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Tiny House Building Standards and Safety Issues

Rich Daniels, of Rich’s Portable Cabins in North Powder, Oregon is here to share some wisdom regarding tiny house building standards and safety issues. Since I think his concerns are valid and very important for the future of tiny homes I’m sharing it with you below. Please pass it on.

Wanted to just take a moment to show my appreciation for the Tiny House forum you have created and add a note of concern that I have. I truly enjoy seeing all of the Tiny living spaces that people create for themselves, it is great to see the marriage of art and ingenuity. My concern has been and continues to be our transition as a community into mainstream living.  Fighting the decades long belief that bigger is better and trying to have city, counties and states recognize us as a viable legal living option.  Those who build Tiny Homes for resale should be vehemently aware of this situation and there is where my concern begins.  Although many of the designs I have been seeing lately on your medium are brilliant in many ways, some if not all are lacking the safety features that all manufactures must conform to.
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Below you can see one of Rich’s tiny houses on wheels built to standards inside:


Images © Rich’s Portable Cabins

You can take the full tour of the tiny house shown above on this post.

It is unfortunate the builders are ignoring the standards and that they are being promoted as a viable option for the consumers, when in fact they do not conform to the standards set forth by the industry.  In no way to I criticize their creativity, rather I applaud it, but I do stand against the disregard for the safety of the consumer and the debilitating effect on the Tiny Living movement.  Some obvious points are a lack of railing to prevent someone from falling from the loft, or off the stairs.  By law, whether the home is considered an RV or a Park Model RV, there needs to be proper egress to the outside of the cabin from the loft.  These lofts are not considered storage lofts and are clearly for sleeping and therefor must have proper egress.  It has been my observation that there are a very few builders that are following the standards because they are either disregarding them intentionally or they are ignorant of the safety regulations.  It is my hope that as a consumer your readers will base their purchase both on the clever use of space and also the adherence to building standards for the safety of their family and friends.

As a community we are in this together!  We pride ourselves in thinking outside the box, but have to work inside it, after all isn’t that what Tiny Living really is all about.

– Rich Daniels of Rich’s Portable Cabins

Related Stories Featuring Rich’s Tiny Houses

Our big thanks to Rich Daniels for sharing his thoughts and concerns.

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Alex is a contributor and editor for TinyHouseTalk.com and the always free Tiny House Newsletter. He has a passion for exploring and sharing tiny homes (from yurts and RVs to tiny cabins and cottages) and inspiring simple living stories. We invite you to send in your story and tiny home photos too so we can re-share and inspire others towards a simple life too. Thank you!
{ 31 comments… add one }
  • Rusty
    December 21, 2014, 1:20 pm

    I am glad you posted this article .I too have these concerns . Most accidents happen at home .safety first ! Although his railing across the loft area is pretty , it would also be a tempting ladder for a toddler .even the safety conscious have flaws.

  • December 21, 2014, 1:36 pm

    its okay for it to be a tempting ladder, the world is fraught with dangers that will get you if you actively push on them. I object to the idea we need to proof or sanitize things against active efforts to subvert them. Sure, put a railing up so you don’t neglectfully tumble off the loft, this is reasonable. But if you’re going to climb on it, at any age, the bruises you get from falling are the school of hard knocks.

    • Ron Eliot
      December 21, 2014, 2:43 pm

      Great comment. So true. Really?? Do we really need some one pointing out that we need a railing?? You can be killed stepping out of your house and going for a walk. Yes it’s good to be safe, but I don’t want anyone cramming it down my throat! There is enough interference with government, state and federal regulations. People are sick and tired of those in politics reaching in their pockets for permit money, zoning restrictions, etc!!

      • David
        December 21, 2014, 8:19 pm

        You are so right. I knew a woman running on the streets of Chicago and BAM, hit by a bus.

    • Rusty
      December 21, 2014, 8:16 pm

      Didn’t this escalate ! Safety isn’t a dirty word I’ve driven construction workers to the hospital because they weren’t safe .I know a brain damaged kid who fell 8′ these are only common sense issues not political. Cm on!

      • David
        December 21, 2014, 8:20 pm

        I don’t have any kids and I don’t want a railing.

      • December 21, 2014, 9:35 pm

        No, its not common sense. Its trauma-sense. Likely the only reason you find this at all compelling is your personal experience with people experiencing trauma. Most people don’t have this experience, so it would be actually illogical for them to react as you would with your experience. Since they’re not common sense for most people, it immediately becomes political – as well intentioned as you are, you’re still advocating the modification of behavior of people who do not share your experience or view on the matter. What could be more political than that?

