When is a building permit not required? How do I know what I can and cannot build? How do I find out this information?
This is a question I receive many times at the Tiny House Blog and I know it is something Tumbleweed home builders face when they make the decision to downsize to a Tumbleweed Tiny House.
First and most important thing to know is that each location is different, there are no set standards across the country so you need to check with your local County and City authorities. Thankfully much of this information is now online and you can do your research without talking to anyone.
I live in Sonoma County in Northern California. Here are the steps I went through to discover what the requirements were for building without a permit.
- I Googled "Sonoma County" and found their web site
- Than I did a searched on Permits on the Sonoma County website
- Clicked on Forms and Applications
- Found the form "When is a Building Permit Not Required?"
Not every county will be the same so this is just an example of how to start looking for the information. Here is the information I found doing this research:
WORK EXEMPT FROM A BUILDING PERMIT
The following is a list of work that may be performed without a building permit. If your project does notappear on this list of exempt work, you should assume that a building permit is required.
Note: Although some work is exempt from a building permit, additional permits or review may be required. Before a building or structure is erected, constructed, enlarged, altered, repaired, moved, improved, removed, converted or demolished, it is important to contact the appropriate staff at the Permit and Resource Management Department (PRMD) to determine if any other permit or technical review is required.
Although work may be exempt from a building permit, it may be subject to other county regulations (Well and Septic, Zoning, Drainage, Sewer, etc.). Although a building permit is not required, the exempt construction/work must be code compliant. For example, re-striping a commercial parking lot is exempt from a building permit, however, the striping must conform to building code standards for accessibility and Zoning standards for parking lot design. Failure to comply with code requirements may constitute a violation.
- Accessory Structures: One-story detached accessory structures used as tool or storage sheds, playhouses or similar uses when located on a parcel which contains an existing single family dwelling or other permitted primary use or structure. Such structures shall not have a floor area that exceeds 120 square feet and the height above grade shall not exceed 12 feet. No more than one structure may be allowed under this exemption unless separated from another permit exempt structure by more than 50 feet.
Note: Electrical, plumbing, or mechanical work in connection with such structures requires an electrical, plumbing or mechanical permit even though a building permit is not required for the structure itself.
To read the complete document go to When is a Building Permit Not Required?
This document tells me that I can build up to a 120 square foot structure without a permit. It can't be higher than 12 feet and if I choose to put in electrical or plumbing I will need to get a permit for that only.
So technically I could build a Tumbleweed home that is less than 120 square feet on a foundation as long as it met these requirements. I would need a permit for the wiring and plumbing.
What if it is on wheels or considered an RV?
I was unable to find anything regarding this on the Sonoma County website. To my knowledge each town or neighborhood has its own rules regarding this. Some places allow you to park an RV at your home or on your property but only allow you to live in it for so much time and than you must move it. Others say it can only be parked but not lived in, and other areas don't care one way or the other.
What About a Remote Area?
Often you can build in a remote area without permits. Here again it is important to check with your county requirements.
Many people just build and some areas are so remote that no one knows about your cabin or home. If you are reported by neighbors or someone else you may have to deal with the local codes and/or remove or tear the structure down.
Hopefully this article has given you some idea as to where to start looking for this type of information and also what to look for. Comments and suggestions are appreciated.
Kent Griswold publishes the Tiny House Blog
Will Pedersen from Abbotsford, BC, Canada is just finishing his Tumbleweed Tarleton.
It has taken Will about 5 months, working mostly by himself, to construct this masterpiece. Will has mostly adhered to the Tumbleweed plans and used materials that are available and in stock at local lumber/hardware stores. The windows, door and countertop are all custom made. Will says that he just loves the feel and design of the house.
Will has done most of the work himself, except for the hookup of the water and drain lines where a plumber friend assisted him. He also hired someone to do the electrical work and install the lights and outlets and hook the house up to the grid. You can view some pictures of the construction on the Tiny House Blog.
Will kept track of his expenses and lists them here: (Click on image to enlarge)
Approximate cost U.S. Dollars is $13,500. Of course this will vary across the country, but gives you a good idea of what to expect here in the U.S.
Will took lots of pictures during his construction and you can view pictures of the process at Will’s project on Flickr.
Will lives and works at Glen Valley Organic Farm, a cooperatively owned farm in Abbotsford, BC. The co-op wants people to work and live here, but only one single family house (already housing 5 people) is permitted on the 50 acre farm. So, a small mobile house is a perfect solution to farmer housing. The co-op sells at farmer's markets in the greater Vancouver area (carrots, potatoes, beets, strawberries, raspberries and more).
Last week we looked at four ways to heat your tiny house and the question was brought up as to what is the best way to cool a small house in a hot climate. I thought we would look at a few options available to the tiny house builder to keep your home cool.
Jay Shafer lives in a very mild climate in Northern California and he uses just a small fan for cooling in his loft at night on those warm days. However, if you live where you have extreme hot weather you will need more than a fan!
I did some research and found a couple of small or smaller air conditioning units that I thought would work in a tiny house. The first one is Koldfront 8,000 BTU Portable Air Conditioner available at Compact Appliances for around $296 plus S/H. This is an ultra compact portable air conditioner that delivers a frigid blast of cold air and fits in almost any space. This compact portable air conditioner is capable of cooling up to a 225 square foot room. I am afraid that to them ultra compact means Height: 24 3/4", Width: 19 1/4" and Depth: 13 1/4" so this will eat up a corner in your Epu or Fencl. Still I think it would be worth looking into if you have a place to store it during the off season. A few of the features are a 24 hour timer, compact design, self evaporative system, energy saving design, built in dehumidifier and environmentally friendly.
