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Maximum square footage for a tiny house on foundation

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  • Maximum square footage for a tiny house on foundation

    So, I've recently started exploring tiny houses and I'm wondering about size limitations. Obviously, a tiny house on wheels has inherent limitations on square footage and weight but with a tiny house on foundation there are no such limits. With that being the case what's the maximum square footage one could build on a foundation and still have the house classified as "tiny". I hope this isn't a dumb question, I'm just trying to determine how small of a space I could happily live in and at this point I'm thinking that I would need 500 sqft. Would that be considered a tiny house and if not does it really matter. I mean are there any specific ramifications as to whether or not a house is officially classified as tiny?

  • #2
    Hi Grant,
    I can't speak for anywhere else, but where I am the minimum square footage a house can be, and be listed as a house, is 500 square feet. Under 500 square feet and it isn't considered a house. My understanding is that the tiny house movement was started to get away from all the red tape required when building a "house", but I may be wrong there. But as to your question, I would consider 500 a small house and there isn't a thing wrong with that.
    Norma

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    • #3
      Hi Grant, from what I have read, a tiny house is considered to be under 400 square foot and a small house in the 400 to 1000 square foot range. I don't know if this classification has found it's way into any local building codes (maybe in Vancouver or Santa Cruz, CA). I think one of the reasons for building a tiny house on wheels is that in many areas it is permitted to park an RV on your property (but not to live in it full time) but it would not be permitted to build a house on a foundation that is less than a minimum size. This was kind of an interesting article that explores the issues in more depth: https://thetinylife.com/tiny-house-building-codes/

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      • #4
        Originally posted by Norma View Post
        Hi Grant,
        I can't speak for anywhere else, but where I am the minimum square footage a house can be, and be listed as a house, is 500 square feet. Under 500 square feet and it isn't considered a house. My understanding is that the tiny house movement was started to get away from all the red tape required when building a "house", but I may be wrong there. But as to your question, I would consider 500 a small house and there isn't a thing wrong with that.
        Norma
        Interesting point, I'll have to look into that. Thank you!

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        • #5
          Originally posted by willpvelo View Post
          Hi Grant, from what I have read, a tiny house is considered to be under 400 square foot and a small house in the 400 to 1000 square foot range. I don't know if this classification has found it's way into any local building codes (maybe in Vancouver or Santa Cruz, CA). I think one of the reasons for building a tiny house on wheels is that in many areas it is permitted to park an RV on your property (but not to live in it full time) but it would not be permitted to build a house on a foundation that is less than a minimum size. This was kind of an interesting article that explores the issues in more depth: https://thetinylife.com/tiny-house-building-codes/
          I guess I'll have to decide on exactly where I want to build and then contact the local building authority to determine what their specific codes are. Thanks for the info.

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          • #6
            Hi Grant,
            Valid question. The comment I read earlier was correct, a Tiny House on Wheels is classified as such if it is under 400 sq ft. I work for a Tiny Home Inspection Company. A Tiny House is classified as being a "Tiny House on Wheels" if its between 0-400 square feet. A Tiny House on a Foundation is 0-500 square feet and a Home is classified as a Small Home from 500 to 1K square feet. This is the rule of thumb that NOAH goes by anyways. Hope this helps.

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            • #7
              Originally posted by Nanci View Post
              Hi Grant,
              Valid question. The comment I read earlier was correct, a Tiny House on Wheels is classified as such if it is under 400 sq ft. I work for a Tiny Home Inspection Company. A Tiny House is classified as being a "Tiny House on Wheels" if its between 0-400 square feet. A Tiny House on a Foundation is 0-500 square feet and a Home is classified as a Small Home from 500 to 1K square feet. This is the rule of thumb that NOAH goes by anyways. Hope this helps.
              Thank you Nanci, that's some very valuable information as I was thinking that 500 sqft would be just about right for me and I do want to build on a foundation as I have no aspirations of moving the house.

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              • #8
                Interesting note regarding tiny houses on a foundation: In the City of Oshawa (Ontario, Canada), tiny homes are legal and treated as a single detached dwelling. Tiny homes cannot be mobile, or else it will be classified as a mobile home, and no zone in the City of Oshawa currently allows for mobile homes. A building permit is required for the development of a tiny house and the planning department has to approve how well the home will conform with the neighbourhood. One small step I guess.

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                • #9
                  In Oregon, and I suspect most of the US, there are significant differences in the building codes that apply to a "regular" house vs. a tiny house on wheels. A tiny house on wheels can be classified as an RV in many places - although I think that may have changed here in Oregon. The jurisdiction in Oregon that inspected tiny houses as an RV was mostly concerned about safety issues and paid attention mostly to electrical wiring, propane plumbing and exit windows from loft spaces. The structure itself and the various dimensions were mostly ignored as long as the maximum width (8'6") and maximum height (13'6") for road travel were adhered to. Things like the amount of insulation in the walls and roof are not checked. In my experience the tiny designs I have been involved with usually have 2x4 walls and 2x6 roof framing. When we used fiberglass insulation that meant about R13 in the walls and R23 in the roof. Standard house building codes in Oregon require a minimum of R23 in the walls and R40 in the roof. To achieve those numbers with 2x4 walls and 2x6 roof framing you would have to use spray foam insulation of about R7 per inch. Of course this can be done but it does add to the cost of a tiny house.

                  A tiny house could be classified as a park model manufactured home. In Oregon I believe there is a separate division of the government that inspects these units. The codes are more strict than for RV's but probably not as strict as for a regular house. If I recall correctly a park model is usually around 400 square feet and can include a loft.