        • Rusty
          December 21, 2014, 10:15 pm

          No body said you needed a rail if you don’t want one . No one says you need anything that keeps your guests safe . You believe my experiences of other people’s stupidity are political .so be it ! I just hope things don’t happen to anyone you know on your behalf .seems kind of selfish .maybe you are a good guy .I don’t know?

        • December 21, 2014, 10:33 pm

          What? I didn’t say your experiences are political. Your advocacy for other people to change their behavior because of your experience, however, is political. The vast majority of the time nothing so untoward will happen, so your hopes are on the side of the likely outcome at any rate. The mass statistical effects of small home construction policy are so divorced from the individual decisions made in construction its difficult to even advocate for anything but a laissez faire market. I have doubts we know enough to know what elements are appropriate to regulate. Wait and see.

  • Bruce
    December 21, 2014, 1:54 pm

    Yes and No on the loft railing… depending on the size of the opening to the loft and its style, it could block/hinder/slow down egress in an emergency. Adding to this, since the lofts are not stand up (normally) and you are crawling, and the opening to the loft is at your feet, I think its excessive.

    • Alex
      December 21, 2014, 3:03 pm

      Good point Bruce

    • tinyhousetrisha
      December 21, 2014, 3:31 pm

      I agree with this, and my loft railing was not like the one we just saw a picture of—it was just big enough to warn me not to go in that direction when I was sleep walking! Doesn’t have anything to do with laws, hate those, but for us who are unfortunate enough to suffer sleep walking, I am hoping we have enough sense to take safety precautions!

  • Steve_S
    December 21, 2014, 2:43 pm

    I have been following the Tiny House movement for quite some time and watching it explode across North America, EU, Australia and other places… It’s wonderful to see people out there “doing it & living it” and realizing that they do not need all the “stuff” we are told we need by marketers and corporations.

    I have noted in many articles, tv shows and even documentaries omissions in regards to “safe habitation”. Even a couple of comments here miss the point all together. Personal Safety & Home Safety should not be glossed over or assumed “that they know and that they should do A-B-C”.

    EGRESS: Provides a means of escape in case of emergency. In most parts, this means a 36″ window that can be opened and used to get out. Imagine being asleep in your loft and a kitchen fire happens directly below you and you can’t get down or out of your loft… but you could have, had you had a window big enough to get out.

    RAILINGS: That’s too obvious as to the why of it.
    LADDERS / STAIRS: Quite a mixed bag across the various Tiny Houses but ONE pops up often enough… the simple ladder. Not anchored, not attached or held in position when in use… Some folks use steel pipes & loop clamps which is good, move the ladder out of the way and such BUT it stays put when your climbing up & down… Fall off a ladder someday and see how it feels, hopefully you won’t break your neck or injure yourself or others.

    Smoke / Fire & Co2 Detectors: Anywhere you have any combustion appliance (stove, fireplace, marine furnace etc) should also be equipped with a dual mode smoke detector & Co2 detector…

    ELECTRICAL: Ohhh there is one that gets skipped over big time… Off Grid, On Grid you must be grounded ! I cannot recall a single article or show talking about grounding… Nor the proper installation of a panel and sizing such… Well that could be a series and using the default disclaimer of “check with your local authorities & regulators” is a cop out… There are National & International Standards and this should be addressed to some level so the reader / viewer understands the inherent issues. Mentioning OFF-GRID brings up another point, Lead Acid Batteries from your solar system generate Hydrogen… ever see what happens to Hydrogen when there is a spark ? Think Hindenberg ! (ok that’s extreme) but proper venting to outside, battery security (from movement & in case of spill) & proper maintenance must be mentioned…

    Lastly… RECYCLING: 100% Good to recycle / upcycle everything we can… no doubt about it BUT (yep, there it is) t6eh vast majority of people who are not in the “trades” haven’t any clue as to what is safe or not. I actually saw one fellow stringing in recycled Aluminium Wire – Seriously bad idea ! (A simple 5 minute show & tell why that was a bad idea, he pulled it all back out when he saw the wire explode) Boards painted with Lead based paints, panels with asbestos, reusing materials from a demolished home containing UFEA, pallets used for agricultural & industrial chemicals (are often contaminated) or pallets from food crops which are chemically treated with insecticides, pesticides & more….

    Let’s not forget the internal environment… dealing with humidity, moisture (resulting moulds & mildews) and the subsequent damage to the structure…. I have only seen TWO (yes 2) articles that discussed using HRV (Heat Recovering Ventilation) in Tiny Homes. Granted that TH’s are small and easy to correct by opening / closing windows etc but a well sealed & insulated TH can make you sick (sick house syndrome) if air quality is compromised.

