Saturday, October 14, 2017

What Awaits Tiny Houses in the East Coast States?

On Tuesday, Oct 11, the Modular Home Builders Association held their Annual meeting. Speakers for the event included the State Directors of Industrialized Housing for New York, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

These are the departments that control homes built in factories and shipped into their states. Without their department's approvals no prefab house can be legally allowed to enter.

Each had about an hour to speak and with the audience being mostly factory owners and GMs along with a lot of modular home builders.  The topic of tiny houses was brought up to MD’s Director.

Some states acknowledged the new modified IRC regulations for Tiny Houses but they have not seen them yet.


What was made very clear to everyone in the room is for a Tiny House to enter their state, especially Maryland, the house cannot be on wheels and must be on a permanent foundation. It must be built in a factory that has had its building process approved by a state recognized third party inspection service with each home’s plans stamped by both the third party inspection service and a PE. The foundation plan has to stamped by an engineer.

The stamped plans are then sent to the Industrialized Housing Department in the state it will be shipped to be reviewed and approved if compliant with the IRC regulations in effect in that particular state. MD for example always uses the latest IRC version while other states take a few years to review it before accepting it. If the modified tiny house IRC regs go into effect for 2018, it could still be years before every state adopts them.
This could also mean that those factories currently building Tiny Houses for permanent residency will have to abide by the same standards and codes as a modular home factory. It might possibly add thousands of dollars to the cost of each home.


Any tiny house sent to Maryland from a factory will be an illegal structure unless it meets all those requirements.

Even if all these conditions are met, very few states in the East even have approved zoning at the community or county level to allow them. In fact there doesn’t seem to be a consensus of what exactly a tiny house is in many states so zoning is being written and revised on almost a daily basis as the definition of what a tiny house is changes.

If a local zoning or planning official finds a tiny house attached to foundation with utilities hooked up in any way, the tiny house owner will probably get a cease and desist order and told to remove it even if it has all the necessary stamped state approvals.

The dream of tiny house communities for many East Coast states could be a long way into the future.

Tiny Houses on Wheels (THOW) might be another can of worms in the East. In the future they may be regulated by RV codes or worse, by HUD codes, which will force them back to be approved by the Director of Industrialized Housing. This could restrict THOW to RV campgrounds and/or Manufactured Home Communities.

It would appear that everyone loves seeing a Tiny House on TV or at a Builder Show but that love doesn’t seem to extend to having one setting next to or near the typical home owner.

For Example: If a new modular home that has met all the requirements and zoning approvals to be built in an R1 neighborhood can be ousted from that community simply because the other homeowners want only stick built homes in their area, what do you think they would do to a Tiny House.

I personally love the idea of downsizing to less than 500 sq ft. However if you are getting serious about building one or having one built in a factory, be sure you do your homework first or it could result in you not being able to live in it.


Builder Bob said...

A fascinating look at what the tiny house people will soon be facing as tiny houses go from a curiosity to an accepted, maybe, residential structure. It may not be a pleasant ride and people buying them could lose their investment simply because they thought they could park them anywhers. Maybe Walmart will allow them to stay in their parking lots along with RV'ers and the homeless sleeping in their cars.

Tom Hardiman said...

Gary, I thought it was interesting that Maryland said they would adopt the amendment for tiny houses for the 2018 codes. But then they didn't seem exactly sure how they would regulate them - i.e. will they need a Maryland label and more importantly, as a single family residence, will they need a sprinkler system as the law requires?