Category Archives: Washington

08/15 Steilacoom family’s tiny housing choice raises big question about size

the Johnson family inside their tiny house

Peter and Shannon Johnson built a tiny house and installed it on their property in Steilacoom. The city is, like many municipalities elsewhere, grappling with how to classify such homes. Video by Peter Haley

When it came time for Peter Johnson to pop the question, his wife knew saying “yes” meant more than “for better or for worse.”

“If I’m saying ‘yes’ to you, I’m saying ‘yes’ to living tiny,” said Shannon Johnson about her decision.

Peter and Shannon Johnson and their toddler Hart live in a tiny house of their own construction, August 11. They built it on a trailer and have installed it on their property in Steilacoom. The town, as many municipalities are elsewhere, is grappling with how to classify such homes.

After two and-a-half years of marriage, Shannon Johnson now knows exactly what “living tiny” means: 200 square feet.

A living room, kitchen and bathroom that doubles as the laundry room comprises a majority of that space. A small staircase built into the wall leads to a 50-square foot loft with a queen-size bed.

The Johnsons share the space with 14-month-old son Hart.

The home is adjacent to a 1,160-square foot house the Johnsons own on a dead-end street in Steilacoom. Peter Johnson’s sister lives in the house; they share garage space and utilities.

For 17 months the couple has called the tiny house on wheels home. But they’re not sure how much longer they have in the periwinkle dwelling with white trim.

Steilacoom Town Administrator Paul Loveless sent the couple a letter in late July saying the house did not comply with town building codes.

“I understand the minimalist movement, I understand the other things,” Loveless said. “But to me, and for the town’s official position, it’s a violation of the town’s code and I’m responsible for enforcing the code.”

The Johnson’s situation raises the question: Is it legal to live in a tiny home in Pierce County?

The answer is less clear and influenced by multiple factors, including how local governments interpret buildings codes and whether a home has wheels.

The “tiny house movement” — the description given for the social movement that advocates a minimalist lifestyle often in a home no more than 500 square feet — has yet to hit Pierce County on a large scale.

South Sound building officials have had little experience with tiny homes to date, but expect to encounter more in the future as housing costs rise and homeowners seek more affordable housing options.

“This is a sustainable movement and it addresses our affordable housing issue as well,” said James Weaver, with the Washington chapter of the Tiny House Association of America.

Weaver is the development director for the city of Bainbridge Island, but spoke in his capacity with the tiny house association.

Building officials struggle with tiny houses, Weaver said, because building regulations “truly haven’t caught up with the tiny home movement yet.”

The association is working to change that by seeing uniform tiny house building codes passed at the state level, but until that happens “each jurisdiction has to adopt their own regulations,” Weaver said…

In unincorporated Pierce County people can’t live in an RV, or tiny home on wheels, in a residential zone for longer than six months, according to county building official Rick Hopkins.

Cities like Tacoma, Lakewood, Puyallup and University Place also regulate RV residency. University Place is the most restrictive, limiting a stay to 14 days with a permit.

If a tiny home is built on a foundation the county regulates it like a house and the standard building code applies, Hopkins said.

“I’d like to see some kind of regulations to give some guidance on (tiny homes), but at the present time we don’t have anything,” he said.

Read more and watch the video – http://www.thenewstribune.com/news/local/article95866897.html

Municipal code creates dilemma for Steilacoom couple living in tiny home

Peter & Shannon Johnson's tiny house

Peter & Shannon Johnson’s tiny house

The owners of a tiny home that’s parked year-round on a residential property in Steilacoom, Washington fear they could be forced to find other living arrangements all because of a battle over the town’s municipal code.

Shannon and Peter Johnson said they thoroughly researched the town’s rules before moving their 150 square foot home, which sits on wheels, early last year. They claim they found nothing in the city’s municipal code that would prevent them from living in it year-round. The tiny home is parked on their property right next a more traditional house where other family members live.