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                  • #10
                    Grant,
                    Since you have no plans to be moving your Tiny House, it sounds like a foundation is definitely the way to go. 500 sq ft is a good size. Have you considered staying in a Tiny House with the same square feet for a weekend and see if it feels comfortable? Air B&B and a few other sites have many to choose from, probably right in your area. I have heard that it helps many people decide what square footage works best for them. Good luck on your big Tiny adventure!

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Nanci View Post
                      Grant,
                      Since you have no plans to be moving your Tiny House, it sounds like a foundation is definitely the way to go. 500 sq ft is a good size. Have you considered staying in a Tiny House with the same square feet for a weekend and see if it feels comfortable? Air B&B and a few other sites have many to choose from, probably right in your area. I have heard that it helps many people decide what square footage works best for them. Good luck on your big Tiny adventure!
                      Funny you ask, the tiny house in my avatar is one that I rented for a weekend and it was then that I decided that perhaps a tiny house on wheels wouldn't provide sufficient square footage for me and that's when I started considering a tiny house on foundation. Now granted the tiny house I rented was on the small side even for a tiny house as it was only 170 sq ft. But I still don't think even a larger tiny house on wheels would be large enough for me and considering I have no intention of moving from "home" I think one on a foundation would be the ideal solution.

                      There's a place that rents tiny houses not far from me but they only rent tiny houses on wheels. I think I'll get in touch with them to see how large their largest tiny house on wheels is and rent it for a weekend just to get a better feel for the space of a larger tiny house on wheels. If I'm comfortable in a larger tiny house on wheels for a weekend then when I build a 500 sq ft tiny house on foundation that will be bonus space compared to the weekend trial in a larger tiny house on wheels. Thanks!

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                      • #12
                        Some folks have gone with two tiny houses on trailers to get more square footage. They are sometimes connected by just a deck but that can also be enclosed space. One tiny house is the living room kitchen and the other one is the bedroom wing.

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by malconium View Post
                          Some folks have gone with two tiny houses on trailers to get more square footage. They are sometimes connected by just a deck but that can also be enclosed space. One tiny house is the living room kitchen and the other one is the bedroom wing.
                          I'm a big fan of this concept! Gives you more square footage, more outdoor living, all while retaining the ability to pick up and move if you needed to. Kim Lewis, a designer from our hometown in Austin, has designed a couple of houses like this and currently lives in another 2-trailer tiny home as well!

                          Surprised we haven't seen more than just a couple!

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Grant View Post

                            Funny you ask, the tiny house in my avatar is one that I rented for a weekend and it was then that I decided that perhaps a tiny house on wheels wouldn't provide sufficient square footage for me and that's when I started considering a tiny house on foundation. Now granted the tiny house I rented was on the small side even for a tiny house as it was only 170 sq ft. But I still don't think even a larger tiny house on wheels would be large enough for me and considering I have no intention of moving from "home" I think one on a foundation would be the ideal solution.

                            There's a place that rents tiny houses not far from me but they only rent tiny houses on wheels. I think I'll get in touch with them to see how large their largest tiny house on wheels is and rent it for a weekend just to get a better feel for the space of a larger tiny house on wheels. If I'm comfortable in a larger tiny house on wheels for a weekend then when I build a 500 sq ft tiny house on foundation that will be bonus space compared to the weekend trial in a larger tiny house on wheels. Thanks!
                            Grant, excited to hear you are well into the research phase of going tiny! As many have said, tiny houses on wheels are under 400sqft and foundation tiny homes can be under 500sqft. While there's no law written that specifies these thresholds, it is pretty much the consensus in the movement. The only potential concerns that should be on your radar regarding size are financing and zoning.

                            In regards to financing, many banks are hesitant to (or simply don't) lend money for purchase of tiny homes as they want more collateral and return for their risk and time. This is strictly speaking for primary dwellings. If you decide to build a tiny home on a foundation as an accessory dwelling to another primary dwelling (what I am in the process of doing in San Antonio, Texas), you will have a much easier time as your main house is the collateral, or you could simply construct the ADU out of pocket.

                            Regarding zoning, this is where you should focus your initial efforts, because it will determine whether or not you can construct on any given lot and the size requirements. This is entirely dependent on your city's planning and zoning department, so start there. Figure out if there are any minimum size requirements (main dwelling or accessory dwelling), as well as maximum. Then you can figure out a size that works well for your needs within that range!

                            In San Antonio where we plan to build, accessory dwellings on foundation are allowed in all residential lots with a minimum size of 300sqft, and a maximum footprint of 40% of the square footage of the primary dwelling. There are a few other minor requirements such as minimum setbacks from rear and side of property, and you need to have a full bathroom, kitchen, and living space to be considered a dwelling.

                            At the end of the day, the choice to build on wheels or on foundation should start with your needs, depending on whether you want to be mobile or you know where you want to settle for the time being. While building on wheels offers a lot of flexibility, it also can prevent you from residing within the city limits in many cities who strictly prohibit full-time living in them. Accessory dwelling units on foundations are perhaps the most accepted form of living tiny inside city limits.

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                            • #15
                              DreamBigLiveTinyCo Thanks for the detailed information. Of everything you've mentioned above the biggest obstacle that I'm running into is zoning related. I live near Cheyenne, WY and I've been working with the city and county for a few weeks now trying to get a straight answer on building a 500 square foot structure as the sole dwelling (not an ADU) on the property and there are really no hard and solid answers available.

                              For the city and county it's as if this is completely new territory for them and depending on the individual I speak with on any given day I seem to get a different answer. I guess this is just one of those things you have to learn to navigate when sailing in uncharted waters so to speak. I have an appointment with a local real estate attorney next week and based on an initial phone conversation with him it sounds like it will be doable but we'll have a lot of hoops to jump through. Gotta love the bureaucracy we all have to deal with just to build a house on your own property.

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