Towards a better tinyhouse

Inventing to freedom?

Weird construction from the perspective of a building inspector.

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Interesting to hear from someone on the other side of the clipboard.

After thinking about this issue, I think the problems here come down mostly to the huge gap between “Meets code, rubber stamped” and “safe enough”.

I mean for example say a Fencl, on a foundation, would never get a permit even though it is plenty safe. The only potential serious issues that there seems like there could be there are things like fire egress and bad electrical wiring. And the wiring was done by an electrician, and you can get out through the window upstairs.

I mean it is extremely far fetched to suggest it is likely to fall down or collapse in some way, or burn any worse than a normal house. Some basic back of the envelope figuring shows it is plenty strong. If basically you can go through the codes and find out what the purpose of each section is and say that yeah, the tinyhouse is fine in that respect, or at least well within reason, that is certainly enough for me.

( Actually it would be nice if they had a separate sort of version of the code that said stuff like “try to prevent children from being likely to fall out open windows, here are some statistics on how bad a problem this is, here are some recommendations and how well we think they will work” instead of “all windows lower than 24 inches must have a grill”. Like a master copy of what you are *trying* to do rather than just prescriptive stuff plus a “trust us you really super duper need this no matter what, we know what’s best for you”, would be very useful, so we can all make our own choices easily. Maybe there is such a document or book from an independent party that provides this?)

Then if you built one yourself I can see that since inspecting some things like the electrical wiring (behind the wall) is not practical I might indeed be more reluctant to invest a lot of money in it, but I certainly wouldn’t fear for my safety living there.

At the same time we all know how grossly incompetent some people can be….

The reason we do it yourself though is because these things are really not that hard to do right if you read up on it first, and pros can be too expensive.

In order to fill in this vast gap inspection by professionals seems like it could really help. Put the wiring in and an electrician can take half an hour and inspect it and rubber stamp it before you put the rest of the wall up. The blueprints could be reviewed before construction begins. Etc.

But the government appears to be totally uninterested in this.

At the same time I completely appreciate the need for codes to keep professional home builders in check or they would do all kinds of crazy things, as they have in the past. But building codes, zoning etc., well frankly any part of the government, always gets hijacked to some degree by special interests, or in some cases irrational mob rule thinking. I think that is the most important thing to remember: these rules are not “for safety” (or re zoning “to prevent a factory being built next door”). They are a tool.

They are concurrently used by many people for a variety of purposes – some parts are for safety or to protect up from predatory behavior of the building industry. Some are basically put there by the building industry or even specific companies to push out competition. Sometimes the wealthy will in practice abuse a section that IS for safety in an inventive way to prevent competition or do exclusionary zoning or whatever. It’s only a tool.

Actually, the bureaucratic mess things have become seems to be evident in that building codes are not only a minimum, but also in many cases a de facto maximum because e.g. the home building industry knows consumers are pretty ditzy and don’t check the details before buying a house, so they rarely exceed the minimum legal requirements anywhere it costs money to, for e.g. ventilation, insulation and so on. So they have to specify things in relatively high detail to protect buyers to any reasonably degree.

Ontario for example allows buildings to be build with no ventilation system for fresh air. At all. It is the only province that allows this in it’s code. I have read that >30% of all new homes here do this.

I have lived in one such new house and the owner didn’t even know the house he bought 8 months ago didn’t have a ventilation system. And the fumes were killer because the VOCs from the paint etc. were still coming out. There are studies which show a very large fraction (>70%) of people with such houses suffer from mold and other serious things caused by inadequate fresh air, and are unaware of how their house’s ventilation system works. Adding a fresh air vent would have cost like $300, but since buyers don’t emptor (probably bad latin…), to the builder that is money wasted.

Likewise if slumlords were allowed to build extremely tiny living spaces or cram large numbers of people in a single apartment, they would in many cases, to the net detriment of the people that live there. But this is obviously soluble with just taking a slightly more intelligent approach and recognizing the existence of variety in the world.

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy”


Written by gregor

March 27, 2011 at 01:28

Posted in Uncategorized

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