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Meeting Addressing Tiny Houses in Massachusetts’ Building Code
Last week on May 8, 2018, the Massachusetts Board of Building Regulations and Standards (BBRS), at its regular monthly meeting, addressed Proposal Number 5-2-2018: “Consider adopting Appendix Q of the International Residential Code pertaining to Tiny Houses.” The agenda is here; minutes (an official summary of the meeting) should be forthcoming. Along with Appendix Q, micro-apartments were also addressed.
This meeting was one step in the process of Massachusetts’ adopting the Tiny House Appendix into its building code, following the example of other tiny house pioneering states Idaho, Georgia, and Maine. The next step after this meeting will be an internal vote within the BBRS (not a public vote), which will take place next month. Before voting, the BBRS is accepting public comment on Appendix Q: the address is at the bottom of this post.
What is The Tiny House Appendix?
Appendix Q addresses building code standards for small houses on foundations that have already been adopted into the 2018 International Residential Code (IRC), including standards for lofts, stairs, egresses, and ceiling heights. To be clear, the adoption of the Tiny House Appendix won’t completely legalize tiny houses in Massachusetts– that’s up to each city– but if it is adopted, it will provide a set of building standards for under 400 sq ft homes where they are legalized, and where they aren’t yet legalized, help legitimize tiny homes in the eyes of local building departments. Appendix Q does not address tiny houses on wheels, as they are currently considered vehicles.
Read the Tiny House Appendix here.
Appendix Q in Massachusetts
Andrew and Gabriella Morrison have been instrumental in writing and getting the Tiny House Appendix adopted into the 2018 IRC: now it’s up to each state, and then each city/town in each state, to adopt it into their specific building code. Andrew presented at a Massachusetts BBRS meeting, introducing Appendix Q last fall. Before last week’s follow-up meeting, Andrew said, “The last time I was there, the main question was why should tiny houses get “special treatment”: their own code provisions? I responded that it’s about safety. People are building tiny houses all over the place and with NO oversight. The appendix allows code enforcement to make sure that the tiny houses are built well and to safety standards. It’s about providing healthy, safe housing to millions of people who need it and don’t otherwise have access to it.”
Comments About Tiny Houses from the May 8 Massachusetts BBRS Meeting
Of the tiny house portion of the meeting, Richard Crowley, Chair of the Mass BBRS, said: “There were quite a few people who came to the front to speak. One lady was very animated and she was so cool she made everyone laugh. Very enjoyable speech. I put my two cents in and away we go. I don’t think [there will] be any problem next month getting a positive vote. FYI if anyone wants to comment they can do so to the attention of Rob Anderson at the BBRS.”
Raines Cohen, a cohousing coach who attended the meeting, said “All speaking in favor but one comment afterwards during the micro homes referenced tiny homes and brought up concerns around disability access standards… Some informed questions, coming from the fire-chiefs head.”
Next Steps To Adopting Appendix Q
Please Ask Massachusetts to Adopt The Tiny House Appendix!
The BBRS is inviting public comment on the tiny house appendix until June 1, 2018***. Please write to:
Robert Anderson, Chief of Inspections- Building Division, MA Department of Public Safety
Letters: One Ashburton Place, Boston 02108
*The paragraph “Next Steps…” was added on 5/15/2018.
** The original date for the June meeting was June 12; now it is June 5.
***As of 5/18/18, the comment deadline has changed to June 1.
So you’re ready to buy some land to put your tiny house on! What are some financial and legal factors to consider when searching for tiny house property?
You’ve found beautiful land, but can you put a tiny house on it?
Although many people dream of a completely off-grid tiny house in the middle of nowhere, you’ll still need to find a way to get water and power to your house. The less distance from the road, the less expensive it’ll be to have power and water lines installed.
For electricity, the cheapest and easiest option is to plug into an existing power source. Others choose to power their homes with solar power. Click here to learn more about solar power for tiny houses.
For fresh water and waste water, city water and sewer are one option; pieces of property in less dense locations that don’t have city water and sewer will need to use a well and septic systems.
If the land already has electricity and water hookups, you won’t need to worry about having those put in. Generally, although not always, it’s less expensive in the end to buy land that already has utilities than buying land without and then paying to have them installed. Be sure to factor in these costs when looking for land.
Become familiar with the town’s laws for the type of tiny house you want.
Every zone of every town has different laws regarding where you can put different types of tiny houses, so unfortunately there aren’t any exhaustive lists of “where to legally put a tiny house”.
For permanently-affixed houses, meaning houses on foundations, find out if there is a minimum square footage for residences.
Interested in a tiny house on wheels?
Not all tiny houses are certified, but the turnkey tiny houses on wheels B&B builds are certified by the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association, or the RVIA, meaning they are built to high safety standards that the government can understand, they can be financed as RVs, and they can be parked anywhere RVs can go, using RV hookups to get water and electricity to the house and wastewater from the house (Click here to read more about RV hookups on tiny houses). Use the search terms “RV”, “Recreation Vehicle”, “Recreational Vehicle” in your town’s zoning code to see if RVs are allowed in your property’s zone. Building codes won’t apply to RVs since they are legally considered vehicles rather than buildings.
After you’ve looked over the zoning and, if applicable, building codes for your specific zone of your town, you may need to ask the town permission to have a tiny house on your property.
Although people have been traditionally living in very small living spaces since the beginning of humanity, in more recent history, tiny houses are a relatively new phenomenon in our modern western world. Therefore, most towns don’t already have tiny houses written into their zoning or building codes. If this is the case, don’t be discouraged: it doesn’t mean you can’t do it, it just means you’ll have to introduce the concept to the zoning board. In this blogger’s experience, zoning boards are made up of passionate people who want to find housing solutions for their towns. With tiny house TV shows and news stories all but taking over television networks, no doubt at least a couple of the folks on your town’s zoning board will already have an idea of what tiny houses are. They’ll let you know whether you need a special permit to have a tiny house on your property, and if so, guide you through the process.