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2018 Tiny Houses Appendix Q in International Residential Code

Policy Profile by David Eisenberg
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2018 Tiny Houses Appendix Q in International Residential Code
320 SF Tiny Home by Nir Pearlson
Fire Safety
Structure
Tiny Homes
Model Code
International Code Council
International Residential Code
International Code Council
Local Jurisdictions
2018
3 years

Abstract

Responding to the urgent need for building code provisions for tiny houses advocates came together using the International Code Council's (ICC) Public Comment process to develop and gain approval for the new Appendix Q Tiny Houses for the 2018 IRC. Though many jurisdictions won't adopt the 2018 IRC for some time, in the interim, the appendix will still provide guidance and aid in the approval process for those pursuing tiny house projects.

Origin and purpose

Through a masterful use of the ICC Code Development process, a group of tiny home advocates submitted and gained approval for the new Appendix Q* Tiny Houses for the 2018 International Residential Code (IRC). The success and speed of the development and approval of this appendix resulted from the combination of the surge of interest and demand for very small houses and the lack of clear guidance in the code for issues related to loft sleeping spaces, access to them, means of egress and more. The process that ultimately resulted in approval of the Tiny Houses Appendix holds many important lessons for those interested in changing building codes. That it was accomplished in such a short period of time is unprecedented. Significant code additions or changes often take multiple code development cycles (typically 3 years) to gain approval. Remarkably, the effort to develop the Tiny Houses Appendix got started following the International Code Council's (ICC) Committee Action Hearings (CAH), held in late April 2016. The advocates developed a public comment replacing the original code change proposal for small houses with the new tiny house appendix and submitted it in July. It was heard at the Public Comment Hearing in October, succeeded in overturning the disapproval of the committee to be included in the national vote after the hearings, and received the 2/3 majority vote necessary to gain final approval in early November 2016. *Note:  The draft Appendix used the letter "V" however the Appendix is expected to be published as Appendix Q.

This appendix is for tiny houses on foundations, not tiny houses on wheels (THOW). That was because the original code change proposal was for small houses on foundations and expanding the scope to include THOW was not allowed by ICC rules. Advocates plan to propose code changes to address THOW in future code development cycles. Appendix Q introduces a set of definitions of terms to the code and primarily addresses the dimensions of habitable lofts, and safe access to and egress from them.

Policy TitlePurpose of Policy
Tiny House 2018 IRC Appendix Q This appendix to the 2018 IRC gives guidance on requirements for tiny houses on foundations (not mobile or tiny houses on wheels). It provides code requirements for the aspects of tiny houses that have been the most challenging issues for code approvals and references to relevant standards on which the provisions are based.

Code Development and Adoption

In April 2016 at the International Code Council's (ICC) Committee Action Hearings, a code change proposal for a new code section in the 2018 IRC for "Small Houses" (no greater than 500 sf) was disapproved by the 2018 IRC Committee. Architect Martin Hammer was the only person to testify on this proposal, doing so in “friendly opposition,” acknowledging that while the proposal was not adequately developed, code provisions for very small homes, or tiny houses, was needed and the need was growing rapidly. In their discussion, before disapproving the proposal, the committee also recognized the importance of the issue and encouraged the development of a more comprehensive approach, stating it might be more appropriate as an appendix to the code rather than a new code section.

A tiny house advocate saw Martin Hammer's testimony on the live online video of the hearings and contacted him after the hearings. Heeding the suggestion of the IRC committee, Martin and tiny house expert Andrew Morrison decided to work together with input from other allies to create an appendix for tiny houses to replace the failed code change proposal. The public comment was submitted and a coalition of diverse tiny house advocates from across the country convened in Kansas City to give supporting testimony at the Public Comment Hearings (PCH).  The group was successful in reversing the disapproval vote of the committee so the public comment could be heard, and then in receiving enough votes at the hearing for the public comment to be included in the national online voting. That vote was also successful and the Tiny Houses Appendix Q was approved for inclusion in the 2018 IRC.

Application and Scope

The Tiny House appendix primarily addresses the dimensions, safe access to and egress from habitable lofts. The issue of lofts is one of two major obstacles tiny house proponents have faced when attempting to obtain a building permit to construct a tiny house (no greater than 400 sf, as defined in the new appendix). A small floor area requires very efficient use of space to make a residence viable. Sleeping lofts or other habitable lofts are commonly used and needed in tiny houses with modest dimensions that have proven safe and functional but are not allowed under current codes. The Tiny Houses appendix defined lofts and adjusted the dimensional requirements in line with proven safe use.

TinyHousePhotohOMe04.jpg
Tiny Home Stairs in Our hOMe, by Andrew Morrison
Safe access to and egress from lofts by means that require much less space than stairs as required under current codes, are necessary to make many tiny houses viable and have proven safe over years of use. This includes smaller stairs, and ladders and alternating tread devices that have a long history of safe use in recreational park trailers or were already allowed in the IRC as a limited means of access to some spaces. The Tiny House appendix gives options for safe loft access and egress that use less space.

The second major obstacle facing tiny house proponents seeking a building permit is the issue of movable tiny houses, or what are often referred to as tiny houses on wheels (THOW). These are becoming increasingly common as many people want or need the ability to occasionally relocate their home to another location. These movable houses have a chassis, axle(s) and wheels, but unlike mobile homes, they are typically fixed to a permanent foundation, requiring both the foundation and the house above the chassis to comply with the building code.

Although movable houses present a significant challenge for tiny house proponents and building officials, it is not addressed in the Tiny Houses appendix. The subject could not be included in the Public Comment because it was beyond the scope of the original code change proposal for small houses that was amended by the public comment. The authors of the Tiny House appendix plan to address this subject with a code change proposal in ICC’s next code development cycle. Draft language is in development.

