I know I would have to look up the actual county regulations for where we would be wanting to live... (it would be somewhere in central/East Texas though) but I was wondering if we could talk more in general about housing that consists of multiple smaller structures? I'm not sure if I should call it compound/campus type living? I'm referring to one small structure being a bedroom, another small structure being bathrooms, maybe another as general use like living/dining room, etc. My main thought behind it was how people are trying to build one tiny house/other alternative housing to live in that has low enough square footage or some other work around to not have to deal with certain taxes or having to get permits... but couldn't you make several smaller buildings that each have different purposes? That way you can even add and finish them as you go along. If you built each building under.. say 300 or even 250 square feet.. could you be legal? I know most of this really comes down to your local area's rules and requirements. I know some places require building a house to have a minimum amount of square feet. But would it really be considered a "house" if it was separate little structures?
Although I also love the idea of that, I think some places consider that any attachment at all combines the square feet? Although I suppose it's possible that some counties have no building codes about this? Like I said, I do know it all comes down to the specific location's rules, I just don't know exactly where that will be yet. Also to be clear, although I think this idea is really interesting, I'm not saying this is what we are trying to do. If anything I'd say we are at the very beginning, just looking into other options and other ways of life and just the love of learning really.
Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
posted 3 years ago
In my community, there are a number of places that have a main house, and then behind that have a series of "cabins" of about 150 square feet. I figure that they are that way to take advantage of exemptions in the building and/or tax codes.
In my area if a building is 200 square feet or smaller it does not need a permit. Due to this a local non-profit built two 200 square feet sheds right next to each other in a way that makes a 400 square feet structure. Each has its own foundation but really function as one unit. But it was enough to get around the rules.
This is legal where I live and my neighbors have exploited it for all it is worth.
To be legal a person would have to have a 10 ft by 10 ft building disconnected here, and this is where it gets rather inconvenient because we get rain, cold and lots of snow. Trekking from the bedroom to the separate kitchen, and then to the separate living area, and all the while trying to keep separate areas warm in the winter can be more of a pain then just getting a $50 building permit and building a bigger building. What about a downpour that lasts for hours? Or shoveling pathways in knee deep snow? Or cold that is -20 below (f)? Do you really want to trek through that or pay the measly $50 bucks? And of course some nosy neighbor (the one you least would think would rat on you) will rat on you, and so even if you are technically covered, is it worth it to save $50 and be hassled by the Code Enforcement Officer? I say this to explain why it is not done as often as you think; not because it is not legal, but because it is inconvenient to life.
Now this is a choice a Homesteader has to make, but while it is legal where I live, it seldom is done. In fact in looking at the older houses, even ones like mine that are 23 years old. As time goes on, I keep extending the house with ell's, sheds, and mudrooms so that I can walk from the house to the barn without going through heavy weather or snow. Some are heated and some are not, but they are covered.
Now if it sounds like I am against this concept, then I assure you I am not. It is about choice and convenience, and only the Homesteader can come to what is best for them. My suggestion to anyone who tries this method of Homesteading is, to build the buildings on rot-resistant skids. It is surprising how big of a building a person can move with rather small equipment. I have moved a 13 x 18 shed, a (2) 22x13 single car garages, all with a 25 hp farm tractor, and plan on moving a 24 x 48 foot barn, and a 12 x 20 shed later this year. Knowing that, and by having the building up on skids, after a Homesteader's presence is established in town; in a few years they could nonchalantly move the buildings together and no neighbor would be much the wiser.
As a back story; I started out in a tiny house 23 years ago and am a strong supporter of them, but I suggest people plan on adding on. My tiny house is now 3000 square feet!
This is basically my plan. I personally like having a rather minimal living area with much more space for working with tools. I work on cars, furniture, and countless other projects so that my tools and materials take up much more space than my personal living items. This isn't going to be the same for everyone with different living styles and climates and local regulations.
