Wednesday, November 2, 2011

120 Square Feet: Reconsidering the Minimum to Facilitate Tiny Houses.

2011 Solar Decathlon - Team New Zealand's Bach House
Small Enough to be Impacted by the 120sf Rule.
In my quest to address building code issues that affect sustainability, I have found myself caught up in the minimalist venture know as "Tiny Houses".   These are very small dwellings that provide for all the amenities of home, in a very compact package.   Frequently, they are constructed in the range of 96 to maybe 130sf.   That's tiny!   But for many, very livable.

If you have followed my other postings on Tiny Houses, you will find that the International Residential Code has a lot of influence on the design.  In some cases, it can be so influential as to be completely prohibitive of the tiny house in its entirety...thanks to the code's mandatory 120sf minimum area.

The basic tenant of the IRC is to provide minimum standards for life safety, welfare and sanitation.  The code's requirement for at least one habitable room to have 120sf must be traceable to one of those characteristics.   However, I can find no archival anecdotal data that supports that.  It has been in the code for eons so therefore there must have a legitimate reason for its inclusion.   Or maybe not.

During the past couple of months, I have queried my building inspector and architect students as to their thoughts on how 120sf as a minimum would ensure a safety, welfare, or sanitation benefit.   I usually get a lot of blank stares.   They have no idea either.   This tells me that it is time to re-debate the requirement.

So...I am going to submit a code change to the International Residential Code to delete the 120sf minimum.   This will elicit a lot of discussion, a lot of it will be negative.   To be successful in having the requirement deleted, I need to have a valid reason statement with good supporting evidence.   That is where I need your help, especially if you live in a small home or apartment.

The IRC contains provisions that require a minimum 7 foot high ceiling.   I know for fact that it was carried over from earlier building codes because there is a "psychological benefit".   I am not sure what the benefit is, but that will likely be a valid reason for the 120sf area inclusion.  This fits under "welfare".  In order to counter this argument, I need some real world facts on how you all feel about your tiny living environment.

For those of you in small spaces, do you yearn for bigger rooms?   Do you find yourself having to spend inordinate times outdoors to keep from going crazy?   Has moving into a tiny house caused you some detrimental harm, physical or psychological?   Is there a normal daily activity that you cannot do simply because you lack the space?    If you couldn't do this activity, would you anticipate a decline in your safety, welfare, or sanitation?   Nothing facetious please.   Just some real world examples that support or oppose the 120sf code requirement would help me tremendously.   I need to know both sides of the argument to be prepared for eventual testimony.

If you have an opinion, you can email me at   Please let me know if you are willing to let me quote you in this informal study.   In any case, your contribution will help give me some legitimate background from those that have been there...or those whose dreams have been hampered in trying to get there.


Kimberly L. Sharp-Ko said...

Tom, I have to agree on the outdatedness of this law. Given the size and height of today's folks and the living style ....inside toilet, it is time for change. I would like to see an increase to at least 200 or 300 square feet, with a height of 10 feet. This would enable a lot of people more opportunity to have a small abode of their own that would meet the min. requirement of habitablility. The zoning laws also need rehab. But, that is a different battle altogether. At the present, 120 BARELY allows livability for one, let alone two to three. That raises another issue, handicapped access. 120 is not enough for handicap wheelchairs to move around in if it is furnished, let alone use a restroom. The 200/300 sq. ft. allowance would allow wheelchairs better space for mobility. Yet they still keep the 120 law. It needs to be updated to fit todays needs. Not those of the 1800's.

Anonymous said...

I hope you will continue updating the work you do on your blog!
We need more tiny homes.

Concrete Pumping Essex said...

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Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

I live in a tiny house, and i'm constantly in fear that building officials are going to tell me to tear it down. I live my life they way I choose to, in the pursuit of liberty and happiness. living in a small space, with low expenses enables me to live with less, consume less, and give more to the community with my spare time. My house is not energy compliant, so i guess i'm polluting the environment with my improper R value. I can't help but wonder though, who is saving more energy, me, or the man on the hill who heats his mansion year round. I wish that my lifestyle was legal, so that more people could see the value in reducing your needs and footprint.