Lions and Tigers and Bears… Oh BOY!

25 Aug

Okay, we’re toiling away…

And you know what that means. It’s… (fanfare please!…)  “mailbag time!!”;

Today’s “victim” is trying to crowbar “small Corten Steel homes” into existing neighborhoods.

And along the way, he’s seeing the road turn into “pits and potholes”…

Big surprise, huh? 😉

Let’s see if we can help him pave that road.

Hi Ronin,

I’m trying to build a case for small ISBU Homes in my community.

I want to build a series of small homes (say… just under approximately 320 square feet) for people who cannot afford to buy or maintain a larger home. I see these homes being used to provide worker and student housing locally.  

They aren’t intended as “family” homes. It’s just basic worker housing. Contractor grade stuff.

I know that you’re quite familiar with this as several of your ISBU projects are right down this alley.

I can also use this same housing to help Seniors downsize into more easily managed residences.

Again, you have Senior projects that fill this bill, easily.

That’s why I am coming to YOU.

Planning and Zoning was no help at all. They won’t tell me what I can do, they’ll only tell me what I can’t do. And, they want me to draw it all up, first. Talk about adding insult to injury.  Sheesh!

That means to make any headway at all…  I have to attend a Review Board including the City Counsel.

I’ve even considered building houses on trailers so that they could be “moved”, like an RV (much like your “20′ HQ ISBU/Tiny Trailer” project a while back. I can picture a cluster of these units assembled into a quaint “village-type” setting.

Do you have any information or insight into (specifics) on Building codes as they relate to ISBU/Tiny house type buildings?

I need some ammunition…


Ambushed in St. Lou…

Hi Ambushed;

I have this posted above my computer:

“If we discover a desire within us that nothing in this world can satisfy…we should begin to wonder if perhaps we were created for another world.”
~ C. S. Lewis

Every day, I feel those of us who have dedicated our lives to getting a safe roof over a family’s head are “forging a new world”…

It sounds like you have “another world” to create too… a world based on common sense… and that means that you have your work cut out for you. You are going to get hit with both ends of the stick.

ISBUs, while being a great material for home construction, aren’t embraced by most Planning and Building Departments.

For the most part, they simply don’t understand them, as ISBUs themselves haven’t passed thru millions of dollars of testing to get them the “appropriate paperwork”, and the stigma attached to them (in part because of the “graffiti strewn carcasses” we see as sets for popular movies…) scares the bejeezus out of residents of most neighborhoods. As a result, building codes don’t embrace ISBUs, per see.

It’s odd,  considering that;

It’s common sense… that these massive steel constructs will by far exceed traditional housing construction practices.

It’s common sense… that these ISBU homes, based on Corten Steel and then welded together solidly, will exceed the abilities of a traditionally built “sticks or bricks” (built of thousands of  ‘usually organic’ components all fastened together with nails and staples) home in the face of heavy weather events.

It’s common sense to understand that when you start with a steel box that is already extremely structurally sound and even comes “weathered in”, your building costs can be greatly reduced… provided that YOU use common sense when building that steel home.

Planning and Zoning Departments don’t always work on “common sense”… they work predominantly on that black void we call “bureaucracy”.  

And your neighbors are living in a place that is “even further in the darkness...”

They immediately start thinking that you’re going to further devalue their already rapidly devalued homes. So…

  1. You’re going to use “Steel Housing Modules.” Think “Prefab or Modular” housing when you explain what you’re going to do. Using  the terms “ISBU” or “Shipping Containers” just throws up red flags.
  2. Scour your zone for projects similar to the one you have in mind. Use them as precedents, just as lawyers use “past decisions” to help validate current arguments. Provide examples of other similar ISBU structures in your area (draw a circle on a map with a diameter of 250 miles to your location and then “Google the heck out of it” ) that have already been signed off by Structural Engineers and Architects and approved for building. It’s easier than it sounds.
  3. Make it visual. Find good images and then print them on 24″x36″ posterboards to illustrate your ideas.

And, contrary to what “some” say, there are far more than 100 ISBU structures in America. The “people” who say that are simply trying to shift importance to their own “highly publicized projects” to gain more “self-importance.” Not all of us have “deep-pocketed clients who will throw money at projects trying to get notoriety for their ‘earth-shattering’ forays into Greenness.” Use common sense…

Once you’ve done the groundwork…

Then, argue for the “housing” itself.

You will encounter resistance when you start talking about homes as small as 320 square feet. There are many reasons.

Among them are;

Residents feel “small homes” infiltrating their neighborhood will drive property values down.

People seem to think that only “weirdos and riffraff” live in small homes. You know… Hippies, Environmental whack-jobs, artists, musicians, etc… 😉

Banks WANT you saddled with a soul-sucking mortgage… You wouldn’t know it by hard it’s become to actually GET a loan, but… 😉

City Authorities will have “less home” to tax.

City Authorities will have “less home” to tax.

Wait, I already said that.  Oops…

Laren Corie is one of the leading experts on Little/Tiny House design in the country.

He’s a guy with decades of experience and frankly, I have a great deal of admiration for him. Like us, he’s lived in the trenches for a long time.  Here’s what HE has to say about Little/Tiny Houses and dealing with the bureaucrats:

(I have only reformatted his Laren’s words and corrected a few typos. No actual content has been changed.)  

Here’s Laren’s take;

House size is almost always specified by local zoning, rather than residential building code. However, in the case of “tiny” houses, the building code room size minimums are also a factor. In general they say that there must be:

  1. At least one room of at least 140ft² and usually
  2. A sleeping room of at least 70ft², and that there must be
  3. A bathroom, that also meets a minimum, usually around 35ft².

So, that brings it (along with exterior and interior wall areas) to about 300ft².

However, zoning traditionally tends to require 700, 900, 1100ft² or more.

Dwellings that do not have foundations, and permanent connection to utilities are not under the jurisdiction of the building department.

However, the land that they set on (or is lived on) is under the jurisdiction of the zoning department. Usually, they consider it camping.

Often they allow one such “RV” to set in the backyard, and in such isolated events they may simply overlook one, as an exception. But, multiple tiny houses, on a lot, or even multiples, in backyards, is more likely to be viewed as a threat to the property values of the community, and be portrayed as a breeding ground for criminals and other undesirable elements.

Below is a link to a PDF, written by a law professor. It does an excellent job of discussing this subject, with an emphasis on the history of such minimum size laws, and the fact that there is zero science behind the idea that there is anything unhealthy about living in a smaller house.

Life Together: How Housing Laws Define America’s Families

That is about the best paper, and argument against minimum house size laws, that I have been able to find It is written by a law professor, so it is relatively thorough and airtight.

It basically shows how minimum house size laws have been used for social engineering. That may imply that it would be wise to present any such development as retirement housing, since older people will not be adding children to their households, therefore need smaller dwellings, especially if they are single.

This argument points out a need, that larger houses fail to fill, and is not a threat to the community, that might be imagined from younger people living in tiny dwellings (weirdos and poor people, you know :O)

Another argument might be that there are already homeless in the community, and nice, affordable housing should reduce those numbers.

But, NIMBY (not in my backyard) thinking kicks in, and those in the decision making positions tend to think that making it tough on the homeless, will chase them off, to become some other community’s problem.

It is fantasy theory, without much reality to back it, but it still prevails.

All that said:

Your mission, should you prove to accept it… will be to convince those counsel members that this housing is indeed viable, cost effective, needed and even (gasp!) lucrative for those involved at every level.

This message will self destruct in 5 seconds…


You can learn more about Laren Corie, here:

-Energy Self-Sufficiency Newsletter-

-LittleHouses YahooGroup