window photo

About Windows

Windows for tiny homes

Sometimes it can be hard to decide where to start an entry as everything in a home serves multiple functions; this is certainly the case where windows are concerned.
Windows have a profound effect on how our tiny homes feel having too few can make the space feel claustrophobic and too many can make us feel naked to the world.
The quality of our windows can have a huge effect on our energy efficiency and the heating and cooling of our homes. The type of glass we choose affects not only the comfort of our home but also can improve the security. So, let’s talk about windows.

There are a myriad of choices available in window construction, specifically the materials used for the frame: wood, vinyl, aluminum and combinations of both — for instance wood windows with an aluminum cladding on the exterior. I had an opportunity to speak with Rob from Burris Windows in Carrollton, TX recently about all the options available in vinyl window construction.
The easiest way to understand windows is to first understand the two major components — the frame and the glass unit. There are three main materials the frames are made from: wood, aluminum, and vinyl.
Wood frames are very warm and inviting and insulate rather well, but they do require periodic maintenance to maintain their beauty. The outside frame can be covered (cladded) in vinyl or aluminum to lower the maintenance required. Wood frames generally allow for more artistic expression and are also the most expensive option, but they are very lovely.
Extruded aluminum frames generally are the worst option for energy efficiency unless the manufacturer constructs a frame with a thermal break (something to separate the exterior and interior frame pieces). While this does improve performance it also increases costs. Aesthetically, aluminum windows seem rather plain to me, but they can be anodized or painted in a rainbow of colors. Most often they are used in commercial applications for storefronts and large buildings with lots of windows.
The specialty of Burris Windows is vinyl frame windows and patio doors. They come in a wide range of sizes and shapes, but a limited number of frame colors. However you can prime and paint the frames at a later time if desired; this can affect the warranty and performance of the window though.
Vinyl frames can have really great strength and insulating qualities due to the channels formed in the extrusions used to make the windows. They are easy to clean and require little to no maintenance. Vinyl windows are almost always my first choice.
The other major component of a window is the glass unit. I say unit because most windows are made from two or more panes of glass with some sort of gas sandwiched between the panes. The gas is usually either air that has been dried and placed between the panes under vacuum or more commonly some sort of inert gas, for instance Argon. Using an inert gas increases the energy efficiency of the glass unit.
Today’s higher performance glass panes are usually treated with one or more coatings that alter the ability of the glass pane to allow UV rays, radiated heat or visible light through. These treated panes combined with an inert gas between the panes creates a very energy efficient insulated glass unit.
So by combining a vinyl frame with a high efficiency glass unit we can have an abundance of windows in a tiny home that do not adversely affect the comfort of our homes by allowing rapid changes in temperature as the weather outside changes.
To address the issues of safety we can apply further treatments to the glass panes themselves. Much like steel and other metals, how glass is heated and cooled during forming can increase its strength and make it more difficult to break. This assists us both when we are hauling our homes down the road and also if nefarious individuals are looking to pilfer our belongings from our homes.
There are several terms that we should be familiar with when making decisions about the glass to use in our windows.
  1. Annealed glass is heated and slowly cooled to increase its durability.
  2. Tempered glass is heated and then rapidly cooled on one side to create internal stresses in the glass panel that strengthen the panel and also cause it to break into chunks rather than small shards when it is broken. This type of glass is often used for bank teller windows and the side windows on automobiles.
  3. Laminated glass takes two or more regular or tempered glass panels and sandwiches a piece of plastic between them. This keeps the glass from falling apart when it breaks. This process is often used in situations where protecting people from flying debris is important. This process is used in car windshields and also in glass units in areas prone to hurricane force winds.
According to Rob from Burris Windows, tempered glass units usually add around 30% to the overall cost of a window unit(!) but greatly increases the strength. Rob recommended this as the best option for tiny homes built on trailers meant to be towed down the highway.
Laminated glass, Rob notes, did not necessarily increase the strength of the glass, but it did contain the glass when it broke. He says that using laminated glass often doubles the cost of the window unit and he only recommends these where they are required to meet code requirements.
His overall recommendation for tiny homes was to consider getting tempered glass for safety reasons and for homes that are towed. The added strength will greatly deter any thieves and when combined with a simple smart home security system you should be adequately protected.
You can read more about Burris Windows and the specifics about types of glass, etc. on their website.

