Text amendment opens way for 'tiny homes'

Garfield County adopts Land Use and Development Code and building code change

March 22, 2017

GARFIELD COUNTY, CO – Garfield County has approved a text amendment to its Land Use and Development Code and its building code that opens the way for tiny homes to be built in the area. The move strikes an existing square-footage requirement in the code that set the minimum size of a single family home at 20-foot wide by 20-foot long.

Both the changes to the Land Use and Development Code and the building code will take effect next month.

“Tiny homes” are viewed as a way to possibly help mitigate some of Garfield County’s affordable housing needs.

Typically less than 500 square feet in size, tiny homes have grown in popularity in recent years by people who seek a cheaper and simpler option in which to live. The average home size in the U.S. is currently around 2,600 square feet.

At a meeting Monday, Senior Planner David Pesnichak told the Board of County Commissioners that some people look to tiny homes when they want to purchase property, but cannot afford to build a larger home on the parcel right away. He said residents have also inquired about adding tiny homes to their properties as Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU) for their aging parents, or children that want to be out of the main home. Any person, not just relatives, may live in the ADU.

“It’s a more convenient option,” Pesnichak said.

He added that the towns of Carbondale and Rifle are very interested in how the county moves forward with tiny homes.

Pesnichak told the board that some developers have expressed interest in tiny home communities in approved planned unit developments (PUDs) that would specifically cater to these type of homes.

The 20-by-20 restriction was created in the 1970s, primarily to quell the proliferation of single-wide trailers in the county to help preserve home and property values, he added.

Tiny homes can be placed on a fixed foundation, or be built on wheels. But the text amendment restricts tiny homes on wheels to recreational vehicle (RV) parks.

Pesnichak said the Garfield County Planning Department doesn’t see tiny homes as the solution to housing issues, but rather as “one more tool in the kit.”

Many tiny homes are manufactured off-site, and can be more affordable than a traditional home. But the square-footage restriction, coupled with the International Residential Code (IRC) that requires a loft to be accessible by stairs and not just a ladder, made it difficult to build a tiny home that is up to code.

Commissioner John Martin noted that a stairwell to the loft alone would encompass roughly 48 square feet, which is a large portion of a tiny home.

“If you add 48 square feet to a home that’s 200 square feet, then that’s a quarter of the home just for your stairwell,” he said.

Garfield County Building Official Andy Schwaller said that the International Code Council building code, appendix V, now allows for a ladder to reach sleeping lofts, as well as for an emergency exit from the loft.

The ICC acknowledged the issues facing people that wanted to build tiny homes, and provided new language that removes the staircase requirement for builders as long as there is an emergency exit from the loft area. This new language is being imparted into the building code. The IRC has also adopted appendix V.

“In the wisdom of the (ICC)… they came up with an appendix V,” Schwaller said. “So now you can have these tiny homes, which have a lower head space that can have a staircase, or a ladder, or alternating treads [to reach the loft]. There’s a couple ways to do it.”

He explained that tiny homes have an emergency skylight for escape should a fire erupt on the first floor.

“There was a problem out there, and appendix V solves that problem,” he said.
The commissioners unanimously supported the text amendments to the Land Use and Development Code and building code, but stressed that safety is paramount. The board also said the homes must adhere to the current building code.

The amendment simplifies Article 15 of the county Land Use and Development Code for a detached dwelling to entail “a single-unit dwelling that meets the building code.” This text does not conflict with any state laws or intergovernmental agreements, Pesnichak said.

Earlier this month, the County Planning Commission recommended removing the minimum-size restriction on dwelling units.

Tim Cain, town planner and code administrator for the town of New Castle, attended the Monday BOCC meeting, and said the town supported the amendment. He added that he’s seen some interest in tiny homes from the public.

“We are interested in, obviously like the region, creating affordable/attainable housing,” Cain said. “This is one vehicle in which you could do that.”

Schwaller noted that most of these tiny homes feature a loft. The current building code for lofts is to have a minimum three feet of space from floor to ceiling.

“It’s a neat idea that will appeal to certain people,” he said. “It’s a lot like living on a ship. And people have been living on ships and sailboats for years.”

“It seems more like living in a submarine,” Commissioner Mike Samson quipped in response.