“The financial freedom. Having less stuff. You know, takes us like 10 minutes to clean this place. Those things are all real attractive to me, too. But I also just love the concept of it,” said Peter Johnson. “I just love the puzzle of it. The challenge of just designing only what you really needed to have and trying to make it as functional as you can.”

“I was not a believer in it. And I’ve just seen what it can do for our family,” Shannon Johnson added.

Everything seemed to be fine until the couple got a letter from Steilacoom leaders in July stating their tiny home appears to be violating several sections of the town’s municipal code related to zoning and utility installation, the couple said.

In Steilacoom, tiny homes are generally considered RVs, town leaders said.

“They said ‘You’re not allowed to do this’ and we didn’t see where it said that,” Peter Johnson said. “At first it was scary and then it we reasoned that we’re fine. We’re legal here as far as we understand.”

Town leaders told KOMO News that the municipal code specifically states what’s allowed in a residential zone. Anything not listed is not allowed, they added.

“This is a grey area that tiny house advocates have exploited not only here in Steilacoom, but in many jurisdictions,” said Administrator Paul Loveless. “We believe that what the Johnson’s are doing by living in an RV in a residential area doesn’t meet the current code, however, we wanted to make it crystal clear for everyone.”

To make the town’s municipal code explicitly clear, the town’s planning commission could soon revise the code so that it specifically states what is and isn’t allowed, Loveless said.

“We love being here. We love the water. We love the town,” Shannon Johnson said.

The Johnsons are still trying to figure out what the current code means for their situation. They fear any revisions to it could force them to make other living arrangements.

Read more – http://komonews.com/news/local/municipal-codes-create-big-problem-for-steilacoom-couple-living-in-tiny-home

ADU regulations for Woodland, WA

Tiny houses on foundations are allowed as backyard cottages in Woodland. They must be between 300 and 800 sq ft. Here are the regulations from the website https://www.municode.com/library/wa/woodland/codes/code_of_ordinances?nodeId=WOODLAND_MUNICIPAL_CODE_TIT17ZO_CH17.16LODERELDZODI_17.16.100CRSTACUS

and here are phone numbers:

Planning: 360-225-1048
Building: 360-225-7299

Accessory dwelling units subject to the following criteria:
1. One accessory dwelling unit shall be allowed per legal building lot as a subordinate use in conjunction with any single-family structure;

2. Either the primary residence or the accessory dwelling unit must be occupied by an owner of the property. In addition, accessory dwelling units shall not be subdivided or otherwise segregated in ownership from the main building. Owners shall sign an affidavit affirming that the owner will occupy the main building or the accessory unit as their principal residence for at least six months of every year, and agreeing to the conditions of this section. Upon approval, the property owner shall record a notice on the property title that shall be in the form specified by the city;

3. The total number of occupants in both the primary residence and the accessory dwelling unit combined may not exceed the maximum number established by the definition of family in this title;

4. The accessory dwelling unit shall not contain less than three hundred square feet and not more than eight hundred square feet, excluding any related garage area; provided that if the accessory unit is completely located on a single floor of an existing structure, the building official may allow increased size in order to efficiently use all floor area, so long as all other standards set forth in this section are met;

5. The square footage of the accessory dwelling unit, excluding any garage area, shall not exceed forty percent of the total square footage of the primary residence and accessory dwelling unit combined after rehabilitation, excluding any garage area. This percentage shall apply to both attached and detached accessory dwelling units. Where the building official allows increased size per subsection (A)(4) of this section as part of an existing structure, the square footage shall not exceed fifty percent of the total square footage of the primary residence and accessory dwelling unit combined, excluding any garage area;

6. There shall be one off-street parking space in a carport, garage, or designated space provided for the accessory dwelling unit in addition to that which exists on the site for the primary residence;

7. Accessory dwelling units shall be located only in the same building as the principal residence unless the lot is at least eight thousand five hundred square feet in area or unless the accessory dwelling unit will replace a detached, preexisting structure of at least four hundred square feet. Where lots contain at least eight thousand five hundred square feet in area or there is a detached, preexisting structure of at least four hundred square feet, the accessory dwelling unit may be part of the principal residence or located in a detached structure;