What is a Tiny Home? (part 3: manufactured home)

In part 1 we looked at tiny homes as site built homes; in part 2 we asked the question, “Are tiny homes RVs?” Now we will look to see if we can find a spot for our tiny homes in the manufactured home industry.

In the last installment we looked at some reasons why the RV industry might not be the best place for tiny home manufacturers to end up.

This time we will look into the manufactured and modular home industries and see if we can find a home for our tiny home companies. For this blog I spoke with Lois Starkey at the Manufactured Housing Institute (MHI). MHI is the trade organization for the factory built home industry, this would include both manufactured (formerly mobile homes) and modular homes.

We spoke at length about the differences between manufactured and modular homes. The most important difference is that manufactured homes are built to a standard set by HUD (Housing and Urban Development, a federal level organization) and modular homes are built to comply with the standards of the municipality in which they will reside — oftentimes being the International Residential Building Code (mentioned in part 1) along with some local amendments.

Other differences include the distinct difference that manufactured homes can be moved to a new site at a later time. Modular homes are designed to be setup permanently at one location; for those unfamiliar with the term modular home, it is a single or multiple section home that is constructed in a factory setting and then delivered to a site, setup and attached permanently to a foundation. Since modular homes are more like site built we are going to focus on manufactured homes for the rest of this post.

If we look in the Code of Federal Regulations in 24 CFR 3280 under section:

Section 3280.2 Definitions

Manufactured home means a structure, transportable in one or more sections, which in the traveling mode is 8 body feet or more in width or 40 body feet or more in length or which when erected on-site is 320 or more square feet, and which is built on a permanent chassis and designed to be used as a dwelling with or without a permanent foundation when connected to the required utilities, and includes the plumbing, heating, air-conditioning, and electrical systems contained in the structure. This term includes all structures that meet the above requirements except the size requirements and with respect to which the manufacturer voluntarily files a certification pursuant to § 3282.13 of this chapter and complies with the construction and safety standards set forth in this part 3280.

This is great information looks like our tiny homes can fit right into this HUD program.

Section 3280.10 Use of alternative construction.

Requests for alternative construction can be made pursuant to 24 CFR 3282.14 of this chapter.

This section, according to Ms. Starkey, will allow us to request the use of tankless water heaters, composting and incinerating toilets and other green modifications.

Below are the sections I found that cover minimum sizes.

Section 3280.109 Room requirements.

(a) Every manufactured home shall have at least one living area with not less than 150 square feet (sq. ft.) of gross floor area.
(b)(1) All bedrooms shall have at least 50 sq. ft. of floor area.
(b)(2) Bedrooms designed for two or more people shall have 70 sq. ft. of floor area plus 50 sq. ft. 

This is not all that big — seems tiny to me; there are a couple of other sections that we need to concern ourselves with though section 3280.102 (b) states that bathrooms are not included in the calculation of habitable space.

Section 3280.104 sets the minimum ceiling height of 7 feet, but allows up to 50% of the floor space to have a 5 foot ceiling height.

Hmm, does this mean that we could build a home on a trailer that set with a low ride height and under the 13 feet 6 inches maximum of the DOT we could have a room that is 7 feet in an above section and 5 feet in the section below?

Say maybe if we had a bedroom room over a really snuggly living room type area? There are a lot of possibilities here.

Section 3280.110 lets us have rooms that are as narrow as 5 feet wide and refers back to section 3280.102(a) which excludes bathrooms from this minimum width requirement.

Section 3280.111 sets our minimum bath width at 30 inches and the distance from the front of the toilet to any other object at 21 inches; this still allows for a fairly small restroom at around 30 inches wide by about 60 inches long.

