Tiny Homes in the Floodplain

Tiny Houses are all the rage right now, but what do you do when they’re in the floodplain?

Written by Steve Samuelson, ASFPM Flood Insurance Committee Co-chair &
Kansas State Floodplain Manager, in the October 2017 issue of Kansas Floodplain Tips

There are television shows about tiny houses and the idea is growing in popularity. For this reason, there have been questions raised about putting smaller homes in the floodplain. Ignoring any building codes or zoning issues and just considering floodplain regulations, here are things to consider.

A tiny house is still a house. No matter if the square footage is 300 feet or 13,300 feet, it IS a residential structure. Every set of floodplain regulations has very clear specific requirements that residential structures be elevated above the base flood elevation. In many communities, that freeboard elevation requirement is 1 foot, but it could be 2 feet or more in communities that have adopted higher standards.

A tiny house is also a development in the floodplain. All development must be anchored to prevent flotation, collapse or lateral movement. It has to be attached to a permanent foundation. The argument has come back that the tiny house was delivered on back of a truck, so it is just temporary. There is no allowance for a temporary residential structure in your floodplain regulations.

Another issue that has come up is that some tiny houses may be set up in recreational vehicle or camper parks. There are allowances for recreational vehicles that are not elevated and anchored on a foundation to be on site less than 180 days or be fully licensed and ready for highway use. In order for a tiny house to qualify as a recreational vehicle, compare the building to the definition found in most floodplain management regulations.

  • Is the tiny house built on a single chassis, 400 square feet or less when measured at the largest horizontal projections,
  • Is it designed to be self propelled or permanently able to be towed by a light duty truck, and
  • Is it designed primarily not for use as a permanent dwelling, but as a temporary living quarters for recreational, camping, travel or seasonal use?

Any tiny house that can meet that definition could be considered to be a “recreational vehicle” and allowed to meet the recreational vehicle requirements for floodplain management.

There has also been some confusion about tiny houses being called “accessory structures” because they were placed on a property that already had a larger primary structure. There’ve been cases of someone who purchased a shed from a lumberyard, had it delivered and then moved into it and turned it into a house. To be very clear about this, when people will be living and sleeping in the structure, then it IS a residence and shouldn’t be considered a shed or accessory structure.

The tiny house must meet all of the same requirements of any other larger house. A house is a house and the size does not matter.

News & Views October 2017
Reprinted with permission from the Association of State Floodplain Managers (ASFPM). Learn more at www.floods.org

Photo Attribution: Ben Chun / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)

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