    Maybe a few of the Pro Builders will talk to some of the TV Guys and actually come up with a few shows related to good building practices, safety considerations, basic electrical & fuel safety etc… OF COURSE WITH THE DISCLAIMER but highlighting the importance of knowing & understanding what to do and how to do it and the potential consequences of not doing so.

    • Mary
      July 15, 2019, 7:32 pm

      Reusing pallets is one of my pet peeves. God only knows what has been on those pallets, pallets that are recycled by industry before the end consumer tears them apart to build chairs or flower boxes. I knew a guy who spent weeks in the hospital and almost lost both arms from a flesh eating bacteria after getting scrapped on the arms by pallets while unloading a truck. He was not unloading meat or produce, he was unloading brand-new-from-the-factory electronic equipment.

  • gary pollock
    December 21, 2014, 2:45 pm

    I agree totally with the safety issues. As a safety person, the first thing I look at out of habit are code violations. I personally believe the Tiny House movement should put together a safety/building code for tiny houses, especially contractors building for sale. One reply suggested life is made up of cuts and scrapes, and I agree with that. As a society we tend to over-protect. But really flagrant disregard for safety will only give the tiny house movement a bad name, and make it even more difficult to get rules and zoning laws relacked enough to let them become a part of a community. As was said, egress is the most ignored, but critical part of a loft. Even having a skylight that opens as an egress, you go out on a slippery metal roof with no visible means to get to the ground. Ten plus feet is a rather excessive jump. The same seems to happen with proper ventilation. One thing I believe is needs to be done is to have the building inspected, even though it isn’t required. None-conforming is one of the biggest stumbling blocks tiny houses run into.

  • Kelly Libert
    December 21, 2014, 2:52 pm

    Excellent post, Steve! All points that can not, should not be ignored. Thank you!

  • Teri Foster
    December 21, 2014, 4:00 pm

    HUGE thank you’s to Rich, Steve and Gary for the very clear and reasonable advice! This is post is a definite save for when my Cypress is built. How about one of those safety ladders to tuck into the loft in case you need a getaway through the skylight? http://www.amazon.com/s/?ie=UTF8&keywords=kidde+escape&tag=googhydr-20&index=aps&hvadid=32887374149&hvpos=1t2&hvexid=&hvnetw=g&hvrand=14643147187658847130&hvpone=&hvptwo=&hvqmt=b&hvdev=c&ref=pd_sl_u8l1lszsz_b

  • lorena
    December 21, 2014, 5:58 pm

    I agree with David and Ron.
    I hope this newsletter will not become an issue of “Safety” “Regulations” BLA Bla bla. I enjoy seeing and reading what people create it is truly inspiring.

  • Allen
    December 21, 2014, 6:50 pm

    Could not hardly disagree more. Safety is obviously always important, but tiny house people do not want to be coded and regulated to death. Otherwise do the 30 year plan, work yourself into an early grave, see how that plays out. Falling out of a loft? Really is that a problem? Fires, we have been taught fire safety since age 3. I’m gonna guess there are way more unsafe large home people than tiny folks, I’m out.

  • Allen
    December 21, 2014, 7:51 pm

    Sorry but I couldnt disagree more, I think the last thing tiny house folks want is to be coded and regulated to death. Try the typical 30 year mortgage, working yourself into a slow grave and see how Safe and healthy that is. Falling out of a loft, really? Fire hazards? Im going out on a limb and say a much higher percentage of macmansion folks live much less safe than tiny people, who have put their heart and souls into their little homes. The whole idea of this movement is freedom, im sorry to step on toes but you can have accidents any time, anywhere, most of these tiny houses I see are very well thought out . If we give in to more regs we are back to square one, im out.

  • Daniel
    December 21, 2014, 7:56 pm

    Very informative post.

    I’ve been planning a tiny house build, although no knowing whether I’ll be able to. I’ve seen recently people have been putting in skylights in the loft area for more light and at times purposefully as an egress. During my planning, I’ve been thinking of foregoing the loft skylight and having one in the “living room” as I wanted to have solar panels mounted above the loft (with dormers so it would be the most level part of the roof).

    So many things to consider.

