There is nothing quite as peaceful as a creek running through the Nantahala National Forest, quite as beautiful as an autumn drive through the Blue Ridge Parkway, or as nostalgic as a ride on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad. There is also nothing as frustrating as falling in love with a region and finding out your home is not welcome there. For tiny housers this does not have to be the case in Jackson County, NC. In fact, after some research and reading, it seems as if Jackson County is one of those special western Carolina locales that holds tight to its heritage while embracing the changing tides of progress.
Sometime at the end of June it came to our attention at TinyHouseNC that Jackson County had released new building and zoning requirements that included a portion on tiny houses. There was little more information that that save a redirect to a rather generic webpage from the county itself. Scrolling down almost to the bottom of the page revealed something not usually seen in zoning literature online. There was a link to a 2016 Tiny House Brochure. The link actually prompted a .pdf download that showed itself to be a short brochure that outlined Construction Guidelines for Tiny Homes in NC. Under that is a cute photo of a small cottage with a welcoming front porch, followed by this paragraph:
Enclosed you will find a collection of NC Code references regarding tiny home construction. This is not intended to be an all-inclusive list of requirements; for any additional requirements please refer to the current edition of the NC Residential Code.
Confusion set in almost immediately. The brochure continued on to reference the NC Residential Code, the zoning offices in Sylva, NC, RV/Park Model/Camper definitions, some RVIA clarifications, etc. Despite the title of the pamphlet nothing seemed to deal specifically with tiny houses or tiny houses on wheels. In fact, there was even some contradictions regarding whether or not tiny houses were allowed in Jackson County or not. This was going to take a bit more digging that just reading a pamphlet.
After a few phone calls and voicemails followed by an email or two, Mr. Tony Elders, Director of Permitting and Code Enforcement came through gloriously with the answers.
Mr. Elders provided a .pdf from the North Carolina Department of Insurance – Office of State Fire Marshal dated October 21, 2015. The letter even begins with: There has been a nationwide movement recently regarding the usage of “Tiny Homes” as a viable single-family dwelling. Tiny Homes are acceptable as permanent single-family dwellings in North Carolina provided they meet the following minimum requirements. It then goes on to outline Administrative and Construction Requirements. Some of those that should be paid extra attention are:
Unit and its foundation must comply with the North Carolina State Residential Code, 2012 Edition – Section 220.127.116.11 NC Administrative Code.
- Habitable Space is defined as a space in a building for living, sleeping, eating or cooking. Bathrooms, toilet rooms, closets, halls, storage or utility spaces and similar areas are not considered habitable spaces. – Section R202
- Must have at least one habitable room with not less than 120 square feet of gross floor area – Section R304.1
- Ceiling heights must be a minimum 7 foot in habitable spaces, hallways, bathrooms, and toilet rooms – Section R305
- All plumbing fixtures must be connected to a sanitary sewer or to an approved private sewage disposal system – Section R306.3 (Storage tanks are not acceptable)
These are standards seen nationwide that can make or break a tiny house legality, especially when building as a DIY.
As with most application of legal tiny houses in a municipality one would have to work with their local zoning office to determine if their house meets the standards. In the case of Jackson County, NC, Mr. Elders notes in his email:
As far as the definition of “temporary”, the normal time associated with that definition in the building code is 180 days. However, as you will see in the attached memos, “temporary” is more associated with the way the homes are set up, (wheels remain on trailers, flexible plumbing hook-ups that can be disconnected, cord and plug electrical hookups).
It seems safe to say then that an RVIA certified tiny house that is properly strapped to the ground with cinderblock supports (see this photo album), that meets the Residential Code is perfectly legal. Of course the municipality has the last word on this but after much research and correspondence it seems Jackson County in western North Carolina is more than happy to welcome tiny housers!
NOTE: further discussion revealed that composting toilets in Jackson County are permitted through the Department of Public Health but must be properly inspected by said office.
HISTORY: The Jackson County area was part of Cherokee Nation territory at the time of European encounter. The trust land known as Qualla Boundary extends into part of Jackson County and is the base for the federally recognized tribe of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. They contribute to the high proportion of Native Americans among the county population — more than ten percent.
The county was organized in 1851 from parts of Haywood and Macon counties. It was named for Andrew Jackson, President of the United States from 1829 to 1837. The original county courts were held at the Dan Bryson home in the community of Beta in Scott Creek township, and moved to Webster the following year.
In 1861 parts of Jackson and Henderson counties were combined to form Transylvania County. In 1871 parts of Jackson and Macon Counties were combined to form Swain County. In 1913 Sylva became the county seat.1