The past couple of years have been exciting for the Tiny House Movement. Many things have happened to bring Tiny Houses into the mainstream. We have seen an explosion of Tiny House builders, residents, TV shows, investors, workshops, and gatherings. The biggest issue we have had to deal with to date, however, is that of legitimacy among the cities and counties where we try to park out Tiny Houses.
For the most part Tiny Houses have been flying under the radar with some scattered exceptions where they are squeezed into existing zoning and codes by understanding cities and counties. Things took a huge leap forward in December of 2016 when the optional Tiny House Appendix for the 2018 IRC was passed. Story here. Appendix here.
My cousin and I have completed one and are currently building another Tiny House on Wheels. The one we built is beautiful, beyond our expectation and instead of selling it, we want to keep it and turn it into a top-notch accommodation. In considering our options we realized that my mother's (his aunt's) house and property here in San Juan County is the perfect compliment, in every aspect possible. The property is a 10 out of 10 as far as location and the Tiny House is a 10 out of 10 as far as sleeping accommodations. And you couldn't find a more synergistic fit.
The purpose of this page is to outline what we would like to do and provide resources for cities and counties that are receptive to the idea of Tiny Houses but need more information to get started. It contains much of the information and stories we have come across.
Tiny House: A Tiny House is a structure (typically built on a trailer) that is intended as a ful-time residence or year round rental, (source) is less than 400 square feet, with most closer to 100-200 square feet, AND is intended to resemble a typical single-family home in appearance, style, and quality. (source) Frequently, the distinction is made between tiny and small houses which would be 400-1,000 square feet. 1
Tiny House On Wheels (THOW): "A Tiny House on Wheels is a structure which is intended as a full-time residence or year-round rental property..." 2
Many Tiny Houses are built on wheels, even though a good number are built on permanent foundations or skids. Reasons for building on wheels vary, but include; avoiding prohibitive building codes/zoning and construction costs, portability (for various reasons), and to qualify as an RV for parks, financing, or insurance.
Recreational Vehicle (RV): "An RV is a vehicle designed as temporary living quarters for recreational, camping, travel or season use." RVIA website.
"RVs are defined as either motor vehicles or towable trailers, and are primarily intended for leisure activities such as camping and vacations." Recreational Vehicle on Wikipedia.
We would like to set up and rent out a small number of Tiny Houses on our private property, located in the South County area, just off of Lime Creek Rd.
There are a number of ways this can be set up on the county side, and we are more than happy to work with any approach San Juan County wants us to take.
If Tiny Houses don't fit within existing land use code, we would suggest a pilot program for a Tiny House Resort, accessory dwelling units and/or Tiny House vacation rentals. Portland, Oregon now has TWO Tiny House Hotels. This would be a great pilot program for Silverton. Tiny Houses lend themselves well to pilot programs, given their highly portable nature, even after being placed on permanent foundations.
Tiny Houses Vs RVs, etc.
Most, when trying to deal with Tiny Homes, end up lumping them in with recreational vehicles RVs for lack of a classification. Doing so can also be the only way an owner can find a home for their home, since there are some locations where RVs are acceptable, if only temporarily.
The problem with calling a Tiny House an RV is that they are intended for completely different purposes, and built to completely different standards. Short-term recreation vs long-term habitation is the main difference. Not to mention their performance is greatly impacted by their size. We have seen insulation requirements reduced in one instance for a Tiny House on a foundation because the climate control loads were so small from the tiny wall/floor/ceiling surface areas.
Worth repeating: Tiny Houses are often built to higher standards than a typical code compliant new-construction house. When your space is smaller, you can afford upgrades and a little bit of upgrade goes a long way.
Where they Go
Zoning and Code
Long-term living, year round rental
High quality, built to last
Ceil.R21, wall R21, floor R33 partially continuous, rockwool/foam, air-sealed
Tight air/water/vapor barrier
Residential double or triple pane, Low-E
Pitched, metal, residential grade
High-grade residential fixtures and appliances for regular use
Semi-perm. lot you own, lease, or mobile
None, RV, house trailer, or mobile home
Connect to grid, RV hookups, or off-grid
Regular individuals, families, vacationers
Light recreational use
Flimsy, light-weight materials
Near zero, causing high energy use & poor living conditions
Water only, leaky airflow
Flat, Aluminum, sealant, thin
Cheap fixtures and low quality appliances, light/seasonal use
RV parks, camping, stored
RV hookups, off-grid
Campers, vacationers, hobos
Stationary long-term living
Med.-high quality, built to last
49, 21, 38 ('09 IECC Zone 7)
Medium to good barriers
Double or Triple pane, Low-E
Pitched, metal, asph. shingles
Med-high-grade fixtures and appliances for regular use
Permanent on lot you own
Residential, Single Family
Connect to grid, off grid
Individuals and families
How does Our Proposal fit within San Juan County Master Plan?
Despite some challenges, we feel our Tiny House concepts strongly meet the Visions, Goal, and Strategies referenced in the Town of Silverton and San Juan County Master Plan.
"Economic Vitality" - The Tiny House concept goes hand-in-hand with the vision of "Expanding and diversifying tourism," and "Innovative businesses" "reaching new markets." It can also "eases seasonal fluctuations," as we plan to operate during winter months. See Master Plan: Economic Activity
"Preservation and Protection of the Ecosystem and the Area's Natural Resources" and "Natural Environment and Scenery" - Our vision of Tiny Houses has some alternatives that not only preserve and protect, but also leave the land nearly untouched and un-scarred thanks to a Zero Impact Vision.