There are a multitude of other things in 24 CFR 3280, and you can download that for free if you want to peruse it; it makes great bedtime reading for those with insomnia.

So taking into account the minimum requirements to get our tiny homes certified as manufactured homes leaves us with a home in the 208 sq. ft. range, 150 sq. ft. living area + 50 sq. ft. bedroom + 8 sq. ft. for a bathroom.

Not an insurmountable obstacle in my opinion at 8 feet 6 inches this is a 24-1/2 foot trailer and could easily be towed by a ¾ or 1 ton truck, for initial delivery and relocation.

If the community heads this direction then I envision that companies will arise in the marketplace that will be willing to move and setup your tiny home for you or you can use a regular mobile home moving company; they can be a bit pricey as they are accustomed to moving the larger homes around.

If this seems like too large of a home then my suggestion to the community is that we engage the powers that be in a dialogue of bringing it more in line with the International Residential Code that allows for a smaller home. But until we engage government as a group it is pretty easy for government to outlive the tenacity of even the most persistent of individuals.

So to bring this right back around to where we started let’s discuss as a community the defining a tiny home as a dwelling with a minimum of 120 sq. ft. of living space; I know this leaves those ultra micro 50 sq. ft. homes out of the definition, but realize that our goal here is to start to provide a definition so that we can move towards acceptance in local government for tiny homes in our cities.

I say cities here because in my experience when you are out in the rural areas outside of a city’s jurisdiction then county/parish governments lack the manpower and desire to attempt to regulate building codes for structures in rural areas unless they are compelled by a large number of people raising a concern based on the structure being a nuisance or hazard to the general health and welfare of other folks.

As Modular Homes

I decided to dig just a little bit farther since the state of Texas, where we are located, regulates manufactured homes and modular homes differently. Texas regulates modular homes through the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation under the Industrialized Housing program. After a long discussion this seems like the best program to build tiny homes under if you want your product accepted easily into municipalities as permanent housing. There is a small loophole that was pointed out to me in Section 1202.002 of the Texas Occupational Code, (c) industrialized housing does not include (3) a ready-built home constructed in a manner in which the entire living area is contained in a single unit or section at a temporary location for the purpose of selling and moving the home to another location.
It was pointed out to me that if you were to build under this section of the code that a municipality does not have to accept your tiny home into their jurisdiction.

All in all, every program that I researched had the same basic mission: to ensure that the end user is paying for housing that is safe and functional. I did not find any glaring differences as I poured through the codes that were used to define how the building was constructed. I do think that I would like to work with other Tiny Home Builders in Texas and other parts of the US to figure out which program we want to participate in together so that we can start to become a well-respected sector of the housing industry and be allowed into municipalities as a viable housing option for home ownership.

Links to codes referenced in this blog post:

Manufactured Home Construction and Safety Standards – 24 CFR 3280
http://www.iccsafe.org/content/Lists/Free%20Standards/DispForm.aspx?ID=58

Texas Industrialized Housing and Buildings Section
http://www.tdlr.texas.gov/ihb/ihb.htm

Bulletin on Definition of Industrialized Housing
http://www.tdlr.texas.gov/ihb/pdf/ihb033.PDF

 

What is a tiny home? (Part 2: trailer-built)

In the previous post we looked at site built tiny homes; today we are looking at trailer built tiny homes.

Moving on to trailer-built tiny homes brings us into an altogether different scenario. The first question we need to answer is whether the home is classified as an Recreational Vehicle (RV) or a manufactured home.

The Recreational Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) lists RVs as specifically for temporary use hence the term recreational, which implies periodic rather than continuous use. So looking the other direction could it be a manufactured home? These are typically built in a factory or controlled setting (garage, backyard?), but most importantly they are intended for permanent habitation as opposed to the periodic use that RVs are intended for.

