Over-regulation has ensured the average American cannot afford the average American house. Our building codes are rife with senseless statutes that make homeownership unduly prohibitive, leave 1.5 million of us homeless and have required taxpayers to sustain an otherwise unsustainable and increasingly unaccountable mortgage industry.
Most of these housing codes were drafted by the International Code Council (ICC)- a non-governmental organization comprised largely of private interest groups from the mortgage, insurance and building industries. When corporate-sponsored recommendations from the ICC are unquestionably adopted by states and municipalities as law, the public such laws are supposed to serve tends to suffer. Many of these codes have been formed with absolute disregard for any legal purpose. Of these, several make our homes considerably more dangerous, toxic and/or unduly expensive. Such codes do not serve to protect the public at large so much as they serve the private industries that created them and the governing bodies by which they have been adopted.
Most, if not all, of these arbitrary codes can be easily identified by their unquantifiable prescription for more building materials and/or bigger houses. In terms of earthquake and wind resistance, the prohibition of smaller dwellings (minimum size standards) actually makes our homes considerably more dangerous. This decrease in safety is mitigated by requiring that more framing, sheathing and fasteners be added to each dwelling and that these extra materials ultimately be added to each home’s price tag.
Minimum size standards generally fall into a category of residential codes commonly known as “General Habitability Requirements” or “Acceptability Criteria”. Amongst other things, these mandate how many rooms and amenities our houses must contain and how big they need to be in order to accommodate our presumed personal needs. As “general” provisions, they tend to ignore the particulars of any specific case and, thus, disregard those principal statutes providing that the particulars of each case be used to determine everything. Some of these unfounded prescriptions took a major hit in 2015 when, under increasing public pressure, the International Code Council conceded that a few of its Habitability Requirements never served to make American housing any safer or healthier to begin with. States and their political subdivisions have subsequently been forced to repeal those decades-old codes publicly recognized by the ICC as exclusive to any lawful purpose.
Protections against such over-reaching over-regulation do exist; but, as long as systematic disregard for them goes unabated, it seems things are only going to get worse. A few of the protections can be found in the residential code itself. Of all the regulations used to determine how houses are built in the US, a small handful, known as Equivalency Standards, is designed to ensure all the others make sense. These standards provide that nothing in the code can be used to prohibit the construction of any dwelling that is as good as or better than what code prescribes. An accompanying provision requires any official who rejects a housing proposal to provide sound reason for their decision in writing. Merely referencing other statutes as cause would be insufficient, as code itself has just explained that the sections, in and of themselves, cannot be used to squelch plans for what may be a perfectly good home. An official’s report should, instead, present facts substantiating how the proposal allegedly fails to preserve health and safety.
Equivalency Standards are derived largely from the Tenth Amendment and Constitutional welfare clauses, the sum of which should go a long way towards protecting common sense from nonsensical laws and impractical interpretations them. These provisions grant states and their municipalities with the power to enact laws only so long as those laws are designed specifically for, “public health, welfare, and safety”. A housing code or zoning law that serves any other purpose would exceed the powers of the governing body(s) enacting it.
Further statutes provide that it is a felony for anyone operating under color of law to deprive anyone else in this country of a legal right or privilege. This includes building and zoning officials and it makes no exception for the Right to Housing as granted by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, of which the U.S. is a signatory. Depriving the public of our dire need for more affordable housing would require sufficient probable cause that we'd all be better off without it. Failing to provide as much may also constitute an Arbitrary Use of Governmental Power.
It may seem the disclaimer that Equivalency Standards provide might be enough to make the whole building code, of which they are a part, lawful and effective enough. These standards do, after all, seem to state that any sketchy housing regulations should simply be overridden by housing officials. In reality, most enforcers seem to believe the regulations handed down to them are invariably lawful and, thus, unequalled by any proposal that doesn’t comply with them. They tend to go by the book (except for the part that says the rest of the book shouldn’t necessarily be adhered to); they frequently cite unsound code as means of denying perfectly sound housing proposals; and they do so without much, if any, understanding of their own legal obligation. This, in turn, has a chilling effect on designers who don’t necessarily want to put a lot of time and effort into creating a solution to our housing dilemma that will, more likely than not, be shot down by someone in the building department simply because it isn’t “code compliant”.