"Future Land Use Plan," Though mostly focused on Silverton itself, there area number of specific areas where our ideas fit into the Future Land Use Plan. First of all, we are perfectly located within the South County Economic Corridor, right at the end of existing plowed access, consistent with Goal LU-2 "Focus future development on mining claims into economic corridors that are environmentally suitable, where public services are available and that provide feasible opportunities for growing the community and the economy." Also in line with that goal, we would be expanding into an relatively untapped market that would benefit the San Juan Economy, that of vacation rental or employee housing demand driven by Purgatory's ski season, which can only be done in South County.
On another note, our proposal fulfills the stated goals of the San Juan Economic Development Association to "Facilitating the creation of a sustainable and diverse economy..." specifically by "develop[ing] more diversity to improve the number, quality, and variety of jobs that are available to local residents. This is done primarily through the retention, expansion and recruitment of primary jobs, new capital investment in the community, and visitors/tourists spending money in the County." Our idea will create at least 1-2 part- to full-time jobs and bring new revenue to the county directly through taxes and indirectly through more tourists staying within an accessible distance to Silverton.
How Can this fit Zoning and Land Use Code
There are a number of areas in the Land Use Code that could easily prohibit the many variations of our proposal from being allowed. It will take either creativity, flexibility, or full on changes in the code to make our idea work. We need help figuring that out.
We hope to not be a big burden and we want to help with the charge given; "Town and county officials take a leadership role to align and coordinate the efforts of individuals, groups and organizations to grow the local economy," from the Goals and Strategies section of the "Economic Vitality" Chapter of the Master Plan
Zero Impact Vision
If possible we would like to keep the land undisturbed and we will maintain the landscape and scenery in a condition better than we found it. The best way to accomplish this takes a few directions.
- Foundation: A low impact foundation or temporary/adjustable foundation would be ideal for a number of reasons. The typical problems that foundations solve are either not a problem in our situation or can be mitigated in lower impact ways.
- Utilities: Our preferred option would be to use our existing water/sewer/electric service lines and hookups for our project. There are at least two RV hookups available and there is an abandoned septic on site that should pass an inspection. Anything that might need to be trenched can be run through the existing road.
- Road, Parking: The existing gravel road is perfect for the feeling we want and parking would only need to be minimally expanded for anything beyond a second or third Tiny House, depending on placement.
- Litter: The land is nearly pristine currently and we can easily maintain a spotless and pure environment.
Aside from the economic benefits in our case, the general benefits of Tiny Houses being a part of cities and counties are numerous. Some are more obvious, while others are just being realized as flexible municipalities are trying to justify the Tiny Houses within their jurisdictions. (see YouTube Living Tiny Legally Part 2)
- Affordable housing (by design and without subsidy)
- Reduced need for Subsidized Housing
- Increased tax revenue
- Increased economic base
- Infill solutions for mature cities
- Owner Occupancy is Higher
- Reduced impact on utilities and government services
- Energy efficiency
- People want them
We strongly suggest Silverton work Tiny Houses into their new ADU codes. Some Resources at American Tiny House Association.
Benefits of Tiny HOuses
Tiny Houses have few opponents, which is why they often go unnoticed in cities that technically don't allow them.
- Nimbyism: "NIMBY (an acronym for "Not In My Back Yard") [a] characterization of opposition by residents to a proposal for... development because it is close to them." Wikipedia.
We have a neighbor who is open to long term renting of homes, but is very opposed to short term vacation rentals. I don't know her feelings about Tiny Houses. To be fair, though, she hates everyone and everything, and most her neighbors have very negative views and experiences concerning her.
- Zoning and Land Use Codes
- Unfamiliar parties with mis-information.
Everyone else support Tiny Houses, including the people who have to enforce the Zoning and Land Use Codes
Pioneers and History
December 2012 Powder enthusiasts bring a Tiny House (or Ski Lodge on Wheels) to Silverton, CO and report the warm welcome they received. Their Story.
Early 2013 Portland allows Caravan the Tiny House Hotel to open it's doors as a legal accommodation. Quick synopsis on their website. They are technically a "recreation park" with the Tiny Homes designated as "travelers' accommodations." YouTube Tour. (This link skips to the zoning info).
2014 In Lyons, Colorado an old mobile home park destroyed and turned flood plane gets permission to add temporary/mobile Tiny Houses on Wheels on the WeeCasa property to compliment their wedding and events business. News story with video.
2015 "The Fort Collins City Council... voted... to drop the 800-square-foot minimum house size requirement from its land-use code. " Coloradoan News Article. (scroll down to "The Rules" section)
November, 2015 The City of Fresno, California enacted a new Development Code with specific language defining and supporting Tiny Homes. Code here.
Around early 2016 Lantier, Québec, Canada started a development for small houses with and experimental section planned for Tiny Houses on Wheels. YouTube Video.
September 2016 The Tiny Digs Hotel opens it's doors as the second Tiny House Hotel in Portland. It is a commercially zoned "hotel" with only temporary Tiny Houses on Wheels allowed on the lot converted from an old car lot. News Story. YouTube Tour with zoning info at 3:23 and 17:23
November 2016 "The Salida City Council [Colorado]... approved a plan to build 200 tiny homes... marking what could become the nation’s largest tiny-home community and a showcase for a potential solution to Colorado’s housing crisis. Denver Post Article. Council notes/packet with project starting on page 44.
December 6, 2016 The International Code Council accepted an appendix to the 2018 IRC that was advocated by a group led by Andrew Morrison. A list of his Blog posts, etc. chronicling the event.
April, 2017 "Garfield County, CO adopts Land Use and Development Code and building code change. [This] text amendment... strikes an existing square-footage requirement in the code that set the minimum size of a single family home at 20-foot wide by 20-foot long."10 Press Release.
June 27, 2017 - Idaho has early adopted the Tiny House Appendix to the 2018 IRC in response to at least one request from a citizen. Her story about the process. Presentation notes from a presentation to her State board.