Tiny House, Tiny Living, The Tiny Life.

The Conversation We Haven’t Had…. Until Now

There is something that hasn’t been talked about on the blogs yet, something that is THE topic of conversation for many of the Builders, Bloggers and others.  It is that of tiny house safety.  At first it started out as small one on one conversations, but in the past few months what once was side conversation has grown to serious discussion with most of the Builders and Bloggers coming to a single table.  We have been meeting to try to figure out how we can take tiny houses to the next level, to make them universally legal and to make them safe.

CaptureIt came about when some began to notice instances where we saw tiny houses being made in an unsafe manner.  In most cases it wasn’t out of malice or unethical behaviors, but of not knowing any better.  Honest mistakes that could have fatal consequences.

So as a group, both Bloggers and Builders, came together to discuss how we could empower tiny house people to be safer and to be more informed.  We knew starting out we didn’t want to do anything that would hinder tiny house folks, DIYers or Professionals, but we also tried to balance that with the need for safety.  How we do that is something we have been wrestling with as a group and also as individuals.

Tiny Houses have long lived in legal limbo in some places, some people have found solutions that worked for them, but others still struggle with it.  There is a large part of the Tiny House Movement that never wanted to become legal because they see it as their protest, civil disobedience or other things;  Some don’t really care either way, they just want to live in a tiny house;  There are others that want to be fully legal.

At the end of the day, you can live in a tiny house, it is absolutely possible, right now, in your own town; I have no doubt in my mind that it is possible.  However this group is working on a different level, we are seeking a universal legal solution, which is tricky.  If we can achieve this, then you can choose to participate or not, it would be up to each individual to make their own decision.

Beyond legal issues and frankly way more importantly, is safety.  We want you all to be safe, we want you to be informed, we want you to be empowered to build the best house you can.  The Bloggers and Builders do what they do because they love tiny houses, because they care about the movement, and most importantly because they care about the people.

So when it comes to safety we realize that many people want to build their own tiny house, that’s a given, but the question then becomes how can I teach you to build it safely if you have never build anything before.  There are plenty of people out there that don’t need my help at all, in fact I could learn a lot from them, but there are others that do need a helping hand.  Coming together as a community is what makes us strong, it’s what makes this a movement.  Viva La Tiny Revolution!


Your Turn!

  • What are your thoughts on Tiny House Safety, how can we address it?
  • How can we at The Tiny Life help people to become empowered to build amazing and safe houses?



  1. I would first analyze the danger points of building any home, electric wiring, Gas lines and storage, heating methods, materials which could off gas and make one sick, and then add to this the mechanics of a “movable house” with all the stress of being moved. then I would consult with professionals from each category. At some point you will need stamps of approval from ASME, and UL as well as any industry enforced testing and certification like the boating and RV industry has. It would be a long precess and come with a good but of expense to get through all this, but could be a benefit in the long run.

  2. What Roger Lehet said, plus encouraging builders to read (and reread) well-done books on construction such as Building Construction Illustrated and Housebuilding: A Do-It-Yourself Guide.

    Beyond that, I would love to have a place to show my plans/build and get feedback from a bunch of other people. Sure, I have a blog, but that isn’t exactly pulling in great numbers of readers, plus I talk a bit about other stuff there. Asking all the knowledgeable and creative folks who come to this site (for example) to comb through blogs for suggestions is unreasonable. For example, uploading pictures of my plans on paper, plus SketchUp pics if available somewhere central for others to critique would be incredibly helpful. Obviously a agreeing to a disclaimer would have to be part of the process, but that is standard for all of the web sites where people share opinions.


  3. I think the largest problem here is having common sense. I don’t mean to offend anybody, but I work at a University. I see more and more the elevation of education in concentrated areas, and less and less common sense.

    I built my small house using many very old building techniques. I used green rough sawn hardwood lumber. Many who watched my blog progress wrote me with larger concerns about what I was doing. Some of my methods defied modern building codes. I didn’t use 2X10’s for floor joists for example. I used 2X8’s. I doesn’t take a huge amount of common sense to know a hardwood 2X8 that is a full 2 inches thick and a full 8″ wide is stronger than a pine 2X10 that only measures 1 ½ X 7 ¼. But many just couldn’t grasp that.

    It was not what they were taught, and should not be done. They quickly referred to charts and engineering websites to try to convince me I was crazy.
    Well, I have seen the results of Architects and Engineers work at the campus. I even watched an 80′ steel structure tumble to the ground as a result of the work of a structural steel engineer.

    But I have seen buildings built of rough sawn lumber, standing strong 100 years after a mere farmer built them. Cross bracing, knowing where support beams are needed, etc. Things like this are just common sense to some, and a foreign language to others.

    By all means be safe. But……don’t let an Architect get involved! 

  4. Keep in mind that dwellings, from a legal standpoint, are either buildings regulated by building and zoning codes, or vehicles, which are regulated otherwise. Either way, there is regulation. The problem is that some just build what they want, so tiny homes sometimes lack the safety measures that building codes provide, sometimes violate local zoning regulations, or make the project ineligible for financing or insuring. Regulations are not always your enemy, they are there for a reason. Investigating before building will allow you to hopefully be free of legal scrapes and unsafe accomodations. The International Code Council’s International Residential Code will give you guidance as it is the adopted building code in many, but not all, areas. Avoid having to remove or tear down that which is built by investigating your best course of construction before building. Check local building and zoning regulations. Sanitary provisions are required for any dwelling, which is amany times overlooked. RV’s with tanks are fine, but they still have to have waste tanks dumped. Sewer connections aren’t always easy to get. It’s all food for thought. That being said, tiny homes can be a real interesting building challenge with great rewards.

