Tiny Houses Hit the International Residential Code

Tiny Houses Hit the International Residential Code

Tiny houses are a big deal. These homes, typically with a square footage around or under 500 square feet, are free-standing, single family dwellings that are sometimes (but not always) movable. The International Residential Code has yet to weigh in on standards for these buildings — until now.

Changes to the 2018 IRC Building Code for Tiny Houses

Micro houses have a space in the 2018 IRC Building Code, courtesy of Public Comment RB168-16, which received enough votes to be added as an appendix to the upcoming year’s building code.

The amendment lays out the groundwork for the requirements for tiny houses, specifically defining a tiny house as a dwelling with less than 400 square feet of floor area, excluding lofts. Minimum ceiling heights, ladder and stair requirements, loft restrictions and safety guidelines are also set up in the code.

What This Means for Contractors

With tiny houses added to the 2018 IRC Residential Code, contractors will be required to ensure that all tiny houses built meet the code. This may cause friction between contractors and clients, who have a certain view of how their tiny home should look. But by and large, the points laid out in the 2018 IRC amendment make sense from the point of view of keeping occupants of the home safe and free from injury.

At the same time, adding tiny houses to the IRC means that contractors might be seeing a boost in tiny houses as part of their clientele. By setting up the guidelines, local governments who don’t usually have a space or way to handle building permits for tiny homes have a place to start.

When Will the Tiny House IRC Amendment Go into Effect?

Even though the amendment received the majority vote needed for inclusion in the 2018 code, it holds no weight unless it’s certified by the International Code Council (ICC)’s validation committee. Even then, it still has to be confirmed by the council’s board.

But it’s not just a simple matter of passing ICC validation. Every local or municipal government has different laws regarding tiny houses, and the code has absolutely zero legal effect unless adopted by a local government.

Will Inclusion in the Code Mean More Tiny House Business?

Tiny houses are and will likely continue to be a niche market. Although they’re a wildfire trend for the chronically homeless (and organizations seeking to help them), young professionals, and the Pinterest set, tiny houses are seen by many as impractical in terms of space or cost.

If housing prices continue to rise, more and more people will seek alternatives to traditional housing, including spec-built tiny homes. Inclusion in the IRC doesn’t mean that contractors will see an uptick in tiny house building projects, but it does lay the groundwork for municipalities to include this housing type in their spaces. By setting up the framework for safe occupancy, tiny homes may be seen as more accessible by the general public and become more accepted as a housing option.

What Contractors Need to Know About the 2018 Tiny House Amendment

Tiny houses are a quick, if not always easy, project for contractors that can usher in a whole new type of clientele. Becoming passingly familiar with the approved guidelines set forth by the IRC can help you stay ahead of the curve by ensuring any work done prior to the amendment passing ICC board validation and adoption by local governments meets the code and is up to standard, meaning fewer upset clients looking for remodels sooner rather than later to meet changes in occupancy codes.


  • Dan Sokol January 23, 2017 at 1:27 am

    I convert shipping containers into micro homes and have lost a significant amount of business due to local zoning “officials” and the NIMBY syndrome. Things are changing at the the IBC recently passed regulations to lower the minimum living space requirements to 70 sq/ft which is perfect for what I build (320 sq/ft containers). I’m not a fan of the “Tiny House” movement as it is about the same size as a jail cell and unstable in storms (it’s also mounted on a trailer so it falls under an RV classification.

    • Gordon January 30, 2017 at 11:17 am

      Hey Dan, how’s that business going? I’ve thought about doing the same thing but the utility connections and transportation seems a bit sketchy, long term.

  • spr January 27, 2017 at 9:08 pm

    Dan, not all tiny houses are mounted on trailers. That is certainly a trend in the tiny house movement, but it isn’t “set in stone”, so to speak. There are a growing number of people who own land that want a smaller or tiny house to live in to control the costs in their lives associated with excess space and material belong sing that do not want or need. Many people do not want to pay to heat or cool 2,000+ sqft all day long when they are only home for 12 out of 24 hours in a day and are looking to smaller spaces for cost savings in terms of utilities, as well as minimalizing other costs (furnishings, taxes, etc…) to make room in their finances for things that are more important to them than keepin up with the Jones’.

  • Phillip A Williams January 30, 2017 at 2:33 pm

    I am not a huge fan of the “tiny house” when it drops under about 600 sq ft. The number of buyers for such units gets far smaller as the unit gets smaller. Houses in the 600-700 sq ft range offer far more flexibility and obviously more resale ability…

  • signalfire April 20, 2017 at 1:56 pm

    I have no problem with building houses to ‘safe’ standards – electrical, stairs being accepted heights, handrails, etc. The issue I have is with codes that prevent me from buying a lot near a McMansion and having the neighbors complain because for some weird reason, I’m affecting their property values. The banks have conspired along with some people in the contracting business to make houses out of economic reach and too expensive for what is now a majority of real people. The people who *can* afford them are likely gone all day long, working to pay for them. It’s time to reinstitute sanity; buy only what you need and can truly afford, have all sizes available to people in different stages of their lives, and don’t let the NIMBYs and the banks run things. I know for a fact that there are dozens of vacant large houses near me in pricey Southern California – they’ve been foreclosed upon but the banks don’t want them on the market – it would show the true value of real estate and demand and prices would drop instead of the constant expansion we see. At what point can no one (except an influx of wealthy immigrants) afford these places?


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