custom tiny homes, but they all share clever space management. Tiny home interiors are designed to provide the most living space, storage and practical amenities as possible. Outdoor living spaces can include porches and rooftop patios. And as far as luxury goes, they can be built with granite or quartz countertops, apron sinks, and other high-end materials.
Tiny homes are part of a movement that celebrates the freedom to roam, freedom from high housing costs, low maintenance, and a sustainable, environmentally-friendly lifestyle alternative to manufactured homes and more expensive, stick-built homes. According to TheTinyLife.com, 68% of tiny homeowners have no mortgage (compared to 29.3% of all U.S. homeowners) and 55% have more savings than the average American with 32% of tiny home owners socking away more than $10,000 for retirement. More women than men (55% compared to 45%) buy tiny houses. Tiny house owners are twice as likely to hold a Master’s degree, with an average income of $42,038. Two in five are over the age of 50, so the lifestyle appeals strongly to younger people.
If you’re intrigued by a home you can build in a backyard or small lot or take on the road to the best RV parks in the country, here’s what you need to know:
There are no standard size or square footage requirements for tiny homes, but they’re widely understood to be 400 square feet or less, or at least under 1,000 square feet.
Tiny homes are built with best practice guidelines provided by the International Residential Code (or IRC) for building safe homes. The guidelines aren’t mandatory, but most municipalities have enforceable building codes, and they typically follow the IRC guidelines. Before you have a tiny home built, you can research ceiling height requirements, clearances for loft bedrooms, steps and stairway regulations, emergency egress, distance as well as how your tiny home is allowed to be used in your municipality – as a permanent home, an accessory dwelling unit (ADU), or as a recreational vehicle.
Most local municipal building codes don’t have standards for tiny homes on foundations, because they don’t fit the parameters of single-family construction codes, which is typically a minimum of 1,000 square feet, per the IRC. Municipal governments often divide the community into different zones, so local zoning laws determine where you can build. If codes do apply, tiny homes will have width and height restrictions to comply with local building codes and zoning laws. Common spaces must have a minimum ceiling height of 6 feet 8 inches, while bathrooms can be a minimum of 6 feet 4 inches and must be separate from other living spaces. Tiny homes are typically Fire codes require more than one exit, either through the roof, a window or a back door.
ADUs are small residences built on the grounds of a larger residence. They are like carriage houses and can accommodate aging parents, students, boomerang kids, and caregivers. Some can be rented, similar to an Airbnb. Municipalities that allow tiny homes may have regulations about the size of the house in relation to the size of the lot, keeping in mind a larger main house is sharing the property.
However, some states are tiny house-friendly as long as codes are followed, most of which assume a single-person occupant. According to Worldpopulationreview.com, Michigan allows tiny houses if they’re not less than 500 square feet of living space. Nevada’s minimum size is 200 square feet. Maine’s maximum is 400 square feet. North Carolina requires a minimum of 150 square feet of living space, with 100 square feet added for each additional occupant. South Dakota requires a minimum of 190 square feet and an extra 50 square feet for each additional occupant. Colorado has no minimum at all.
Tiny houses on wheels are technically recreational vehicles (RVs). The Recreational Vehicle Industry Association defines an RV as vehicular-type units that are primarily designed as temporary living quarters for recreational, camping, or seasonal use; have their own motive power or are mounted on or towed by another vehicle; are regulated by the United States Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) as a vehicle or vehicle equipment; do not require a special highway use permit for operation on the highways; can be easily transported and set up on a daily basis by an individual; and are certified by their manufacturer as complying with the NFPA 1192 Standard on Recreation Vehicles, which includes motorhomes, travel trailers, fifth wheel trailers and truck campers, along with park model RVs (PMRVs), and yes, tiny houses on wheels.
PMRVs are defined as trailer-type units that are primarily designed as temporary living quarters for recreational, camping, or seasonal use; are built on a single chassis mounted on wheels; have a gross trailer area not exceeding 400 square feet in the setup mode (or if less than 320 square feet in the setup mode would require a special highway movement permit); and are certified by their manufacturer as complying with ANSI A119.5 Park Model RV Standard.
Tiny homes on wheels can be either RVs or PMRVs and must meet codes for safety on the highway. The average maximum size for an RV is 13.5 ft (4.11 m) tall by 8.5 ft (2.59 m) wide by 40 ft (12.19 m) long. Length restrictions combine your towing vehicle and tiny house and can be no more than 65 ft (19.81 m) combined, advises Tinybackyardspaces.com.
Some RVs have slide-outs or pop-outs that can expand the square footage when the vehicle is parked but they can’t be used while on the road. RV regulations require that your towing vehicle can tow the house safely.
Because RVs are temporary homes, you’ll have to park your home at RV parks, campgrounds or in communities which allow RVs in the driveway. You’ll rent space at RV parks and campgrounds with hookups for your utilities, and they may have rules for how long you can stay at a time.
Whether you choose a tiny home on wheels or on a foundation, you’ll have to register it with the proper taxing authority. Some tiny homeowners choose to live in tiny home communities, developed for small size lifestyles. Others choose to live off the grid on their own properties. As more states get behind the tiny home movement, it will become easier to reduce your footprint.