  5. Another thing to remember about building codes is that they show the minimum required standard. It might make it passable but it won’t necessarily make it the best. When I built a small log house I did everything at least 2 steps above code and had a nice, sturdy structure that will stand for a very long time. Movable buildings have a lot more stresses and strains that can also affect wiring and plumbing hidden in the walls. Anything that can rub or chafe needs extra attention, even if the house will only move a few times a year.

  6. Certainly, Keith, you hit it right: Building rules are there for a reason (not to be confused with zoning laws). I have become concerned about the amateurish efforts on some sites and others by starry-eyed young people who don’t have a clue about safe techniques. Whether you’re building an artsy retreat on agri-rural land unseen by the public, or a home to live in full-time in a restricted area, your tiny home represents everyone in the TH community. If yours looks like a shanty in six months ,or doesn’t make it through the winter, it reflects on the efforts of the serious people trying to make some headway with zoning and laws. Don’t get me wrong, I am definitely an old hippie, a big fan of Lloyd Kahn, and have lived in some homes more creative than stable. I just hope inexperienced people will do some research and take advantage of all the info out there. You can be creative AND safe.

  7. Do you have a smoke detector? For a free drawing and a list of safety items, not mentioned above, for your Tiny Houses visit http://TinyHouseSystems.biz Use my over forty years in the home building industry to be safe! Thanks Ryan for calling this to everyone’s attention!

  8. If I may, I’d like to add a few “common-sense” ideas to the safety debate concerning “tiny house” construction…
    1. build in emergency exits via skylight (loft areas)to the roof and/OR concealed hatches (in bathroom floor) to allow under-carriage exit.
    2.when possible, place “kick-out” windows at accessible heights
    3.plan for gas/electricity/solar power/heating system emergency stop-switches in easily located area.
    4.add lighting! Motion-sensing lights can be placed on stair/step risers, bathroom and kitchen areas, above each window and door, etc.
    5.set up a flag system to signal for help, in event of inability to call out or obtain cell signal.
    6. consider a “glow in the dark” symbol on the roof so that, in event of severe flooding or earth movement, attention can be drawn to the home when R&R flights go over.
    7.A home on a wheeled platform can and WILL move if forced by water, wind, etc–do not waste money on tiedowns, they don’t work. DO, however, consider a lightning rod and grounding system.

  9. I with Pat’s list. We already had one story about a nearly finished home on wheels burned.

    One must take into consideration the type of material used for construction and the general local area of residence. Metal is less likely to burn, vinyl siding melts, wall protection required for wood heat, grounding rods for electrical strikes, use and type of insulation for health reasons, fumes from certain paints or stain, railings rather than open stairway…..to mention a few.

    What looks good may not be the safest for the type of terrain or personal health issues.

    And of course you mention safety during construction. Electricity and water do not mix. Trip and fall hazards will be common. Proper knowledge and use of safety measures with ALL power tools. Common sense and safety with simple hand tools to avoid cuts and bruises.

    You can fill a BOOK or DVD with all the questions and answers proposed. And all this info will help prepare for the headache of out-of-pocket expense or possible insurance expense.

    Good Luck in the assembly of information.


  10. Obviously fire safety, electrical wiring issues, and similar things needs to be considered, especially for DIY tiny house builders. However, the one thing that raises red flags in my mind is how many plans and blogs call tiny houses with a ladder leading to a loft a “great” place to retire to, a great “mother-in-law” space or whatever. Just from the “reality intrudes its ugly head” aspect I wonder about the difficulty of changing sheets. Then add in age or even the slightest motor difficulties and I’m thinking “an accident waiting to happen.” Sometimes it seems as if tiny house plans are an exercise in design rather than a workable living space, especially long-term. How many of the professional designers of these types of homes actually LIVE in them, with their inherent limitations of space and “amenities”?

    I’m seriously considering building such a space for myself but I want to be realistic. It might be a cool thing to do for a year or two (while you write your book about your self-sacrifice) but if it isn’t feasible long-term what’s the point? Is it a viable way to live or just a somewhat masturbatory short term indulgence?

  11. I am not sure if you are talking about safety during construction or Safety Features inside a building when finisher or both.

    One thing I thought about is safety concerns where a Sleeping Loft is used. I would think a Sleeping Loft should have at least one window that is big enough for a Large Adult to climb through with some kind on folding ladder for a Fire Escape, in addition to Smoke Alarms, Toxic Gas (propane, methane) detection and Fire Extinguishers.

    Also means of Switching power off to potentially hazardous appliances. I am a Late Night movie fan, and I have a Portable DVD player that I plug into a timer so it will shut off in about 2 hours. I wish the DVD players and computers when used in the same capacity also would have a similar “Night Owl” shut off mode capacity. The same kind of timer could be used with Electric Kettles and the like.

    Concealed Tie Down panels could be built into walls (behind removable panels) could be used to secure heavy loose items for transport.

    Similar Emergency Shutoff devices could also be used for Gas appliances.

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