8. An accessory dwelling unit shall be designed to maintain the appearance of the main building of the single-family residence and to be generally compatible with the surrounding single family uses. If the accessory unit extends beyond the current footprint of the principal residence, such an addition shall be consistent with the existing roof pitch, siding and windows. If an accessory unit is detached from the main building it must also be consistent with the existing roof pitch, siding and windows of the principal residence. In addition, only one entrance for the main building will be permitted in the front of the principal residence. A separate entrance for the accessory dwelling unit shall be located either off the rear or the side of the building. Where garages in the vicinity predominantly face the primary street, the accessory unit shall not result in a new garage face to the street unless no other design is possible. The accessory dwelling unit shall be to the rear of the principal residence unless it is not possible;

9. The accessory dwelling unit shall meet all technical code standards including building, electrical, fire, plumbing and other applicable code requirements;

06/23 Tiny house movement moves into Tri-Cities; some local zoning departments concerned

kitchen of Tammy Backlund's tny house

kitchen of Tammy Backlund’s tny house

“Tiny homes are for down-sizers, for people who want to un-complicate their life,” said Todd Garland, sales manager for Green River Log Cabins in Campabello, South Carolina.

The company has been making small cabins since 1996 and started making tiny homes in 2012.

“I think since the economic downturn [it] really focused people’s attention on what’s important in life and big homes aren’t as important as they used to be,” Garland said.

He says they build about 10 tiny homes a month and mostly sell to people who are over 50 years old or to people in their early twenties.

But Garland said tiny homes can come with some problems, “There [are] some real zoning issues with tiny homes.”

Some cities are embracing the trend. Spur, Texas declared itself the nation’s first tiny house friendly town in 2014. But Hadley, Massachusetts recently rejected a proposal that would have allowed tiny homes, forcing a tiny homeowner out of her house last month.

Washington County Planner and Development Administrator Jordan Clark said tiny homes are a gray area and he has some concerns about them.

“Our zoning codes are designed to address RV’s and mobile homes and the tiny house kind of falls in-between there,” Clark said.

He said while people may want to live in tiny homes permanently, they might not meet all the building code requirements and certifications to allow it.

“We don’t want to start allowing these things to come in as permanent residences and they may be substandard in some way,” Clark said.

It also depends on how a tiny home is classified. Mobile, modular, stick-built, and park model RV homes have different zoning restrictions and building code requirements. Garland said some land has square footage requirements and tiny houses are too small in some cases.

Clark said his department is discussing whether or not to allow tiny homes in the county. But some tiny home experts think change is inevitable. He said, “I think they are so popular and there are so many people want to explore this as a possible lifestyle that they’re really pushing the local building departments and municipalities to accept these.”

Read more and watch the videos – http://wjhl.com/2016/06/23/tiny-house-movement-moves-into-tri-cities-some-local-zoning-departments-concerned/

Seattle Director’s Report on Removing Barriers to ADUs

accessory dwelling unit
In September 2014, the City Council adopted Resolution 31547 directingthe Department of Planning and Development (DPD) to explore policy changes that would increase the production of attached accessory dwelling units (ADUs) and detached accessory dwelling units (DADUs or backyard cottages), including regulatory changes, incentives, and marketing and promotion. In October 2015, DPD released a report discussing a range of potential policy options that could help achieve this goal. Staff from the Office of Planning and Community Development (OPCD) then conducted several months of outreach and engagement with the public, current and prospective backyard cottage owners, and people who design and build backyard cottages.

In January and February 2016, Councilmember Mike O’Brien and OPCD co-hosted two community meetings to get feedback on a number of potential Land Use Code changes and solicit ideas and strategies for making it easier to create backyard cottages and ADUs. Attendees at these meetings weighed in on several potential policy options that would make it easier for people to create housing through backyard cottages and ADUs. Several presentation boards described the policy questions and provided space for people to respond and leave additional comments. OPCD staff also distributed and received hundreds of comment forms with these same questions. The OPCD website has a summary of the public input received throughout this process.