You can get the full details at Compact Appliances.
The next unit I found was the Frigidaire FAA055P7A Mini Compact Window Air Conditioner. This unit is designed to cool rooms of up to 165 square feet. It is a 5300 BTU cooling unit with a 24 hour timer, 8-way directional control, energy efficient, and is EnergyStar certified. It also has an Electrostatic air filtration w/ ionizer, Low Voltage Compensation (LVC) technology ensures proper operation of the unit when voltage fluctuates. It is quite small with dimensions of 14''D x 12.5''H x 18.5''W. With a very reachable price of $126. You can learn more about it at Beach Audio.
The KoolerAire is a unique cooler and very affordable, but requires a more manual form of operation. It appears to be a fan designed for your icebox which creates cool air from the ice in the ice box. It would probably be best used in a climate where air conditioning is needed infrequently.
Here are a few details. KoolerAire's unique design makes it the most portable air conditioner on the market today. Because KoolerAire does not have the restraints of a water supply hose you can take it anywhere you would a standard KoolerAire or Igloo cooler!
KoolerAire fits securely within the top portion of your cooler, trapping the cold air inside. Once the unit is turned on, the powerful 100 cfm, brush-less fan draws hot air in through the large opening directly into and through the ice. The air is instantly cooled to about 50 degrees before being released through the smaller vent. At $40 you might just want to check it out here at the KoolerAire website.
The next step down is the basic fan and here is an example from Compact Appliances: a unique design with a small footprint. You could do something similar to the KoolerAire above with your own ice and fan design or just use the fan and park your home near a good shade tree, another way to keep your home cool.
Hopefully this has given you a few ideas on what to look for in a cooling system for your tiny house. If you know of some other great cooling sources please comment below and share them with us.
Four Ways to Heat Your Tiny House
When you build your own Tumbleweed, heat is one issue you need to think about. The type of heating you choose will depend upon where the final destination of your tiny house will be.
Normal central heat or large wood stoves, etc., just produce too much heat for your small space. So what are some of your options? In this article we will look at some ideas for using four types of heat. Wood, gas, propane and electric heat.
The original Very Small Woodstove is the Jotul 602, from Norway. This model is a mere 12 inches wide, 19 inches deep. They are found most often in cottages and cabins in the woods, where the 602’s good looks are a highlight. It’s been around almost forever. Although very small it can heat amazingly well.
12 x 19
Available from Jotul
The tiniest very small woodstoves are those built for boats. These are designed for very tight quarters, and often have a railing on the top to keep pots from rolling off. Here is a typical one from the Canadian coast measuring all of 12 inches by 12 inches. They are made of cast iron and porcelain and are so cute and enchanting, folks have thought of getting a sailboat just so they need one. You can use one in your tiny house just as easily.
12 x 12
Available from Marine Stove
Propane is also popular in tiny houses and Tumbleweed uses the Dickinson heater. This lovely little heater/fireplace. Ideal for boats or houses up to 32 ft. The combustion process is completely isolated from the inside of the structure by the unique, direct vent design. A built-in blower provides good heat circulation. Heater is sold with all accessories including a stainless steel backing plate and 28" of flexible, double stainless chimney. Safe, easy to use and extremely economical.
Newport Propane Fireplace (P9000)
17 x 9
Available from Dickson Marine
Gas is also an option and Woodstock Soapstone Company has the perfect little stove for tiny spaces called the Cottage Mini Soapstone Gas Stove.
It’s 8,000 BTU heat output is perfect for a cozy, intimate area. It takes up little space (it can be installed on a stand or wall- mounted shelf). It’s a handsome design.
The Mini Franklin(tm) will bring warmth, grace, and style to any room setting. Its small fire will add ambiance and though it is just 17" tall, it will produce almost 8,000 BTU/hr!
17 x 14
Available from Woodstock Soapstone Company
There are many small electric heaters that will work extremely well in your tiny house. Following are a couple examples available at your local Walmart. Electric heaters cost much less than the above wood stoves and propane or gas stoves. If electricity is easily available this might be your most affordable option.
Oil-Filled Radiator De’Longhi EW0715W Safeheat Oil-Filled Radiator features Patented Easy Snap Wheels, Adjustable Thermostat and Three Heat Settings
Available from Walmart
Titan Ceramic Heater with Thermostat #TCM16W-U
Compact yet powerful, this ceramic heater sports a thermostat that lets you choose how much heat you want.
Available from Walmart Toe Kick Heater
Electric Kickspace Heater (120 Volts)
A toe-space heater will fit where no other heater will. It can be recessed into toe space areas under kitchen or utility room cabinets or into the soffit area above them.
It can also be recessed into the risers of a stairway or under the vanity in the bathroom. It is convenient for checkout counters, ticket or toll booths and many other places where no other heater seems to fit.
Hopefully this will give you some ideas and a starting point to figure out what type of heat is best for your tiny home.
After attending the design workshop in Sebastopol, Steve N. built his own tiny house. The design was his own creation.
The Tiny House Blog has several pictures as well.