minimum sizes for tiny houses

If you want to build a tiny house on the ground, then it’s a good idea to start with the International Residential Code’s (IRC) minimum size requirement: 120 square feet measured from interior faces of exterior walls.

Please buckle your seat belt to learn more about IRC habitable space, minimum areas and ceiling heights. These codes are revised and reviewed by the International Code Committee (ICC), and are known throughout the U.S.

Here's a new yet classic cottage based on the Whidbey design from Tumbleweed Houses. Sporting 960 square feet, the Great Barrington (MA) riverside home is now for re-sale. (realtor.com)

Here’s a new yet classic cottage based on the Whidbey design from Tumbleweed Houses. Sporting 960 square feet, the Great Barrington riverside home is now for re-sale. (realtor.com)

Welcome to minimum codes

Let’s begin with a confusing but true statement: while all the minimums apply to habitable spaces, habitable spaces are defined by meeting minimums too.

In typical houses, all living, sleeping, eating or cooking areas qualify as habitable spaces. Bathrooms, toilet rooms, closets, halls, storage or utility spaces aren’t defined as habitable, for any dwelling. Here are minimum room sizes:

  • Minimum area. One habitable room that’s at least 120 square feet.
  • Other rooms. At least 70 square feet.
  • Minimum dimensions. At least 7 feet in any horizontal dimension.
  • Height effect on room area. At least 7 feet high. If sloped, also over 5 feet.

Tom Meyers, past chairman of ICC’s residential code committee, explains height requirements for a habitable room:

“The IRC requires 7 feet vertical clearance except when the ceiling is sloped. When the ceiling is sloped, only one half of the required room area must be provided with the 7 foot headroom clearance. If the room is required to be 70 sf in area, then 35 sf of the room must have 7 feet of clearance. Additionally, all the remaining required area must have a minimum of 5 feet of clearance.”

There are some exclusions and exceptions. Notably, kitchens are excluded from the other room, dimensions and height effect codes. Also bathrooms only need to be 6 feet, 8 inches tall, to accommodate fixtures.

Sleeping lofts are not “habitable” areas

In a tiny or small house, an upstairs loft typically won’t qualify as a habitable bedroom, so you may access it with a ladder or non-compliant egress. Tom Meyers offers clear advice:

“If you are ever challenged on the use of a ladder for non-habitable loft, be assured that the code allows it by default. Intentionally, there are no requirements for non-habitable loft access. I know this as I am the one that wrote this code section.”

“The code official is unlikely to allow you to use your non-habitable loft for compliance with permanent provision for sleeping. Best to figure out a way to put a bed (fold out or otherwise) on the lower level.”

Rural, suburban and urban code approvals

When living in a more populated area, you should expect larger and different minimum sizes in your local building and zoning codes. Please check with your City Hall while planning a single home or secondary dwelling unit build on your property. Otherwise your house could be unusable!

Are all these codes necessary? Suburban and urban people live with many codes because they’re not contemplating “daily survival,” muses Tom Meyers. By contrast, rural areas are more lax and may not even have codes because “they don’t need to be told what they already know.”

More Information: Please check out exact wording of the International Code Council (ICC) minimums below, covering Minimum Room Areas, Ceiling Height, Sanitation, and Toilet, Bath and Shower Spaces.

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more tiny tv shows, more reality

Tiny houses seem to draw TV audiences, just like they attract traffic online or at open houses. With increasingly mainstream exposure, it’s important to share tiny living realities on screen or online.

Here's a beautiful tiny house from Jamaica Cottage Shop. On Tiny House Nation, this home was built and the challenges of fitting a family were addressed well. (Tiny House Nation video)

Here’s a beautiful tiny house from Jamaica Cottage Shop. On Tiny House Nation, this home was built and the challenges of fitting a family were addressed well. (Tiny House Nation video)

The Hollywood Reporter announced that Tiny House Nation starts filming its second season immediately. A new show, Tiny House Hunting, also begins production. These series air/will air on FYI network, which replaced BIO channel.

