Tiny Houses & Building Permits

A tiny house on a trailer could cost less than the permits for a normal house. This recent post on building permits by Karl Ulrich shows exactly what permits and fees will cost him to build a normal house in his neck of the woods. Karl is also a tiny house owner-builder himself and has a small cabin that borders the Green Mountain National Forest in Vermont.

His Vermont cabin was built within the definition of a shed and cost less than $10,000 in materials. His normal house project will cost over $26,000 in permits and fees. Generally speaking the cost for permits ranges wildly from community to community and can vary even more widely depending on the size and type of structure. But you can see why a tiny house is an attractive option for many people when it is designed to preclude the need for permits.

This is not to say that a tiny house project is always exempt from permits and fees. Local codes and ordinances may apply, so check your local requirements. For safety reasons you should always build with the universal building code as a guide and know that obtaining insurance and financing for alternative housing can be more difficult. So tiny houses are not always housing nirvana, but learning more about this option can empower you with options you didn’t have before.

Three ways to avoid permits

  1. Build on a trailer. Trailers are typically out of the jurisdiction of planning departments. Local laws and ordinances may still apply since the house will often be looked upon as a travel trailer by authorities. Living and camping in a travel trailer is not always allowed, even on your own land.
  2. Build within the definition of a shed. This often means that  living in the structure is not technically permitted. Many backyard home offices are legally built this way, but check your local laws to inform your choices before choosing to live there.
  3. Choose a region that just doesn’t meddle in your housing choices. They are out there and I wish I could point you to a resource that highlighted communities that are alternative housing friendly. It seems that parts of Vermont, Texas and Missouri come up in conversation often but I suspect this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Pictured here is a Tumbleweed Fencl which typically costs about $23,000 in materials for an owner-builder to build themselves. Tumbleweeds are considered by many to be one of the finest tiny homes you can buy or build. But even using this premium tiny house as a comparison, it’s easy to see why tiny houses are quickly becoming an icon of freedom.


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