When is a Building Permit Not Required?


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.

  1. I Googled "Sonoma County" and found their web site
  2. Than I did a searched on Permits on the Sonoma County website
  3. Clicked on Forms and Applications
  4. 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:


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.


  1. 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

Written by Kent Griswold — July 22, 2009

Filed under: Build it yourself  

Finish this tiny house yourself


Lusby for Sale

Last year I was inspired Jay's beautiful Tumbleweed houses and wanted to follow in his footsteps. I attended his workshop and bought plans for the Lusby. Not being handy myself, I hired a professional builder of custom homes to build the exterior of my tiny house. Its home was to be on a perfectly picturesque New Hampshire lake. I put my traditional, 4 bedroom home on the market and waited... and waited...and waited. Not even one offer did I get, even after dropping with price by a third. With three kids in college, I couldn't afford to keep holding on to both properties. I sold my lakeside lot and am now selling my tiny house.

It is completed on the exterior; the interior is partially done. Here are the specifications:


House width: 8’

House length: 19’

Trailer Size: 7’ x 18’

Road Height: 13’ 5"

Dry Weight: 8,000 to 10,000 lbs (estimated)

Porch: 7 1/2 ’ x 3’

Main Room: 6 1/2 ’ x 6 1/2 ’

Kitchen: In main room

Bathroom: 3’ x 6’

Loft height: 3’ 8"

Ceiling height: 6’ 3" (All measurements are approximate.)

The following features are currently a part of the tiny house:

1. shingled roof

2. cedar siding (painted)

3. exterior front door (African Mahogany with glass center panel)

4. pet door for cat or small dog

5. 3 windows and screens on each long side

6. loft windows (cannot open)

7. fiberglass shower

8. electric wiring

9. cable TV wiring These items are included with the house but are not installed.

Many are still in original shipping cartons.

1. 2 interior doors (African Mahogany)

2. antique style brass door knobs

3. stained glass inserts for loft windows plus extra piece that could be fastened to the front door

4. tiny toilet

5. bathroom pedestal sink with porcelain faucets

6. living room, bathroom and bedroom

7. handmade Cape Code lantern style porch lights

8. stainless kitchen sink (faucet not included)

9. kitchen sink cabinet

10. recycled jeans batt insulation (more is needed)

11. electric water heater, 10 gallon

12. wood stove, stainless steel enclosure and chimney pipe

What is not finished?

* the interior walls (drywall) and finish trim are not in

* interior doors are included but not installed

* finish flooring is not included

* lighting fixtures need to be installed after drywall is in

* porch lights need to be installed

* outlets and light switches are not included

* wood stove needs to be installed

* plumbing and kitchen fixtures need to be installed

* kitchen cabinet for sink needs to be installed (and more cabinets need to be purchased for rest of kitchen)

* kitchen appliances are not included

* stained glass inserts for loft windows need to be installed

* insulation is not complete

* ladder to loft is not included

* closets have not been built

The tiny house is currently in southern New Hampshire. You are welcome to come and pick it up or I'll help you find a company to bring it to you.


Written by Steve Weissmann — June 15, 2009

Filed under: Houses  

Hermitage for Sale

Mobile Hermitage For Sale!

The Mobile Hermitage, pictured here, is one of the homes that helped start the Small House Movement back in 2003. The Mobile Hermitage is now being offered for sale at a price of $30,000.

This home is owned by Greg Johnson, founder of the Small House Society, and is one of the very first Tumbleweed Houses ever built.

This is the same home that was featured on National Public Radio, Public Television, Better Homes and Gardens, and even the Oprah Winfrey show requested to have it on the show. The sale of the home will help advance the Small House Movement and make way for an exciting new development in smaller, simpler, more sustainable living.

It is approximately 60 square feet, and has a kitchen. For more info, please contact Greg directly.

Written by Steve Weissmann — May 22, 2009

Filed under: Houses  

Fencl Build for Coast to Coast Tour

This summer, beginning on May 25, 2009, Tumbleweed will drive a Fencl Tumbleweed Tiny House from San Francisco to New York. Along the way, they will stop in 14 different cities, making the house available for you to see. In addition, there will be a Tiny House Building and Design Workshops in Boulder, Chicago, and New York along the way.

This is a photo journal of the construction of the first Fencl, which is being built on the property where Tumbleweed Tiny House Company resideS.

The picture above is the construction site and shows a lot of the building supplies delivered and covered to protect from the rain.

Here you see the framing of the sub floor, foam insulation is installed next and then plywood completes the sub floor.
The plywood has been installed and the sub floor completed. The house is now ready to be framed for the walls and the roof.
The walls are up, and the sheathing is attached, the roof has been framed and the loft constructed. Tyvek is being installed and roofing is the next step.
The underside of the loft above the kitchen and bathroom.
Roofing almost completed.
The electrical wiring is in and basic plumbing in the bathroom has been installed. The roof has been insulated and the walls will be insulated next. The shower will be put into position and the framing of the bathroom wall will be completed. Plumbing for the bathroom and kitchen has yet to be completed.
The Thetsford Aqua Magic Style II toilet, shower, and Surburban RV 6 gallon hot water heater available to install, plus the Dickinson stove has arrived for the heating of the Fencl.
Awaiting sunny weather to complete the exterior.

Check back often for updates on the progress and completed pictures of the Fencl before the tour.

Written by Kent Griswold — April 10, 2009

Filed under: Houses  

Small Living Journal

I'm excited to announce the launch of a new bi-weekly webzine called the Small Living Journal: the focus is on the small home movement.

The brainchild of Stephanie Reiley of the Coming Unmoored blog and a group of small living advocates, designers, and bloggers. The initial writers are Stephanie Reiley, Greg Johnson, Michael Janzen, Tammy from RowdyKittens, Hillary from ThisTinyHouse, Amanda from Constructing a Simpler Life, and Kent Griswold.

The first issue is an introduction of the members and how they became interested in the tiny house movement. The next issue on April 8 will focus on downsizing.

Go and check this out. I think you will find this another useful resource in your quest for living small. Be sure and sign up to the RSS feed or join the email list so you don't miss an issue.

Written by Kent Griswold — March 24, 2009

Filed under: In the News  
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