In reality, there is no disclaimer or Constitutional law short of abatement that can make the codebook it governs work when the codes in that book are as arbitrary as ours have become. Our inclusion of so many regulations designed for something other than any legal purpose makes the purpose of the entire set vague. Barring the repeal of these statutes, a more humane housing plan is going to depend largely on how eager our building and zoning officials are to embrace the power and responsibility already granted to them by Equivalency Standards and the federal Constitution. If nothing in our codes can be used to prohibit the construction of dwellings that are as good as or better than what code has produced so far, it’s hard to imagine what sort of structure an authority might, by now, reasonably deny. For many of us, almost any roof overhead would be a vast improvement. Profit driven codes and zoning laws have been prohibiting as much for decades. Unlawful disregard for public welfare under the guise of “code compliance” can no longer be sustained.
Chad Transtrum built one of our Weller models and posted the epic results on his Instagram. We LOVE his design and color choices! Chad was generous enough to let us share the gorgeous photos with our readers. Beautiful job, Chad!
Stunning colors! What colors would you paint your Weller? Let us know in the comments.
To see a different take on the same Weller model, take A Walk Through a Custom Weller.
The Weller can be built between the wheel wells of a standard car hauler, so there's no need for a custom trailer. This house can also be built in your backyard on a foundation for a stunning personal retreat, workshop, or extra room.
The Weller house plans are on sale for 50% off until the end of January! Grab yours today and build this beauty!
Science Buzz Cafe will host Tiny house pioneer Jay Shafer, national investigative journalist Jonathan Greenberg, and Real Estate chief community officer Cassandra Ferrera for a housing panel discussion on March 2, 2016. The topic to be discussed will be housing solutions, including tiny house villages.
HOUSING! ‘For The Rest of Us!’
Date: March 02, 2016
Time: 7:00 PM - 9:00 PM
Location: French Garden Restaurant
- Price: $5. First come first served. Space is limited.
Speakers: Jonathan Greenberg, Journalist & Jay Shafer, Tiny House & Cassandra Ferrara, Real Estate
My plans for a village had to be put on hold for a couple years due to unforeseen personal circumstances. They'd still be on the back burner if not for my new developer-friend, Vince Rizzo . Vince is, apparently, the answer to my prayers for someone who'll take care of zoning, permitting and all the other developer-stuff I'd rather not do.
New site, new plan
I've come up with a new site plan for the community. Unlike my previous designs, this one is designed specifically for an existing piece of land. Nothing's set in stone yet, but it's encouraging that this property has recently come up for sale and that local officials love the idea of a tiny house village in Sonoma County. That it's the same lot I identified seven years ago as the perfect location for what I have in mind, is also encouraging. The Universe conspires.
Part of my intention with the village is to provide myself and my two little boys with a nice place to live that doesn't cost a fortune. I was, at one point, using the term "co-housing for the antisocial" to describe my vision for the complex, but some folks didn't get it. Company and solitude are most appreciated when they're not forced on us—my village design provides ample room for both. I want to live where I can disappear into my little house for days while always knowing that my neighbors are near and that they've got my back. My boys and I have been needing a supportive community, like this one, for a long time. Judging by the positive response to the idea of a tiny house village, it seems we're not alone.
A contagious model of efficiency
For the Tiny House Village idea to spread, it will have to demonstrate how affordable, sustainable and livable a neighborhood can be. Yes, I just used two adjectives that I generally try to avoid when describing what I do. Please know that when I say "affordable" I'm not talking about unnecessarily wide streets lined with artificially subsidized houses—all clad in the same beige T-1-11 siding (I like to call beige the color of shame). When I say "sustainable" I don't mean what the word and it's correlate "green" have come to mean (i.e. almost nothing) when used to market pretty much everything. Before "green" and "sustainable" became adjectives for something and nothing in particular, they were just shorthand for "efficient". Efficiency doesn't pose affordability and quality as opposites. They're parts of the same equation.
This community will have to be more than just a "tiny house village" too. The idea of designing a "tiny house village" doesn't excite me any more than the idea of designing a "tiny house" does. What excites me is designing a vital place where everything's there for a reason and the relationship between these essential parts to each other, and their whole, makes perfect sense. Reducing our collective idea of home (already one of the most meaningful and useful constructs we've got) down until essential meaning and utility are all that's left—THAT'S my idea of a good time.
