Many people are choosing to downsize the space they live in. The typical American home has over 2,000 square feet of living area, whereas as a tiny house has between 100 and about 400 square feet of living space. Some people come to the conclusion that they want to downsize, but have to have a “small house” of 400 to 1,000 square feet to meet their needs. This discussion applies to “small” as well as “tiny” houses. In this article the term “tiny house” encompasses any dwelling under 1,000 sq. ft.
If you embrace this idea, the key considerations for your project are what type of structure you want and where you intend to locate it. For “what” the choices are: park model mobile homes on wheels, tiny house kits on post-and-pier foundations, and stick-built structures on concrete foundations.
“Where” you want to build brings three concerns: building codes, zoning ordinances, and restrictive covenants.
Building codes--Building codes are defined at the state or federal level and may be adopted by towns as well. Towns may amend codes through language in their zoning ordinance to address local conditions.
Here in New Hampshire, there is a state code and the local level is the city or town. Most New Hampshire counties do not get involved with building codes. The exception is Coos County where the Coos County Planning Board addresses zoning for the unincorporated towns.
Towns that adopt the state building code may not have a code enforcement officer, relying instead on either the town fire chief or a state fire marshal to inspect dwellings to the code. Towns often require that the fire chief inspect any wood and fossil fuel burning installation such as stoves, fireplace inserts, water heaters, boilers and furnaces.
An important topic for tiny houses is anchoring—an issue underscored by recent severe hurricanes. Mobile homes require anchoring to certifiable standards in order to qualify for financing under federal programs. Lenders may require similar standards for tiny home kits on posts-and-piers.
Zoning ordinances--Outside of Coos County in the North Country, there are thirteen towns that do not have zoning (other than flood plain and telecommunication facilities) including:
Cities and towns that adopt a zoning ordinance generally have a code enforcement officer. In rural towns this may be a part-time position. However, rural towns may not issue a Certificate of Occupancy which can create an issue for financing of the initial construction or resale.
Zoning ordinances may have requirements that affect various aspects of a tiny house project and this requires a deep dive into the town’s documents that you will often find on-line at the town’s website. If you are considering a tiny house, you should have your plans clearly defined BEFORE contacting a code enforcement officer with your questions.
The state regulates waste water disposal so regardless of whether a town has zoning or not, any dwelling that has running water inside that is not connected to public sewer must have a state-approved waste water disposal system. New installations of holding tanks (no return of water to the ground) are not authorized and outhouses, if allowed, are governed locally.
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