Do you ever have those moments when your mouth works before your brain? I had one of those moments on Facebook today. Since starting this blog back up on a more regular basis I have been focused more on writing about topics that interest people or speak to topics people are currently involved in. To that end, I threw out a writing prompt to the Tiny Living NC group. I asked:
What would you like to see us cover on the blog in the next few days? We have quite a few topics on deck but it would be cool to write something that really matters. So share your ideas in the comments below.
Almost immediately I got the response “Tiny home inspections during the building process.” Talk about a hard swallow. That is the million-dollar question amongst tiny housers. How do you get your tiny home inspected? And to that end, how do you get it certified as a legal home? I immediately thought back to my original tiny house on wheels build in 2010. At that time I didn’t even know about certification. I didn’t know we had have a house certified legal to live in. I was that under-educated. I felt strongly though that I should document each step of the process in photos, receipts, and even journal entries. That proved to be a saving grace as when we arrived in our new county (in rural North Carolina) and sought to check on the legality of our tiny house the Planning & Inspection Department was willing to accept those items as proof of our build. Because we did not have the house inspected each step of the build they had nothing else to work from. Ultimately they confirmed the integrity of our build and granted us a COO. Looking back though I am not sure that would work now though. In fact, I am quite confident it wouldn’t.
In 2017 I was fortunate enough to work with a local high school on a tiny house on wheels build. Because it was for a school “project” and would be raffled off at the end and then ultimately become someone’s home, it had to be as legal as possible. The build sponsor (also a licensed general contractor) and I contacted the Planning & Inspection Department, explained the scope of the project, provided them with plans and projections, and requested we be treated like any other new construction. Primarily because the county does not have a minimum square footage requirement for new construction but rather build requirements (two forms of egress, certain room width, and clearance, etc) they were willing to move forward. The project sponsor – as a general contractor – had to pull the permits and schedule the inspections. We submitted to safety, framing, electrical, plumbing, and insulation inspections. We failed the framing and plumbing initially. We had to frame with 2″x6″ studs rather than 2″x4″ in order to allow for the right R-value of insulation. We also had to rethink the drainage for the mini-split causing a plumbing “do-over”. At the end of the build, we received the COO and the home now sits legally on a piece of land, in plain sight, on a state highway.
But how do these personal experiences tie into the initial prompt: tiny home inspections during the building process. This is the part of the conversation that delves deep into the International Residential Code, Appendix Q, RVIA certification, DOT legality, and so much more. That said, tiny home inspections are subject to two things almost exclusively. The first is the municipality the house is being built in. The second is the municipality the home will be located in. Clear as mud, right? There simply is no black and white. This is not an easy answer but what part of building a tiny house on wheels is easy? From the moment you tell your friends you are going to build a tiny house (and the looks they gave) to towing the tiny house to a parking spot, nothing is easy.
So here is my “take it or leave it answer”. Do your due diligence before you even by building plans. Talk to the director of the Planning & Inspection Department in your municipality. Go with resources. Consider having a packet you can leave behind that includes a project scope, a copy of the building plans, a basic blueprint, etc. The more you can present the better your chance is to enlist an advocate at the very start. Conduct yourself professionally and be prepared for any answer you may receive. Ask questions. Leave defensiveness at the door.
It is not impossible to get your tiny house inspected and subsequently approved as a legal dwelling. But it is not a conventional path and will have obstacles. Be ready though and stay committed.
I am a GC and engineer in NC about to build my own tiny home/park model. There is no need to get an inspection as long as people would be wise enough to stick to a few very important rules. Seasonal not permanent house (49 weeks a year). 400sqft or less. 50amp camper style pigtail. Garden hose connection. Rubber sewer coupling. This keeps it as a DOT vs dept of Inspection jurisdiction. That’s it, no muss no fuss!