One of the gotcha steps of building a tiny or small house is reviewing building plans with your county and city officials — and getting those plans approved before construction begins.
If you aren’t a professional, then maybe it’s time to seek help. Here are four options which rely on external suppliers.
1. Architect: Arrange for an architect to handle plans, hire reliable builders, obtain approvals and permits, and make sure you are happy. You are paying for all the professional advice and have an advocate to make changes required by municipalities. It’s a sweet and pricey option.
ARCHITECT: Imagine living somewhere special and getting this modern home approved. It’s an exposed concrete cube tucked naturally into the mountainside. From architect Lischer Partner Architekten Planer. (Ferienhaus Vitznau)
2. Builder: Buy existing plans from an architect directly or third party like Houseplans, with a materials list included. When you hire a builder/general contractor, they are supposed to get approvals and permits. If you need to make plan changes, then seek out an architect, designer or plan provider.
BUILDER: This single-level deck house received Fine Homebuilding Magazine’s Small Home of 2013 Award for “its shared spaces and connections to the outdoors.” Building plans for the 800 sq. ft. home are available for sale. (Houseplans.com)
3. Prefab Supplier: You may order a prefab house “kit” and hire a builder. Yet many suppliers offer construction services which alleviate stress. Kanga Systems builds your house, ships it, places it on your site and finishes set-up. For about $10k, they will obtain approvals and permits beforehand.
PRE-FAB SUPPLIER: A welcoming, country style is seen in this tiny house. It features well proportioned windows, doors and an open front porch. The board and batten siding makes it feel authentic. Kanga’s house measures 168 sq. ft. (Kanga Studio)
4. Shed Supplier: Backyard sheds provide simple, extra space. As tiny structures without major plumbing, you shouldn’t run into permit issues. There are six ways to buy them, from architects to near-DIY projects. One long-standing supplier is Modern-Shed, which delivers and installs modern escapes on site.
SHED SUPPLIER: In Seattle, a felt artisan was fed up with working in her family kitchen and ordered this craft shed which fits perfectly. She selected the nice red color and added the deck. (Modern-Shed)
Changes afoot on the tiny and small house front
Be prepared for some house rejections from your municipality, even with help. Your dream place may not be large enough, have the right proportions for space use, or exclude appropriate egress. It’s possible that your foundation or materials aren’t up to snuff. Perhaps the power, water and sewage hook-ups won’t be approved yet. We can’t predict the objections, and sigh with you.
It’s okay if your first plans don’t fly. If you aim to build under 400 sq. ft., then upsize a little bit. We do need to share how a woman moved to Hawaii, bought land and received approvals to build a garage and main home. So far, she has built on the garage pad and lives in that sweet tiny house. Her main house will be constructed and rented out — though she isn’t in a hurry.
Or follow the wheels of tiny housers who have preceded you. If you need and want a full house with comforts and will be using it part-time, then consider buying a trailer-based beauty from 100-200 square feet. In this case, you go to the DMV and get a license instead.
By getting approvals for and living legally in YOUR tiny or small house, you are contributing to the greater good too. Municipalities have opened up their requirements, especially for secondary dwelling units and for trailer house uses. It’s only a matter of time for changes to spread from Portland (OR) and Austin (TX) to other U.S. cities.