Meeting with the County

This past Thursday I had a meeting at my local zoning office to talk about the tiny house. I printed off my plans, made notes about the trailer and insulation values, and compiled my drawings. What I expected was a little office with the person who got me the meeting (my dad’s friend, Albert) and someone who knows all about the building codes. Instead, it was a big board room with two men with a giant book on the National Building Code, a woman who knew about different zones within the county, and Albert.

All of them were familiar with the idea of tiny houses. They took a look at a couple of pages of plans and drawings. I was saying that tiny houses are built on wheels to avoid minimum size restrictions when they interrupted me and said, “There are no minimum size restrictions. They took them out.” Apparently, as long as you have a functioning space for different tasks like cooking, eating, etc., it doesn’t matter if you have collapsible furniture and tiny rooms. I was too shocked to ask more. That seems too easy.

As far as the building code experts were concerned, my house is an RV and therefore the National Building Code completely does not apply. Also, as far as they know, there’s no national standard for custom RVs. I told them I still want to meet the building code as much as I can for safety reasons. They brought up having an egress exit in the loft since I’ll be sleeping up there, and I told them I plan to have an opening skylight. They said that works, as long as there aren’t any special tools required to open it. The guys mentioned that it is a good idea to build with 2×3 or 2x4s because the structure is small enough to be supported by smaller boards. They suggested using spray-in insulation because it offers structural support. Other than that, they didn’t have much to tell me concerning the building code. However, they did tell me that I probably won’t be allowed to live in a mobile home park, because those do have their own standards. To be allowed in, a mobile home has to have a CSA (Canadian Standards Association) sticker and a serial number. My tiny house won’t have those.

They talked to me about eventually putting the house on a permanent foundation, because that’s when the building code would apply. Normally, when a house is built, it’s inspected at seven different points. Without those inspections throughout the build, it’s up to an inspector to decide if my tiny house is acceptable or not. An inspector might want to cut a hole in the wall to take a look at what’s inside. The men recommended to me two things: 1 – get an engineer’s stamp of approval, as in work with an engineer to create detailed plans and then follow those plans, and 2 – keep records of the build; keep a big binder full of notes, information, and include lots and lots of pictures. Then the men and their giant book of codes left.

Working with an engineer could help me improve on the plans that I already have and would save me from having to do all the altering myself (my windows are different sizes and in different places than the plans and my trailer is wider and longer). I already plan to keep track of the build for other tiny housers to learn from.

I talked with the woman about what different zones allow. Basically, the more people that live in an area, the more restrictions there are. In subdivisions, you can’t really do much other than have a garage. In areas with large properties, farm animals are allowed, for example. So not only is every county different, there are different zones within a county that have different rules. In the zone my parents live in, you are only allowed to live in a travel trailer/camper/RV for 90 days in a calendar year. I’ve read about codes that talk about consecutive days and people just sleep at a friend’s every 30 days or whatever the restriction is, and codes that people get around by moving their tiny home slightly on the property, but neither of those work for my area. However, she did tell me this: certain areas aren’t zoned at all. Outside of towns, where there’s more land than people, the zoning office doesn’t restrict or even really pay attention to what people do. You’d think you’d have to live pretty far out of town to be in an un-zoned area, but where I live, if you drive 5 minutes out of town, you’re free and clear. There’s lots of farmland.

Next the woman left and I talked with Albert about RV parks. They’re zoned differently, so the 90 days in a calendar year rule doesn’t apply. I could stay in an RV park all year if the owners let me, but I live in Canada and RV parks are seasonal. There are three around here, and all of them are only open May-October. I thought of talking to owners about letting me stay, but Albert told me that at least one of the parks drains their water system for the winter, so even if they let me stay, I wouldn’t have water.

Then we talked about grey water. He was thinking I’d have on-board tanks and would drive the house to a dumping station every two weeks. I’m not going to own a 1 ton truck and unhook my whole house every couple of weeks! I can attach tanks to the bottom of the trailer for when I do move it, but tanks aren’t realistic for me or for Canadian winter. Hopefully I’ll be able to hook up to an existing septic system on the land I’ll rent. Albert wrote down who to call to get the okay for that, but they weren’t in when I called so I’m going to try again another day. Albert’s parting advice was to never get rid of any certification I get from an engineer, and he warned me that zoning codes could be completely different and more restrictive in Ontario.

My conclusions: it would be really hard to legally park a tiny house in a big, populated city. The bad news: mobile home and RV parks are out, as is parking in or near town. The good news: I know a few people in the un-zoned area, and I could even live by the water! I think I’ll stay in Nova Scotia for a while, and my best bet is to rent land from someone in an un-zoned area and hook up to their septic system. I’ll also be contacting engineers in the near future, but they are ridiculously hard to find.

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Quotes

"It takes as much energy to wish as it does to plan." - Eleanor Roosevelt

"It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare. It is because we do not dare that they are difficult." - Seneca

"Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful." - William Morris
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