  • TJ Houston
    December 22, 2014, 2:55 am

    I just want to bring up a few things. I’m not pro or con on this issue. I think it’s up to the individual to make those decisions. If a person is smart enough to build a tiny home then they are smart enough to make those decisions. Now, selling one to someone else who can’t build their own is maybe a different story, so maybe they need to be sold with a disclaimer like used cars, “as is, no warranty”.
    Another point. When mine is built I’m going to register it as a homemade camper. I’ve owned two old Winnebagos and have an old 32′ camper trailer presently. If I recall correctly, the Winnebagos had one door in the front to go in and out. The 32′ camper does have 2 doors front and rear.
    I took both Winnebagos apart down to the frame and it was quite an eye opener as far as safety. They are just a thin metal shell with foam insulation, very few 2″x 2″ wall ‘joists’, with thin panel board on the inside. Their rigidity comes from the interior walls. All I could visualize was a collision on the highway and this flimsy box exploding to smithereens and the occupants being ejected everywhere. The tiny homes have much more mass and are more solidly built and I believe would fare much better. If the only safety issues are railings and 2nd story egress, to me those are non-issues, keep a knotted rope and make a place to tie it off, or a rope ladder.

  • Toney
    December 22, 2014, 3:51 am

    Safety first…always…otherwise your new tiny home may be a 3×6 box.

  • Don
    December 22, 2014, 6:38 am

    RE: : “lack of railing to prevent someone from falling from the loft, or off the stairs” I didn’t see a railing on the stair of the TH mentioned in the article..
    RE: ” there needs to be proper egress to the outside of the cabin from the loft.”
    Is the tiny window in the pictures “proper egress”? I would hate to try to get through it and down to the ground without breaking a leg…

    I Totally agree with many of the concerns expressed in the article…However, I think Mr. Daniels should hold HIMSELF to the same high standards…

  • Nolan
    December 22, 2014, 1:13 pm

    I agree with most of the points that were brought up in the article, and one would hope that people take these considerations into account when building their tiny homes. I don’t think that we should have another set of regulations to deal with though, as tiny homes can be unique from one another and having hard and fast rules that one must conform to can be difficult.

    With manufactured homes or those built for resale, it seems like it would be in the best interest of the builder to build a safe home, I don’t know how the whole RIVA thing works, but I would think that to get that certification, one would have to meet certain safety standards.

    I believe people should be able to make their own decisions on safety though, even if we disagree with them.

  • Jennie
    December 22, 2014, 1:53 pm

    I too agree with your “Saftey issue of the Stairs” I am still building my TH, and for me as a soon to be senior, have been concern with the install of my stairs, I love the way you have added your stairs to one side and they seem to look like a safe and comptable way of getting up to the loft. Thank you for your opinion on these matters

  • Ofaithful
    January 4, 2015, 6:09 pm

    I live in mississippi ,I wondered are theses tiny houses allowed in the south

  • di
    March 15, 2015, 1:13 am

    Codes for stairs and wood stoves can easily be found online. If a home is not built to code, it may difficult to insure. If an accident occurs, a builder may be liable. Builders should be licensed and insured. Homes should be inspected by an electrician, plumber and possibly a building inspector as well.

  • dea
    May 8, 2015, 12:36 pm

    I find many codes funny and ironic…there’s the sense we all want safety and to be safe, however everyone constantly overlooks the number one issue and safety component; ourselves. It is each individuals personal responsibility to use equipment (regardless of what it is, properly and for it’s intended use). As humans (whatever label you put on yourself) please be smart enough to read instructions, don’t always rely on someone else to tell you and there just isn’t always a video on youtube or otherwise…did you get along in school without cliffnotes? or the girl in front of you? I’m quite frankly tired of peoples excuses and blame and lawsuits (stupidity?) because nobody wants to be responsible for what they and/or their children personally do. Everything is not someone else’s fault or some thing’s. You walk outside an trip over a tree root on a hike. is it your fault? the parks fault? your shoes fault? or the tree’s fault? which person are you? Well, I’m going to bet the tree was there first(so it’s not that one) and if you’r hiking around you can probably pick up your feet, (so i’t not the park) I’m also going to extend the shoes on your feet if are labeled “AIR” anything, they don’t pick up your feet, but are not misrepresenting, so that leaves one plausable answer…You might be the hiker who did not pick up your feet or watch where you were going and fell/twisted your ankle etc…Now apply my tyrade to living indoors, and loosen the necktie…responsibility and personal reliability is a GOOD thing…foodie for thought

  • R.A.
    August 29, 2017, 3:10 am

    This tiny house talk is very informative. I’m planning to get started on my th in November. I’m elated I stumble upon this platform! If I should have questions will there be anyone in this forum willing to assist?

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