La Plata County could take another tiny step toward housing diversity by considering a brand new international building code provision to address tiny house construction.
“The International Code Council has been working on the tiny house issue. We think the new code is something we can live with, and we’ll include that in our adoption process so we have some tiny house standards,” County Building Department Director Butch Knowlton said.
Last month, the building department and county commissioners discussed plans to replace outdated county building codes with more current standards as well as upgrade energy efficiency standards tentatively sometime this year. The county’s new regulations will include the new international building appendix for tiny houses.
A burgeoning housing trend, tiny homes have become attractive investments for the minimalistic and the environmentally conscious, and select municipalities across the nation have embraced tiny house development as a way to expand housing stock.
But an international building standard for tiny houses didn’t exist until last December, when the International Code Council approved the first appendix to address tiny houses.
The vote means the new code will be available for adoption across the country, including La Plata County.
“The tiny house industry, like the rest of the building industry, will evolve and codes will change, but this will give us a basis to look at tiny homes,” Knowlton said. “Our regular house construction code does not work for tiny homes.”
Much of the new code – Appendix V – adheres to typical residential building standards, but it addresses an obvious component: size.
Andrew Morrison of Tiny House Build co-authored Appendix V and said scale is the reason typical residential building standards don’t and can’t apply to tiny houses. Ceiling heights, staircase standards, egress requirements and other details all are on a drastically different scale in a tiny house.
“This is a simple step toward creating something each community can be proud of and something that can be held up as a model for others looking to build neighborhoods and strengthen communities,” Morrison said.
Appendix V is applicable to both tiny houses on foundations and on trailers, though the code does not address the trailer itself, which must be addressed by building departments on a case-by-case basis.
“There are so many tiny houses out there that are built improperly,” said Cheryl Coates of Littleton-based Tiny Diamond Homes and state chapter leader for the American Tiny House Association. “You have to have egress windows, and if you’re living in Colorado, for example, it has to be able to handle snow loads.”
Because construction typically is curtailed by prohibitive zoning and building codes, some cities over the past few years have passed unprecedented regulations to enable tiny house building.
While La Plata County categorizes tiny houses as accessory dwelling units and governs them as such, the county and the city of Durango still have a long way to go in encouraging tiny house development, but the code is a first step.
“We are hopeful that more and more jurisdictions will adopt the code appendix and that more and more people will start building code-compliant tiny houses as a result,” Morrison said. “Today, there are thousands of people across the country who are building tiny houses either to RV standards or to no measurable standards at all. That places an unnecessary amount of risk on those inhabitants – risk that can be mitigated by the implementation of the code. Not approving the code will not likely stop people from building tiny houses. After all, in many cases, tiny houses are the only houses that people can afford. As such, the adoption and implementation of the appendix will provide safe and healthy housing for millions of people across the country.”