FYI producers are pleased that “season one of Tiny House Nation improved the time-period average 37 percent in total viewers and 48 percent among adults 25-54 compared to last year’s BIO Channel average before the rebrand.”

We appreciate that viewers saw many tiny houses and learned about off-grid power, different toilets, kitchen options and multiple-use designs. One glaring omission? Getting municipal approvals and/or permits to live tiny.

Tiny House Nation: What happened

Each episode introduces the downsizers and builds a home quickly. There’s brief coverage on how they are doing now, while our online search finds new challenges after the cameras departed. Here are two examples:

  • 500 Sq. Ft. Rocky Mountain Mansion (video) – After a couple builds a swoon worthy home on the site of their forest-fire destroyed place, they’re stymied by a roof leak and still await their certificate of occupancy.
  • 210 Sq. Ft. Studio Retreat (video) – One young couple is very pleased with their Minim house, though face challenges about where to park and live in a new house on wheels. They want to remain local and advertise for help.

Tiny House Hunters: What matters

Have you seen house-hunter shows? Usually several options are shown and buyers make an offer which gets accepted. There’s some footage after the owners settle into their new place. All is well and good.

Yet with tiny houses built on foundations, issues may arise when owners decide to make any modifications. Compliance with zoning and building codes becomes a local pursuit:

  • Exterior footprint or height changes which violate zoning codes
  • Interior space changes that may not meet old building codes
  • Historic district locations with constraints of all kinds
  • Utility installations, upgrades or changes

Viewers and would-be tiny house buyers deserve as much reality as possible. Post-airing discussions could attract waves of on-demand viewing — and then everyone wins.

spiral stairs to sleeping loft

To conserve tiny house space, consider installing spiral stairs to access a sleeping loft. They would make an ascent or descent easier than any ladder, right?

Spiral stairs from a Washington tiny house

The first spiral stairs come from a jewel-box tiny home built by Zack Giffin, who’s a skier, carpenter and Tiny House Nation host. Over the past three years, Zack (and his partner Molly) traveled to many Western ski areas where they discovered powder secrets and tiny house admirers along the way.

These well crafted stair steps were hand-built by Zack Giffin, in his tiny ski house on wheels. They seem like fine furniture and works of art. (Photo by Michael Dyrland)

These well crafted stair steps were hand-built by Zack Giffin, in his tiny ski house on wheels. They seem like fine furniture and works of art. (Photo by Michael Dyrland)

Notice how the steps rotate around a vertical pole. It enables dwellers to use extra space for seating and other purposes. (Photo by Mark Fisher)

Notice how the steps rotate around a vertical pole. It enables dwellers to use extra space for seating and other purposes. (Photo by Mark Fisher)

Here the tiny house is truly at home, nestled into a ski area parking lot. Everyone inside should be ready for tomorrow's action. (Photo by Michael Dyrland)

Here the tiny house is truly at home, nestled into a ski area parking lot. Everyone inside should be ready for tomorrow’s action. (Photo by Michael Dyrland)

Spiral stairs from a Massachusetts tiny house

The second spiral stairs appear in a tiny house owned by Francis Camosse, a local youth minister. His dream home, a modified Tumbleweed Cypress, was just built by Zack Giffin, local contractors and the Tiny House Nation. Aah, we understand the source of these spiral stairs now.

"Henry Camosse, father of Francis Camosse, climbs the stairs to the loft of his son's tiny house in Charlton," says the Worcester Telegram. (Photo by Paul Connors)

“Henry Camosse, father of Francis Camosse, climbs the stairs to the loft of his son’s tiny house in Charlton,” says the Worcester Telegram. (Photo by Paul Connors)

Francis Camosse's tiny house gets log cabin siding for a sweet rustic look. The tiny is currently located on family land. (Photo by Paul Connors)

Francis Camosse’s tiny house gets log cabin siding for a sweet rustic look. The tiny is currently located on family land. (Photo by Paul Connors)

store it, revisit it, donate it

“Find freedom in temporary storage,” advises Finding Minimalism’s Joshua Becker. If you are decluttering and stymied by beloved collections or other possessions, then put them aside.