I find it pretty crazy to build a giant house where it is empty for more than 1/3 of the day, never more than 50% of the rooms occupied, and trying to air condition the whole thing 24/7. Add to that the fact that I have built many homes from 1,500 sq ft to 15,000 sq ft and they all had almost exclusively 2x4 walls. 2x6 walls 24" on center are actually stronger, hardly any more expensive to build, and gives more room for insulation. Houses use more energy than cars but cars are the ones with government mandated efficiency standards and very little effort to make efficient housing standardized. Having separate structures for rooms you wouldn't use everyday and not having to heat or cool them constantly would probably negate extra building costs in the long term.
Of course this comes down to how you live and what you are willing to put up with. I personally am of the belief that it is good for everyone to attempt reducing things in their life, one at a time, until they have pushed themselves well beyond their comfort zone. It is helpful if you ever go through a huge crisis so that you can be better prepared, and it can help you find the best balance for you between expensive luxury and too little to live happily. Some people would literally have a breakdown if they couldn't use their home theater every single night, and others are happy to find a new refrigerator box. I think most humans can find a happy middle ground somewhere between those two extremes.
I have a few ideas for what I want to do. I like the idea of a rocket stove powered sauna building with shower and bathroom attached. I could still have a toilet in the tiny house, but I don't need my shower air conditioned. Same with the kitchen. Cooking dinner indoors around 5PM everyday makes the A/C runs continuously, with the heat of the oven plus the heat soaked in to the roof by that point of the day conspiring to throw your money directly down the drain via an absurd electric bill. A wood fired outdoor kitchen can eliminate that heat at the worst time of day and save a lot of money. I can still make a standard tiny house kitchen with a small propane stove, microwave, fridge, and other stuff. But I like the idea of making a small building screened in with plenty of counter space to prepare food and cook with wood. I guess being a single guy with a small piece of property in Florida affords me more choices than some other living situations.
I do believe that it can be more advantageous to put continuously occupied rooms together. If you have a large family and try to make every single room separate then you will spend a lot more money making exterior walls, roofs, doors and such. Trying to pipe in water and electricity will not only be a hassle, but nearly impossible to do legally. There are a few work arounds, but it does come to a point where it might be better (and cheaper) to just deal with the hassle of regulators and the expense of your taxes going up. With all the satellite stuff and some places having phone 'apps' to complain about your neighbors, it is only a matter of time before it is impossible to do anything without the infinite reach of the law harassing people on the suspicion of breathing funny.
One of the work arounds is an ancillary building. If you have one house that is of legal size, then you may be able to add a smaller 'shack', 'in-law house' or similar. A guy on YouTube, SolarCabin, had this problem. Basically what happened was he sold his land to his brother, who built a house, then he build his cabin as an ancillary building. His brother sold him back half of the land with his cabin on it and it was 'grandfathered' in as a legal structure. Right now it seems like there are some extremes with a few areas cracking down hard on tiny houses and others welcoming them. Finding a tiny house friendly area might be a better option than trying too hard to work around the laws. Spur, Texas isn't too far outside the region you mention and is tiny house friendly. I would seriously consider making a house with a foundation from scratch vs buying a house on a trailer that you will never use, unless you plan on hitting the road with one. http://www.archedcabins.com/ has some steel structures for reasonable prices and isn't terribly far away, so shipping would be affordable. I could go on for days and this post is way too long as it is. Look into some of the ideas out there and post back with any more questions. Good luck!