Based on this feedback, OPCD staff have prepared legislation for the City Council that would amend various provisions in the Land Use Code related to the creation of backyard cottages and ADUs. This report describes these amendments. In brief, this legislation would modify the development standards that regulate the siting, location, and design of backyard cottages; allow an ADU and a backyard cottage on the same lot; and change the parking and owner-occupancy requirements that apply to both ADUs and backyard cottages. The proposal responds to identified barriers to creation of ADUs and backyard cottages and reflects
the input that OPCD and Councilmember O’Brien gathered on these specific potential policy options during months of outreach and at the two public meetings in early 2016.

Download the full report: Seattle Director’s Report on Removing Barriers to Backyard Cottages and Accessory Dwelling Units

03/14 Building momentum for tiny homes

Tiny house by Wolf Industries

Derek Huegel, owner and founder of contracting company Wolf Industries, is asking the Clark County council for zoning changes that would allow his latest construction project, tiny homes, in unincorporated areas. The home pictured is 250 square feet, and Huegel estimates his homes will cost about $650 a month to rent or $36,000 to buy. (Natalie Behring/The Columbian)

…Zoning in unincorporated parts of [Clark County, WA] doesn’t allow for tiny homes, Community Development Director Marty Snell said. County code does not allow for mobile homes smaller than 846 square feet. So far, Huegel has built a 250-square-foot model and a 300-square-foot, wheelchair-friendly model. Huegel, however, is proposing that Clark County loosen its restrictions to allow for smaller homes.

“If you talk to anybody, that’s their biggest challenge,” Huegel told the Clark County council at a recent board time meeting. “Where can we place them, how can we monitor them, how can we inspect them, how can we ensure life safety?”

But regulatory issues are not the county’s to bear alone. Many tiny homes, including Huegel’s, are on wheels, meaning they straddle the line between recreational vehicle and permanent dwelling. By state law, people can’t live long term in RVs or trailers. Before Clark County can move forward with Huegel’s request for zoning changes, Snell said, Huegel’s homes first need to be approved by Washington’s Labor and Industries department.

“We’ll have to wait on what the state agency says,” Snell said.

Long term, Huegel’s vision is to work with government and nonprofit organizations to provide affordable rentals to low-income residents, similar to Olympia’s Quixote Village transitional housing complex, or simply to people looking to save money as housing problems continue to plague Clark County.

“You could put a pretty sweet little community together,” he said.

Read more –

Why don’t we see more tiny homes in Washington State communities?

Tiny homes are all the rage these days! You can’t turn on cable TV without coming across at least one or two shows about them, and there are numerous blog articles, websites, and even conventions about tiny homes. If they are so popular, then why don’t we see more tiny homes in our communities?

The simple answer is that our zoning and building/construction regulations create significant barriers against them, especially if someone wants to live in a tiny home on a permanent basis.

A major issue is that most of the zoning provisions discussed above, however, pertain to a tiny home being treated as a permanent dwelling unit. And, therein, lies the dilemma.

Tiny Homes as Temporary Housing vs. Permanent Dwelling Units
In Washington State, a tiny home with wheels and a chassis is actually called a park model recreational vehicle (PMRV) and is approved only for temporary/recreational use in the state. A tiny home/PMRV with its wheels taken off and mounted on a foundation will still be viewed as a park model recreational vehicle and its use will still be considered as “temporary/recreational” (and not approved as a permanent dwelling unit). Exceptions in state law (RCW 35.21.684 and RCW 36.01.225), however, allow a PMRV to be used as a residence if it is located in a mobile home park, hooked up to utilities, and meets the other requirements of the applicable RCW.

