And We’re Legal! A Certificate of Occupancy for our Tiny House

Posted by on Feb 21, 2013 in Legalize, Recent Posts | 21 comments

And We’re Legal! A Certificate of Occupancy for our Tiny House

This is the third and last post in my series about our interactions with our local building inspector and the steps we took to get a Certificate of Occupancy thereby making our tiny house a legal single-family dwelling.

Read the first post here and the second post here.

Andrew and Crystal Odom are seeking legal status in their North Carolina home. Good news over there, too!

Finding an engineer was like a scavenger hunt. I like those. We started by asking for referrals from everyone we know who is remotely connected with building and design. We called folks who gave us more referrals. Since it was the week between Christmas and New Year’s, we left a lot of voice-mail messages. We decided to put the search on hold until January 2nd. I got up early on the 2nd and started calling. I finally reached a real, live structural engineer, and his soothing voice reminded me of my Uncle Leon’s. I explained our situation. He assured me that it was something he’d worked with before, that it would cost about 3-5 hours of time at $75/hr. We scheduled his visit.

What a relief! The not knowing part was the hardest: Would we be able to find an engineer? Would he or she be willing to take on our project? Would it be crazy-expensive?



We sat with Mr. Engineer on the tiny house couch last Monday. When Karl explained the R-value of the insulation, and the structure of our house, Mr. Engineer looked over at me and said, “You can stop worrying now.” The light was streaming in from the window behind Karl’s head and looking across the room at him, I felt proud. He knows his stuff and knows how to figure out what he doesn’t know. He knows the questions to ask and understands the answers. I feel so much better knowing that the house passes code. I can’t wait to make it official with the engineer’s report in the building inspector’s hand. That should happen this week.


The engineer sent his report a few days after visiting us. He cited code and said our home “meets or exceeds” said code. The bill was for $331. Woohoo! Karl took the letter straight to the building inspector’s office, and headed to work.


Hearing Karl’s building inspector impression on my voice-mail made me jump for joy. “Ma’am, your engineer’s report is just what I needed. We’ll need to pull a permit for a single-family dwelling ($120). I’ll come inspect the tie-downs, and we’ll be set.”


All of the what-if scenarios were a necessary trajectory—the awful reality of not being able to live here made me appreciate all the more how special this home is. The fact that I need the approval of the building inspector reminds me that I am always going to be that girl who’s afraid of getting in trouble, but who pushes it just a little. It also speaks to the core human need for shelter and more importantly, home. We all need shelter, but if we have home–a place where we feel accepted, safe, and loved–we can come home to ourselves. Feeling uprooted and insecure about home is one of the most scary and vulnerable experiences I have ever had. I wish everyone in the world had a place to which they could come home.


The final inspection was quick and painless. The inspector looked at the tie-downs, told Karl that Mr. Engineer spoke highly of our little home and signed off on a tear-off tablet, “Active Certificate of Occupancy”. Karl walked in the house and handed it to me.


“Shouldn’t this be fancy with an embossed stamp? I think it goes up there with diplomas and birth certificates and stuff,” I said. But it’s just a tear-off from a pad that says Building Department at the top. I think I’ll frame it anyway. There’s got to be a place to hang it somewhere around here.

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  1. I can’t sing Hallelujah loud enough for y’all! Know of any mountaintops I can sing it from though? 😉

    • I got one right here 🙂
      I’m singing for you guys, too!! Hallelujah!

    • Dear Tiny house Mama, Congratulations! I am the owner of a sixty year old “small” house which has many 60 year old problems. I wrote to you once before and explained the relativity of my tiny house from having lived in a successively larger set of homes up to ~6000 sq. ft. and now successively smaller to 1346. The problem here is ‘STUFF’. But after 34 years of marriage and 4 children there is quite an accumulation. Most of which has been inherited from grandparents and collected from children. These things are hard to part with. Although I feel that I have done a good job in the past 18 months there is still a long way to go. There are still unpacked boxes marked ‘kitchen’ in the shed; things which I can probably live without as I haven’t missed them yet, but probably won’t part with for sentimental reasons ( I have already gone through everything once, when we moved). What are your best kitchen space saver tips? Overwhelmed in Texas.

  2. I’m so happy for you guys! Congratulations on being official. That is so awesome. I’m glad you can rest easy now.

  3. Thanks, Kera! 🙂

  4. Beautiful to walk in your journey and in your hopes! I am taking my first few steps in my own tiny house journey researching and hoping to build a house that meet codes.

