Building Codes and Zoning for a Tiny House

Building Codes and Zoning for a Tiny House

If you are thinking about a Tiny House, there are some things you really need to find out early in making your plan.

Building Codes and Zoning affect what you can do. No matter where you live, your local Building Code is the standard of construction. It applies to the construction of all buildings including tiny houses.

Other building codes and guidelines you may have to follow include your states Energy Code, Mechanical Code, Electrical Code and Plumbing Code. That is why it is so important to do the research as you make plans.

Park model log cabin ready for delivery
Park model log cabin ready for delivery

Tiny House Types

There are four variations of Tiny Houses. Most neighborhoods only allow one or two of these types of Tiny Houses.

  • Some Tiny Houses are considered campers.
    A little-known fact about Park Model homes is that they are not supposed to be permanent dwellings. If they are built and titled as Recreational Vehicles, they are campers.

Recreational park trailers, or park models, are designed as temporary living quarters for recreational, camping or seasonal use but not as year-round dwellings. These trailers are often constructed to ANSI standard (A119.5) and are self-certified by the manufacturer

  • Some Tiny Houses are considered mobile or manufactured homes.
    Mobile Homes are built on a frame. They are put on a pad, piers or block to level, then tied down. Maybe skirting is placed around the bottom.
  • Some Tiny Houses count as modular home.
    A modular Tiny House is built like a regular house, with the residential inspections. It is moved into place and put on a permanent foundation. You need to make sure that it meets the building codes for where you will be putting it.

What is the difference between a Modular Home and a Manufactured Home? >

  • You can build a Tiny House in place, just like any other house.
    You will have to pull permits and get inspections like any other home.

A Tiny House can be an ADU, an Accessory Dwelling Unit. Zoning for ADUs has changed where we are. The old zoning rule said an ADU could be no larger than 800 square feet. Now it can be up to 75 percent of the size of the house it accessorizes. If your house is 2,480 square feet, the average house in the US is now, the ADU can be up to 1860 square feet. If you have any space on your land to build something that big and stay inside the setbacks.

  • Mobile homes, park model homes and recreational vehicles shall not be used as accessory dwellings.
  • An accessory dwelling shall be no larger than 75 percent of the gross floor area of the principal dwelling. The accessory dwelling may be combined with a garage, workshop, studio or similar use

Some areas also have minimum building sizes. Be sure to check. A common minimum is 500 to 2,000 square feet or a minimum of 24 feet by 24 feet.

Garage with Studio Apartment


All of the residential zones where we live in Hendersonville, NC allow one additional accessory dwelling unit with regulations. All of the residential zones also allow sheds. A shed can be closer to the property line than an ADU. If you put an apartment into a shed or garage, it counts as an ADU.

One (1) accessory dwelling shall be permitted on a single deeded lot in conjunction with the principal dwelling unit.

These are the rules for where we live. It is likely similar where you live.

  • An accessory dwelling may be attached, within, or separate from the principal dwelling.
  • Manufactured homes are permitted as accessory dwellings where such are permitted as a principal use in the general use zoning district.
  • Mobile homes, park model homes and recreational vehicles shall not be used as accessory dwellings.
  • An accessory dwelling shall be no larger than 75 percent of the gross floor area of the principal dwelling. The accessory dwelling may be combined with a garage, workshop, studio or similar use
  • A detached accessory dwelling may be located in the established front, side, or rear yard and shall meet the standards for the applicable building and lot type.

Different areas have different rules, but they typically aren’t all that different.

What Counts as a Dwelling or Residence?

A dwelling or residence has living, sleeping, eating, cooking and sanitation.

Nationwide Homes Modular Home
York 990 sq ft downstairs 663 sq ft unfinished upstairs

What is a Tiny House?

A tiny house is defined (by some zoning) as a dwelling 400 square feet or less in floor area excluding lofts.

Two Lofts Custom cat walk between lofts
Two Lofts
Custom cat walk between lofts

What Counts as a Tiny House Loft?

A loft is a floor level more than 30 inches above the main floor with a ceiling height less than 6 feet 8 inches and used as living or sleeping space. Lofts used for living or sleeping require a floor area of 35 square feet minimum with a horizontal dimension not less than 5 feet. Loft ceiling heights less than 3 feet are not included in the minimum required loft floor area. There has to be a wall or a railing half the space floor to ceiling up to 36” high to keep you from falling out of the loft. Access can be by stairs or a ladder.

If the ceiling is 6 feet 4 inches or higher, it counts in the square footage as habitable space.

What is the Building Code for a Tiny House?

The same building codes apply to Tiny Houses that apply to every other house if it is going to be allowed in a residential neighborhood instead of having to only be in a campground, tiny home community or trailer park.

There are a lot of rules, but they aren’t actually stupid. If you think about them, you can see how the rule keeps you safe. If it doesn’t make sense to you, there may be something you don’t know or haven’t thought about.

The building code includes requirements for windows, light, ventilation, heating, insulation, minimum room sizes, ceiling heights, sanitation, toilet, bath and shower spaces, emergency escape and rescue openings, smoke and carbon monoxide alarms. They have to be checked for radon and have radon control if needed.

Habitable rooms must be at least 70 square feet in area and not less than 7 feet in any direction (except kitchens).

A house, no matter what size, must have a bathroom with a tub or shower and a kitchen sink connected to a sanitary sewer or approved private sewage system and an approved water supply. Sinks, bathrooms and laundry must have hot and cold water.

There are permits and inspections that have to be met as you build any home. If you buy a Tiny House, it should have been inspected as it was built. Once the house is complete, it might be very hard to prove that it was built to meet code. Reputable sellers have these inspections done, but you need to be sure that the house will meet the rules where you want to put it.

If you are building yourself, you need to talk to zoning and planning before you start. Whether you build or buy, this is a large investment. You want to be sure you aren’t wasting your time and money.

At least where we live, you don’t need to have really complicated plans. I pulled permits with a drawing of a square on a piece of paper with each side marked with how many feet. Another time I went to zoning and asked an inspector what kind of foundation he thought we should put, and pulled permits with what we sketched there in the office. But, don’t, really don’t build without the required permits and inspections unless you really don’t care if you have to throw all that time, money and effort away.

Featured image Tiny Homes Detroit, photo by Andrew Jameson