For these hard-to-removes, Becker recommends “an intermediate step of packing a box, labeling it with a date, and storing it out of sight. It will be easier emotionally. Six months later, revisit the box. You may be surprised how much easier it is to part with these items after not seeing them for six months.”

Do you have a large collection, like this Depression Era glass?  Store it "out of sight" for a few months, and it will be easier to sell or donate then. (Calder Clark)

Do you have a large collection, like this Depression Era glass? Store it “out of sight” for a few months, and it will be easier to sell or donate then. (Calder Clark, event planner)

We like having the time to mentally prepare for giving away memory-laden stuff. Putting items away enables you to live without and maybe forget about them, on a trial basis. Also don’t forget to take pictures too, to look back after items are truly gone!

Finding Minimalism’s 7 Tips to Speed Up the De-cluttering Process

Below are uncommon yet practical tips that should help you begin decluttering because the process will feel a bit less overwhelming. Click here to read all the details.

  1. Start easy with a clean sweep.
  2. Find motivation with built-in deadlines.
  3. Donate more.
  4. Include some help.
  5. Find freedom in temporary storage.
  6. Tell a friend and invite them over.
  7. Don’t confuse intent with action.

traditional moldings would be nice

Have you seen moldings in tiny or small houses?

Moldings add vertical interest between walls and ceilings of all types. They also eliminate monotony from similar materials and colors. Most importantly, they offer a subtle, finishing touch.

See the traditional white crown molding installed in this welcoming entry area. The tiny cottage is based on Whidbey plans from Tumbleweed Houses. (At Home Arkansas)

See the traditional white crown molding installed in this welcoming entry area. The tiny cottage is based on Whidbey plans from Tumbleweed Houses. (At Home Arkansas)

One rustic treatment caught our eye because it’s not a true molding. Instead, barn wood is installed like a formal picture frame around the ceiling — and creates a smart transitional impact.

Brownback wood comes from the protected, unexposed back of reclaimed barn siding. Milled pieces get used to define the ceiling here. (JC Woodworking, Houzz)

Brownback wood comes from the protected, unexposed back of reclaimed barn siding. Milled pieces get used to define the ceiling here. (JC Woodworking, Houzz)

Whether you envision a modern home, cabin, cottage, bungalow or other style, there are many molding options. Start looking up for your downsizing inspirations, even in larger places. As a reference, below are some classic shapes.

Architectural styles call for different plane, concave, convex and complex molding shapes. In tiny houses, moldings are possible on a smaller scale. (Classicist)

Architectural styles call for different plane, concave, convex and complex molding shapes. In tiny houses, moldings are possible on a smaller scale. (Classicist)

More information: Molding prices vary depending on whether you pre-purchase or make them from scratch, plus installation costs. To see some of the steps, check out Fine Homebuilding or DIY Network.

mountain modern begins life again

Here’s to new beginnings: a mountain modern prefab built where wildfire had burned down David and Kristen’s dream place two years earlier. The couple is now downsizing from 1,200 to 500 square feet of living space.

This 500 sq. ft. “mountain mansion” was first constructed at Cabin Fever’s warehouse in Florida, packed up and delivered to Colorado, and finished locally. (Tiny House Nation)

This 500 sq. ft. “mountain mansion” was first constructed at Cabin Fever’s warehouse in Florida, packed up and delivered to Colorado, and finished locally. (Tiny House Nation)

As featured on the Tiny House Nation TV show, this aerie is off-grid with solar power and some propane gas, a deep well and (we think) a septic system. Did we mention the amazing views?