Yes, I do realize that there are different negatives. Maybe the local assessor gets p*ssed upon noticing each smaller building makes up a dwelling. Also, I have no idea how much a building permit costs. I've never lived in a house. My parents aren't in my life and never taught me anything about home ownership. The only thing I know about mortgages is all the bad things I've heard people say as well as some reading and looking online at mortgage calculators... it doesn't sound appealing to me to buy.. say a $130,000 house on a mortgage, pay the bank 20% and still owe $104,000 of which you pay almost that same amount back in interest... Now I do realize that you can make extra payments, etc. But if we pretend like you follow the 30 year mortgage... it's ridiculous to me. It sounds like something that should be illegal. And maybe it's easier to get a house now? I don't know. I've had older people complain at me about mortgage talk saying how much cheaper rates are today... But anyways... It's not just about saving money on the building permit. There's taxes to consider. There's all the interest saved from not borrowing money. Yes, I can see added cost in building over time with the extra doors, siding, roofing, etc. But I'm pretty sure it would still come out cheaper than what someone would pay the bank in interest. There's also the positive of only building as there is money for it instead of choosing debt. Seeing as we are in Texas, the winter really isn't my worry... it can't even kill off the bugs here. IF it snowed... well, I grew up in Chicago. I've been snowed in plenty. I feel I'd survive it hahaha I do wonder though... since cooling will be the main concern for spaces used... would it not force a unit to stay on often? Having to keep a temperature in a small room? I guess I'm thinking of smaller spaces that get heat, they can get really hot and not have enough room for circulation. Would the cooling unit potentially always be pumping when it's 90-100+degrees outside? I suppose that would be where you could use building techniques and things like lighter colored roofing and tree shade to help. But those things only go so far when it's super hot outside. I do see the savings though in not having to cool/heat all living spaces all day. I love the idea of starting the kitchen outdoors. Just to keep that extra heat outside. I'm sure there would be times that it would be aggravating having separate rooms... but I do know exercise and movement is good for you. Hardly walking and living sedentary can kill. I did think about if we are there indefinitely... as in retirement age. I thought it could be a huge problem but then realized... if we're so feeble that we can't walk feet to get somewhere... then we really need to move into some old folk's friendly living place where everything is setup like an efficiency apartment close together hahaha but I'm pretty sure that's a long ways from now! We also like being outside. Living in an apartment, we don't really get to. So we would prefer to be spending more of our time outdoors which now removes even MORE time spent inside.
@Daniel Schmidt I have actually seen that link before. About a year ago I had asked on a different forum about the company and what they build and I got responses like the following:
"One thing that jumps out immediately. In order to cut costs and make them cheap, they installed the roof sheeting in the wrong direction. Will eventually lead to leaks."
"I can't see that it would be cheaper and quicker than conventional studs and trusses. Here they would condensate with out special insulation that is expensive. "Cheap" for a shell, maybe, but making it livable, not so much, odd angles, high ceiling to heat. Not for me...."
Pretty much what was said was the company's way of building was questioned as well as people insisting it'd be cheaper to build other ways.
I'd also like to add that I also feel that adding things like traditional electric and water would make things a LOT harder. But we were also talking about offgrid. Using things like composting toilets. There's different ways to get power and water. And things just keep progressing as far as I'm concerned for alternative ways to live.
The biggest problem with it here would be that the limit is 100 sq ft, so 8x12 is the most convenient size with regards to building materials. It gets very cold here, so for good insulation, take 6 inches off each side. Now you're down to 7x11. That is pretty small. You can't connect the building with a cover or walls, so you add in the problems Travis mentioned. I thought of doing the very thing you are talking about, but, for me, it isn't worth the hassle.
"People may doubt what you say, but they will believe what you do."
I have never lived where it is hot, but I sure have lived where it is cold, and I think the laws of thermal dynamics apply still. It comes down to what is known as the outside envelope.
I made this mistake last fall when I added on and put radiant floor heat in my mudroom. My mudroom was only 9 ft by 13 ft so it is pretty small, so I did not run the radiant pipes all that close; maybe a foot on center. Then heating season came and was I in for a shock; the heat loss on that 9 x 13 mudroom was huge. It faced the north, had three exposed walls to the wind, and got little sun. In fact it loses more BTU's per hour then my 24 x 40 kitchen. Why? That room faces south, gets plenty of sun, and is wide open inside. With the mass from the floor, it has very little heat loss. So the mistake was, I underestimated how much heat my little mud room would have. I should have spaced my radiant tubes much closer together.