A Much needed alternative in a pricey area
The lot we've chosen is near Santa Rosa, California. This part of the world is as expensive as it is beautiful, so it's an ideal spot for a bunch of little houses. There's a dire need for truly affordable homes in this, and many other, pricey areas. Smaller, more efficient houses of quality fit the bill.
About a third of the 13 acre property will be occupied by a high-density core comprised of 60 houses, a 2,300 square foot common house, a community workshop, and more than 2,000 linear feet of gently winding walkways to connect it all. The houses will range from about 100 to 400 s.f.. Each will have its own storage shed and will sit on its own 25' x 50' (minimum) parcel. A great room with a big fireplace will occupy most of the common house. A shared kitchen and bathroom and 12 small guest rooms will occupy the rest. Covered parking for more than 64 bikes and one and a half open-air parking spots per house are integral to the design. A portion of the remaining land will, most likely, be used for lower-density housing. The seven or eight acres beyond that are likely to stay as is.
The location feels rural and overlooks one of the state's most biodiverse wildlife habitats, but it's only a 4-minute-walk from a grocery store, a coffee shop and a park. The village has been designed as urban infill so residents won't have to do much driving.
I can't make any promises, but I'm still hoping that, in spite of all my unexpected delays, we can still break ground before year's end.
Have you ever wanted to see what it's like to build a tiny house from scratch? Do you dream of tiny house living but feel like you don't know where to start? If so, then this one-of-a-kind workshop is perfect for you! This unique workshop experience is being held at The Sanctuary Minnesota, an 80 retreat that is the future home of a tiny house village. Our hosts, Bill and Brenda Campbell, have created a welcoming space that is the perfect location for this special workshop.
About The Workshop
Each day starts with an (optional) on-site yoga class & continental breakfast. After breakfast, small groups will be formed. Then, you will rotate between swinging hammers and classroom time throughout the day.
During the hands on portion, you will work on framing a Jay Shafer designed tiny house. Tools are provided and no building experience is necessary. Our team of instructors will be there to guide you. During the classroom presentations, we'll cover a comprehensive list of tiny house and tiny living topics, answering the most popular questions asked by tiny house enthusiasts.
The price of the workshop includes a primitive camp site, class materials, morning yoga, continental breakfast & buffet style lunch daily, and a campfire each evening. There will also be a campfire meet and greet on Tuesday 6/30.
We are thrilled to bring together a wonderful team of tiny house experts to assist you in your tiny house journey. Each brings years of experience and a heartfelt enthusiasm that will surely inspire you:
Tour A Tiny House
One other treat for attendees will be to the opportunity to tour BA's Gifford-style tiny house and As an added bonus, you can win a “spend the night in a tiny house” giveaway!
This workshop is sure to be a momentous occasion and we are so excited to see as many of you there as space permits. Registration is 1200, but if you register by May 1st, 2015, you can attend for just $1,000 – a $200 savings.
Note: This is not a Four Lights Tiny House Co. workshop. Jay Shafer will be teaching, but all inquiries and registration must be done by contacting The Sanctuary. Their contact info can be found here.
A few years ago, The Tiny Life spearheaded a fantastic survey project that shed new light upon the heart of the tiny house movement. You. Many of you out there dreaming about, planning, and building tiny houses participated in the survey. The result? A better understanding of the tiny house movement by all, and this great infographic.
Let's do it again!
The Tiny House Survey is anyone who hopes to live in a tiny house, and those who already do. The survey asks questions about demographics, your house, your life and what you’d like to see in the tiny house movement.
You can find the survey HERE or fill it our below.
New Years resolutions give us an opportunity to take on new challenges or apply a newfound passion and energy to the goals we already have. Transitioning to a tiny house can accomplish a variety of goals at once, both personal and financial. What better time to learn from the success stories of those who have already taken the leap? Every inspiring tiny house journey started somewhere, and we want to take the month of January to explore and learn from those tiny house beginnings. We’ll be posting the stories that inspire us, the tips that we wish we knew when we started, and resources that we hope will be useful as you take the tiny house leap yourself… into a new life of personal and financial freedom. Happy New Year!
First, the decisions
B.A. Norrgard inspired us all by walking away from her high stress job and overhauling her life. She attended one of Jay Shafer’s workshops, bought the Gifford house plan (the same plan as Jay’s own house!), and built her beautiful new house with her own hands and the help of her amazing and supportive friends. She now lives and travels full-time in her hyper-efficient mobile residence. B.A. and her house will be present at many of our upcoming workshops, but if you can’t join us in person, she’s teaching an online webinar to help guide people who want to transition to tiny house living. If you’re still wondering if the tiny house lifestyle is right for you, or you just need help taking the first step, sign up for what’s sure to be a fantastic boost of inspiration and motivation!