A recent discussion with Matt Wald at RVIA gave me further insight into this issue. Matt is the Executive Director of Park Model RVs at RVIA. Matt and I discussed the excitement and current growth of the tiny home community. He did say that several tiny home manufacturers were members of the Park Model program at RVIA, however Matt’s concern is that the tiny homes are meant for full time occupancy and RVIA’s mission is to provide support and guidance to an industry that is specifically aimed at temporary and recreational use. We discussed the reasoning behind this focus and it stems from the fact that each state regulates permanent structures in a variety of ways depending on if they are site built, manufactured homes or modular homes. Matt feels that a company that advertises using the RVIA logo and purports that their homes are for permanent use goes against the very core of what RVIA stands for. I personally can see where the manufacturers of the tiny homes are coming from, they are looking for a place to belong, but after talking to Matt it seems that it is really a question of integrity, if your home is for permanent use then you need to find a different organization to belong to.If it is for temporary use then make sure that is how you advertise it.

RVIA is a great organization though. After talking to Matt I can assure you that the company building your home is adhering to a set of standards and that they are inspected several times each year to make sure that those standards are upheld. If given you have a choice as a consumer choosing to go with a company that is a member of the RVIA is certainly better than using a company that does not voluntarily subject itself to oversight.

In the final installment we will take a look at manufactured and modular home industries and see if we can find a place for tiny homes there.

Links from this blog post:

Recreational Vehicle Industry Association - www.rvia.org

What is a tiny home? (Part 1: site built)

Tiny homes are becoming more popular as people decide for a multitude of reasons to downsize their lifestyle and chattel that they carry through life. Some folks are downsizing out of necessity for economic or other reasons and some folks are just tired of maintaining extra living space just to store extra stuff.

Most people, like myself, are most likely desiring to move into a tiny home for a combination of the reasons above, but what is a tiny home? Hours of research on the internet does not seem to turn up a definition of what a tiny home is and what it is not.

I feel that at this moment it is one of the things that is holding the tiny home movement back from starting to make legal headway in acceptance as a viable housing option in municipal areas. That and it is time that some form of national level coalition of tiny home builders and enthusiasts coalesce to agree on what tiny homes are and what they are not.

I think the best way to begin this is to use available industry and government definitions to find a place to define what a tiny home is. This will need to be done in two parts as tiny homes come in both a site built and a portable version, and could also come in a factory built version that is delivered to a permanent location (similar to a manufactured home).

Site built tiny home

For site built homes it seems useful to use the International Residential Code for One- and Two-Family Dwellings (2012 edition -second printing). This is the standard that most municipalities use as the starting point for their residential building codes.

If we use these as our starting point as well then it should be easy to come up with a definition that is easily digestible to code and zoning officials. So if we delve into Chapter 3- Building Planning and take a look at Section R304 we see that R304.1 Minimum area gives us a great definition as to where to mark the bottom of what is a tiny home.

R304.1 Minimum area. Every dwelling unit shall have at least one habitable room that shall have not less than 120 square feet (11 square meters) of gross floor area.

Other portions of Section R304 define minimum room width/height/length, 7 feet, and other definitions for additional rooms. The residential building code also contains a multitude of other areas that are directly applicable, but in my opinion not insurmountable by a group of informed citizens and a city government that are open-minded and flexible.

A home that is 8 feet wide would only need to be 15 feet long to achieve this minimum area although 16 feet would be a more efficient use of materials as most building materials come in even foot lengths.

This is a tiny space indeed and in most municipalities would fall under the minimum listed acceptable studio apartment sizes I have seen; these are in the 250-300 square foot minimum range, even if the community at large were unable to negotiate below the smallest apartment size allowable in a city 250 square feet is still a pretty tiny home.

Other areas that have to be addressed are minimum requirements for plumbing, electrical, safety and emergency egress, especially important considering many tiny homes contain sleeping lofts that one might be required to exit in a hurry.

All in all I believe a small group of persistent enthusiasts could easily gain acceptance for a tiny home community in many municipalities if they were willing to dig in for the extended time needed to get through the inevitable meetings with city council, code and zoning officials.