Additional Resources

International Code Council Code Development Process Guidance webpage Book by Andrew and Gabriella Morrison: Tiny House Designing, Building, & Living
Detailed Blog Post on Tiny Home ICC Hearings in Kansas City, by Andrew Morrison "Living Tiny Legally, Part 2" of a 3-part docu-series by Tiny House Expedition, and educational Resource for Tiny House Advocates and Policy Makers

Technical Details

Prior to publication of the 2018 IRC with the Tiny Houses Appendix, the provisions and technical details, including the proponents’ reason statement, can be found on Andrew Morrison's webpage.

Funding

The development of the Tiny Houses Appendix was the result of many hundreds of volunteer hours in addition to funds raised through crowd sourcing which helped pay for the time and expenses of Martin Hammer and David Eisenberg of DCAT, who helped develop the appendix and guide the advocates through the code change process, including strategies for the public comment reason statement, testimony, and outreach and advocacy in support of the appendix for the national online vote. Although there are no current plans for additional fundraising, the GoFundMe campaign that was used to cover expenses for the public comment process is still operational - https://www.gofundme.com/TinyHouseCodes

Economic Impact

The following is from the Public Comment Reason Statement:

  • National homeownership fell to 63.7% in 2015, the lowest level in two decades.
  • Increased housing cost is cited as the main reason for low ownership rate. (source: Joint Center for Housing Studies (JCHS) at Harvard University)
  • The average home in the United States costs approximately $358,000 to build, an increase of roughly $200,000 since 1998, whereas the average annual income in the United States has remained unchanged for the last several years, lingering near $52,000. (source: US Census Bureau)
  • The average American spends roughly 27% of their annual income on housing (nearly 11 hours of every 40-hour work week). 48% of households making less than $30,000 annually pay more than half of their income on housing, leaving these households less than $15,000 a year to purchase food, healthcare, education, clothing, and anything else. (source: JCHS)
  • The cost of new construction for a 200 square foot tiny house can be as low as $35,000. A typical down payment on an average-sized house is $72,000, more than twice the full cost of a tiny house.
  • Cities benefit from tiny house ordinances. With significant need for affordable housing, cities are hard-pressed to find solutions that quickly expand their low -income housing stock without burdening an already burdened system. Tiny houses can be quickly installed in municipalities and set up at little or no cost to the cities.
  • Lessons Learned

    The uncommon speed with which such a substantial code change—a new appendix—was approved (in one code development cycle) resulted from a set of fortunate circumstances and skillful use of the ICC adoption process. These included the existence of a disapproved code change proposal on small houses, the presence and testimony of a knowledgeable and interested architect at the committee hearings, an advocate who saw that testimony online, a personal connection that brought them together with others experienced in the code development process and how best to work with the codes community. And, it was also just the right time for this to happen.

    An essential factor enabling that rapid success was the shared sense of need and urgency by both code officials and the advocates for tiny houses. That helped accelerate what normally would have taken more than one 3-year code development cycle. There was testimony by building officials at the Public Comment Hearing stating that although the proposed appendix was not perfect, it was good enough to approve, and far better than having no formal guidance for the next several years until something better could be approved in a future code cycle.

    Also contributing to the success was the guidance provided by people with years of experience in the ICC's code development process related to gaining acceptance for alternative building systems. One of their decisions was key, to make the proposal for a new appendix rather than a new section in the body of the code. Appendices are not automatically adopted as part of the main codes; they are optional and must be specifically adopted. It was also noted more than once that adopting jurisdictions could modify the appendix by local amendment if they thought something problematic enough to need to be changed.

    Future Outlook and Replicability

    The 2018 IRC and appendices will be published in September 2017 at which point they can be adopted or referenced by those wishing to build to those code provisions. However, it is even possible for a jurisdiction to adopt the approved appendix (with or without modification) ahead of publication if it determines the need is sufficiently urgent. The State of New Mexico is exploring this avenue. One of the benefits of an ICC approved appendix for Tiny Houses is that even where the local jurisdiction has not adopted the 2018 IRC or the appendix, it can be proposed on a project basis through the alternative materials and designs provision in the code.
    In the next code development cycle the primary authors of the Tiny Houses appendix plan to address the very important issue of movable tiny houses (tiny houses on wheels). Other issues such as dimensional requirements in bathrooms or thermal resistance requirements for the tiny house building envelope may also be considered.

    The 2018 IRC and appendices will be published in September 2017 at which point they can be adopted or referenced by those wishing to build to those code provisions. However, it is even possible for a jurisdiction to adopt the approved appendix (with or without modification) ahead of publication if it determines the need is sufficiently urgent. The State of New Mexico is exploring this avenue. One of the benefits of an ICC approved appendix for Tiny Houses is that even where the local jurisdiction has not adopted the 2018 IRC or the appendix, it can be proposed on a project basis through the alternative materials and designs provision in the code.In the next code development cycle the primary authors of the Tiny Houses appendix plan to address the very important issue of movable tiny houses (tiny houses on wheels). Other issues such as dimensional requirements in bathrooms or thermal resistance requirements for the tiny house building envelope may also be considered.

    Policy and Program Contacts
    Co-Author of Appendix: Martin Hammer, Architect (510) 684-4488 Co-Author of Appendix: Andrew and Gabriella Morrison, Owners Tiny House Build (541) 890-3957 Advisor on Appendix: David Eisenberg, Director Development Center for Appropriate Technology 520-465-1820
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