From B.A.’s website:
Going Tiny – Is a Life Overhaul for You?
Are you wondering about going Tiny but really just don’t know how to begin? Are you feeling stuck? Does a life change that huge sound equally exciting and terrifying? In this first webinar you will hear how I ditched a 25 year paralegal career with suits, hose and heels and started pulling on bibs and boots in the mornings instead. Sign up and get inspired!
5 Day Tiny House Hands-On Workshop
The Sanctuary Minnesota – Ogilvie, MN | July 1-5, 2015
Ready to Change YOUR World?
This is a one-of-a-kind, never before, FIVE DAY, HANDS-ON tiny house workshop! Join us and spend the week with a power-house of tiny house personalities: the renowned tiny house guru Jay Shafer, tiny-houser B.A. Norrgard, construction professional Daniel Bell and building scientist Mark Fallin at The Sanctuary Minnesota, a scenic, wooded 80 acre facility.
Get your day started with a complimentary yoga class & a continental breakfast.
During the day we will break into groups and rotate between swinging hammers and classroom time. We will frame one of Jay’s new, not-yet-released U-House designs, and have classroom presentations covering a comprehensive list of tiny house and tiny living topics. B.A. is doing another tiny house road trip and bringing her Gifford house with her for you to tour!
In the evenings we’ll sit around a fire pit outside and have tiny house chat – bring your acoustical instruments and your tiny house community dreams!
Daily Presentations by:
Jay Shafer – Tiny house design
BA Norrgard – Transition to and living tiny
Daniel Bell – Tiny house construction
Mark Thomas – On and Off-grid systems for your tiny house
Bill Campbell – The Sanctuary Minnesota, a tiny house community
Cost: $1,200 | Early bird discount: $1,000 if paid by May 1st
- 5 days of lectures, hands-on tiny house construction
- Tour BA’s Gifford tiny house
- Continental breakfast
- Campfire & music at night (bring your acoustic instruments)
Additional bonus presenters, and special event details TBA
Watch for more details:
www.aBedOverMyHead.com & on Facebook
www.FourLightsHouses.com & on Facebook
The Sanctuary Minnesota on Facebook
Questions? Email BA Norrgard HERE
Making a big life change is scary. Do you know what is worse? Regret.
Dee Williams' recently published book, The Big Tiny: A Built-It-Myself Memoir, is a fantastic read and a must-have for any tiny house library. I say so right on the back cover with my glowing endorsement that, essentially, says, "This book's fantastic!". Last year, when I received my review copy of the book from Blue Rider Press, my heart leaped as I read the chapter called "The Tiny House Man"... It's about me!
I've never felt more flattered. I love Dee.
The following picture was taken of the two of us when she read from The Big Tiny in San Rafael last Summer. We're good friends, and I didn't want to distract her from her presentation, so I went incognito. My plan was to ask her a bunch of annoying questions without being identified. I guess the costume didn't work very well, because the moment I walked through the door, she waved excitedly and smiled as if she hadn't even noticed my brilliant disguise. A lot of other people just stared at me as if I were some kind of long-haired weirdo. Can you imagine?
I asked my annoying questions anyway, and, as always, Dee didn't show the slightest hint of irritation with me. She's very patient. It seems that all my friends almost have to be.
An excerpt from The Big Tiny can be read for free at the PAD website. You can order Dee's awesome book here.
Jay Austin of Boneyard Studios is featured in this fantastic short film about the legality of tiny houses. The film focuses on zoning code in the DC area, but tiny house dwellers everywhere are faced with the same challenges.
From the film description: "...Austin and his tiny house-dwelling neighbors at Boneyard Studios don't actually live in their own homes much of the time. To skirt some of the zoning regulations, they've added wheels to their homes, which reclassifies them as trailers – and subjects them to regulation by the Department of Motor Vehicles. But current law still requires them to either move their homes from time to time, or keep permanent residences elsewhere."
Read the full article from Reason here and tell us your thoughts in the comments below!
(Film produced, shot, written, narrated, and edited by Todd Krainin. Music by Associated Production Music and Lee Rosevere.)