While some tiny home owners intend to use them only for temporary living purposes, others want to use them as permanent, or long-term, residences. In most cases, however, a tiny home/PMRV cannot be converted into a dwelling unit. The International Residential Code (IRC) addresses dwelling units and requires that “permanent provisions for living, sleeping, eating, cooking and sanitation” be provided in a dwelling, along with other requirements such as heating, mechanical and energy efficiency provisions. For example, park model recreation vehicles are only required to meet minimal insulation requirements of R-5 for floor, R-5 for walls and R-7 for ceilings. In contrast, dwellings are held to a much more efficient requirement of R-30 for floors, R-21 for walls and R-49 for ceiling, providing greater energy sustainability.

It is a long and involved process for a tiny home to be approved as a dwelling unit:

  1. A person would need to submit engineered plans to the Factory Assembled Structure Program of the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) for the construction of a “modular building” (or to the local building department for a site-built tiny house).
  2. Those plans would be reviewed under the specific Washington State Administrative Code (WAC 296-150F) for conformance with the requirements of the IRC.
  3. Once approved, the builder would request inspections during the construction process until final approval had been obtained…

Read more – http://mrsc.org/Home/Stay-Informed/MRSC-Insight/December-2015/Tiny-Homes.aspx

12/30 Tiny Homes: Coming to a Neighborhood Near You?

Proud tiny home owners. Courtesy of Portland Alternative Dwellings.

Proud tiny home owners. Courtesy of Portland Alternative Dwellings.

Tiny homes are all the rage these days! You can’t turn on cable TV without coming across at least one or two shows about them, and there are numerous blog articles, websites, and even conventions about tiny homes. If they are so popular, then why don’t we see more tiny homes in our communities?

The simple answer is that our zoning and building/construction regulations create significant barriers against them, especially if someone wants to live in a tiny home on a permanent basis.

A major issue is that most of the zoning provisions discussed above, however, pertain to a tiny home being treated as a permanent dwelling unit. And, therein, lies the dilemma.

Tiny Homes as Temporary Housing vs. Permanent Dwelling Units
In Washington State, a tiny home with wheels and a chassis is actually called a park model recreational vehicle (PMRV) and is approved only for temporary/recreational use in the state. A tiny home/PMRV with its wheels taken off and mounted on a foundation will still be viewed as a park model recreational vehicle and its use will still be considered as “temporary/recreational” (and not approved as a permanent dwelling unit). Exceptions in state law (RCW 35.21.684 and RCW 36.01.225), however, allow a PMRV to be used as a residence if it is located in a mobile home park, hooked up to utilities, and meets the other requirements of the applicable RCW.

While some tiny home owners intend to use them only for temporary living purposes, others want to use them as permanent, or long-term, residences. In most cases, however, a tiny home/PMRV cannot be converted into a dwelling unit. The International Residential Code (IRC) addresses dwelling units and requires that “permanent provisions for living, sleeping, eating, cooking and sanitation” be provided in a dwelling, along with other requirements such as heating, mechanical and energy efficiency provisions. For example, park model recreation vehicles are only required to meet minimal insulation requirements of R-5 for floor, R-5 for walls and R-7 for ceilings. In contrast, dwellings are held to a much more efficient requirement of R-30 for floors, R-21 for walls and R-49 for ceiling, providing greater energy sustainability.

It is a long and involved process for a tiny home to be approved as a dwelling unit:

  1. A person would need to submit engineered plans to the Factory Assembled Structure Program of the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) for the construction of a “modular building” (or to the local building department for a site-built tiny house).
  2. Those plans would be reviewed under the specific Washington State Administrative Code (WAC 296-150F) for conformance with the requirements of the IRC.
  3. Once approved, the builder would request inspections during the construction process until final approval had been obtained…

Read more – http://mrsc.org/Home/Stay-Informed/MRSC-Insight/December-2015/Tiny-Homes.aspx

Building code map

Handy map of the US. Just click on your state (in the link, not on the picture) to see which building codes are in effect: http://www.iccsafe.org/about-icc/overview/international-code-adoptions/

International Code Council Map

International Code Council map