In your case, you would not have 4 sides exposed to say 100 degree heat, hotter on the sunny sides if you had a 4 sided typical home. If your housing complex consisted of 4 separate buildings, your would have 16 sides exposed to intense heat. That is why smaller buildings are hotter...less mass inside the building to heat up. Now you might not live in all 4 buildings at once, but all 4 buildings would still be getting hot.
Now I fully agree with you that placing exterior trim, sheathing, siding and windows on that extra wall would not equate to the interest on a mortgage, but who says you need to get a mortgage to build a 4 sided home? I built a 30 x 48 barn 2 years ago for $4450. Just because you are building a home big enough to require a building permit does not mean you have to have a mortgage. I was 19 when I started building my house and never got a mortgage, but did get a building permit.
Mortgages are NOT always bad. Now I say this with one caveat, I manage my debt quite well, pay everything in cash, and live in a mortgage free house, but they are not always bad. Mortgages...or any loan really, can help you manage something far more critical then assets and liabilities: CASH FLOW.
Cash Flow is king...
In fact more business fail because of lack of cash flow then outright debt. That applies to suburbanites having 2 jobs and 2.5 kids too. How can that be? Simple, it is all about CASH ON HAND AT END OF MONTH.
Lets say you want to build a house and get out of your apartment, but you only have $5000. Well here to get a few acres, get a septic installed, a road put in...and put up a one car garage to live in for awhile; you are looking at around $25,000. You would be $20,000 short, so you can work and struggle grabbing extra overtime for the next few years, of which you would just be working harder and paying more in income taxes anyway, not to mention spending money on commuting to get their, extra lunches ect...or your could go to the bank and get a mortgage for the $20,000 you need. Sure you would be paying interest, but it is not as bad as it might seem; hold on to that thought for a moment.
So you get your loan, and work your 40 hour job and spend your free time doing what you love, working on your little homestead. Now you got some money to get started. It is not a McMansion, but its a start. Good for you. Then come tax season, while your buddies are paying in to the system, you are using your homestead for some nice deductions, including that interest you disliked having so much. Not as bad as you first though...and that loan got you started!
The key now is to pay that loan off as quick as you can. Do some online searches for pay-off-early calculators, and coupled with the tax deductions, and you are well on your way. BUT when that loan is paid...whether it is a operational loan, car loan or even a mortgage...keep paying it. Oh not to the bank, to yourself. Put it in CD's. Invest it for goodness sakes. And then when you need a second car...well there is the money right there, or in the case of a mortgage, the money you need to put an addition on, or fix up the house.
I am a full time farmer and use loans all the time to my advantage. It is all about lowering my monthly costs, getting my cash on hand at end of month to more favorable terms, and negotiating the interest rates.
I toured a "several-small-buildings" home in Travis County, Texas (central texas). It was primarily owner-designed and built. He did have a fairly big piece of wooded property which sloped steeply down to a creek. At the street was his mailbox and garage/office/barn which was the largest structure and put on a good face for the normals. Behind this and sloping down into the woods he built several structures including 2x1-bedroom structures, one kitchen/dining, and another small studio. They were extended along one slope of the creek and arranged in-line, rather than around a central courtyard. Each appeared to be smaller than 200 sq-ft. They were all connected by paths and covered patios. Lots of outdoor living. Electrics were run between the structures and lights were installed along paths. Although, the owner designed the whole thing, it was not built on the cheap. All materials were delivered to the street and transported by wheelbarrow down the slope.
If I were starting out again ,I would probably buy a pole barn and build a highly insulated,wood heated and air-conditioned space inside.
In your case , collected rainwater might be used in a swamp cooler- I'm not sure what the humidity is like there.
As money came in, I would alter the insides,adding insulation, thermal mass, more living space ,etc ,and the utilities, adding solar, gensets, what have you.
Even though I have a home, I hope to do something similar with an urban shell of a house, making it over into a barn/ workshop/nursery/studio apartment.
Shrinking the conditioned living/sleeping area while still building a larger work/storage area that is dry, shaded and secure gotta with the goal of low or no debt,and greater self sufficiency.