The owners have  breath-taking views of the Colorado Front Range, not far from Denver. Their terrace is postcard perfect. (Tiny House Nation)

The owners have breath-taking views of the Colorado Front Range, not far from Denver. Their terrace is postcard perfect. (Tiny House Nation)

Take an inside house tour

This Colorado home supports more internal uses than you might expect! There’s an open great room, modern kitchen, bath, two small offices and sleeping loft with closets. The height in the home is the clincher.

In this loft bedroom, there's a 15-foot ceiling and closets for the couple. You ascend by steep stairs. (Tiny House Nation)

In this loft bedroom, there’s a 15-foot ceiling and closets for the couple. You ascend by steep stairs. (Tiny House Nation)

Software integrator David has his own office and desk, which transforms into a guest bed as needed. (Tiny House Nation)

Software integrator David has his own office and desk, which transforms into a guest bed as needed. (Tiny House Nation)

Next to David, Kristen writes books and consults from her own office with a desk, daybed and views. (Tiny House Nation)

Next to David, Kristen writes books and consults from her own office with a desk, daybed and views. (Tiny House Nation)

This Colorado home features a modern bathroom with a hip shower, sink and flush toilet. (Tiny House Nation)

This Colorado home features a modern bathroom with a hip shower, sink and flush toilet. (Tiny House Nation)

The Coloradans wanted a full gas range and stove, large sink and custom refrigerator in their home. (Tiny House Nation)

The Coloradans wanted a full gas range and stove, large sink and custom refrigerator in their home. (Tiny House Nation)

Here's the great room view into the Colorado home, with the bathroom to right and kitchen to left. (Tiny House Nation)

Here’s the great room view into the Colorado home, with the bathroom to right and kitchen to left. (Tiny House Nation)

More access: Want video? Tiny House Nation offers clips from the “Rocky Mountain Mansion” episode. The show is free online, and soon will transition access via your cable provider here. You may also pay $2.99 to view itunes.

a little southern style

Where have you been all my life, lovely little Southern house? It turns out that Southern Living sells smaller plans, designed exclusively by local architects. Design changes are possible for a fee.

Let’s take a look, from smallest to largest houses.

"Fontanel Bunkie" has an open plan, along with a bathroom, tiny kitchen and attic storage. It features 317 sq. ft. and an 18 ft. width. (Our Town Plans, Peachtree City, GA)

“Fontanel Bunkie” has an open plan, along with a bathroom, tiny kitchen and attic storage. It features 317 sq. ft. and an 18 ft. width. (Our Town Plans, Peachtree City, GA)

"Garden Cottage" sports separate living and bedrooms, a small bathroom and galley kitchen. The 540 sq. ft. size excludes its porch. (Architects Group 3 Design, Hilton Head, SC)

“Garden Cottage” sports separate living and bedrooms, a small bathroom and galley kitchen. The 540 sq. ft. size excludes its porch. (Architects Group 3 Design, Hilton Head, SC)

"Grayson Trail" is a open cottage that has a bedroom and plus loft. At 808 sq. ft., it seems like a just enough, right space. (Architect William H. Phillips, Dauphin Island, AL)

“Grayson Trail” is a open cottage that has a bedroom plus loft. At 808 sq. ft., it seems like a just enough, right space. (Architect William H. Phillips, Dauphin Island, AL)

"210 Gentilly Road" is a classic New Orleans shot-gun house with 934 sq. ft. We found this one through a Southern Living architect. (Our Town Plans, Peachtree City, GA)

“210 Gentilly Road” is a classic New Orleans shot-gun house with 934 sq. ft. We found this one through a Southern Living architect. (Our Town Plans, Peachtree City, GA)

"Topwater Lodge" has country and southern influences, such as dual porches. Featuring three levels and 1,042 sq. ft., this home fits a family. (Architects Caldwell/Cline, Marietta, GA)

“Topwater Lodge” has country and southern influences like dual porches. Featuring three levels and 1,042 sq. ft., the home fits a family. (Architects Caldwell/Cline, Marietta, GA)