  5. Wonderful that it has turned out well!

  6. Congrats! Good news and it give me encouragement that it can be done.

  7. Hari, this final post just brought me to tears of joy. Thank you for sharing your family and your life with us so intimately.

    Our family is in the process of building a small (although, not tiny) passive solar house with a mission to build it for less than “standard” house construction costs for our area. Although our home will be a bit larger than your “big house,” I am finding lots of inspiration in your posts about how we can live more simply and fulfilled. Our end goal is to farm, garden and homestead enough to be close to self sufficient. Fortunately, we live in an area that has an abundance of like minded families, small organic farms and a large variety of local products, so that what we can not produce for ourselves, we can still source locally. I know we are very blessed, but some days, it is all too easy to let the challenges start to cloud my mood. Your gratitude list from the last post is exactly what I need – and I will be making that my first priority the next time I start to feel overwhelmed.

    Thank you and congratulations on your CO!

    • @ Zoe….I would love to see more about your lifestyle and home!

      • @Barb – I have great intention to starting my own blog about the process. Since we just started working on the land, I’m not too far behind, yet! I hope to start it soon and when I do, I will come back here and add another comment to this with the blog address. Thanks for your interest!

    • Your home town sounds idyllic and a lot like ours. I am grateful for the things you mentioned too. I’d love to build a passive house, but our land is on the north slope. We did our best to bring in the most sun. Good luck on your build and thanks for reading!

  8. So glad for you! I appreciate you sharing your experiences–hopefully this will help other folks who are considering going “Tiny!”

  9. I’m so happy for you! 😀

  10. I am curious that all it took was tie downs? I am sure glad for you.

  11. I’m so glad you got everything worked out and they approved your tiny home!
    The county we are building our tiny home in doesn’t even have a building department. They laughed when I called to ask them about the codes. I can’t imagine going through what you just went through.

  12. Good things happen to good people. Doing the right thing is always easier and cheaper at the end. I’m so happy for you guys. You are our role model and we hope to be able to live tiny and almost self-sufficient some day soon.

    • Thanks, Sonia! 🙂
      I’m so glad your goal is to be self-sufficient. A great and challenging goal. Glad to know others are up for the challenge! The more the merrier.

  13. Where did u p ark ur tiny house an wgat steps do u follow in building it. Me an my fiance are have a daughter in june an im in love with building a tiny house an making it legal.because she fears we could loose our daughter from living in one I also want to make it silar power as well as camper hook ups I will be doing it like a house raftes with hurricane tie downs 2×4 studs 16 on center 110 wiring using 12/2. Instalked with propane tankless water heater but I just want to cover legal stuff for my fiance an daughter to be so we have no worries thanks for ur time.

  14. HOW did you get the land to even build that house on?

  15. I just came across this blog inadvertently looking for a fireplace insert and it looked interesting. Understanding I’ve done 84 revolutions around old sol will help knowing where I’m coming from. Our first house was not as tiny as yours but it was small to start, with additions as money and dad’s very knowledgeable help were available. We bought three acres with a core building based on plans from the then Illinois Small Homes Council at the UofI Champaign-Urbanaa. By the way, they’re still functioning at the UI School of Architecture tho’ have gone through some permutations. We were passive solar. Long eaves south facing over 3’x4′ double plate glass windows self constructed. Don’t think there were thermopanes at the time, even Pella had snap in storms. Medium size great room; living, dining and kitchen, door out to patio at kitchen third separating a bump out green-house. As long as the sun shone in the winter only used the furnace fan to move the air. Concrete block construction, board and batten vertical outside; 2×4 + insulation and 5/8″ dry wall inside. Hallway full length from east entry. Furnace and electric right side, then opening to great room then solid closets to west end. Work room left, bedroom, laundry, bathroom. North wall three blocks thick, no windows. with earth berm about half way up topped with juniper bushes to catch the snow in winter. Very good insulation. Had a quonset hut for garage, was blown away in a tornado, nothing of house touched. Added bedrooms, 4 kids and 4 car garage, then a garden shed, then an above ground pool. Finally a small living, bedroom, bath addition for mother-in-law. Shot skeet over wild strawberry field; medium garden, small orchard, bush fruit, lilacs, roses, marigold, herbs. Played baseball, with backstop, on the north end; automatic out if fly ball went into farmers field, soy or corn. Am now 500 miles south, downsizing maybe, at least stuff anyway, in too big a place, but still flowers and fruit trees and a small garden. What I’m saying here is you may start small but the Lord only knows how big things will grow. But it’s been fun reminiscing for now. Stay small, it’s a lot harder trying to get back there. lv2all.


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