by A.R. Bunch
Something we’ve been threatening to cover for months now, mobile living. Going mobile has become a craze and we don’t automatically cover fads, but is there some legitimacy to the trend that skeptics might be overlooking?
To start with, we should establish the distinction between some of the terminology you’ve probably heard bantered about on this topic. There’s a difference between living mobile and living tiny. They’re closely aligned topics and tend to appeal to the same crowds but they aren’t exactly the same.
Living tiny is a combination of modern minimalism and nostalgia for a time when our grandparents cared more about building a life than having it all right now. You almost can’t divorce the topic of living tiny from concept of debt because not only are many people going tiny in order to pay off debt but those who are inspired by the way people used to live often refer to the fact that people avoided using debt to finance having lots of things that you could eventually have if you delayed buying them until you could actually afford them.
Living Mobile and Free
There is a category of people going tiny for, in their words, “freedom.” They want to be less tied to location and local economies. That leads us to living mobile, and yes many who chose to live tiny also want to live mobile. Others end up getting a house on wheels simply because it avoids local building codes and makes the home cheaper to construct. In that case, the wheels under the home are incidental to the purpose of living tiny. Likewise, there are folks living mobile who only live tiny because it’s not practical to take a lot of stuff with you on the road.
Like living tiny, mobile living isn’t a new idea. There has been Bedouins, nomads, and gypsies for hundreds of years. More recently many long-haul truckers could be classified as partially living mobile, and many folks retire to snowbird, following the weather between a couple locations they have a family to be near.
Mobile Work vs Working Mobile
What is new is the large number of people who are making RV living a multiyear lifestyle while still in their working years. Remote work has made it possible for some professionals to live on the road, while other folks are simply surrendering to unstable local job markets by taking their skill set from locations with fading opportunities to locations on the rise.
In the latter situation, the jobs themselves aren’t really mobile, but the workplace changes periodically making it more economical to be able to pull up stakes without much trauma.
|Mobile Work||Working Mobile|
|Trades like nursing, welding, real estate and construction fit into the category of job that you could do anywhere but may not be able to do in a particular location indefinitely.||Writing, programming, financial advising and virtual assisting fit into the category of jobs that could be done from one place one day and another then next.|
Mobile but Not Free
So clearly there’s a number of reasons to “go mobile” and a number of ways to do so. We can’t ignore the urban camper who straddles the line of homelessness. A few years ago I spoke to a young woman who lived out of her car, but you’d never know it. After graduating college with a degree in massage therapy, she had a lot of school debt and a business to build. She paired down her belongings to a strategic minimum; got a P.O. box, cell phone, laptop, and gym membership. She parked in few locations, showered at her gym and took her portable table to appointments. She eventually augmented her income by teaching classes at her gym, but all of her mobile massage income went to paying her student loans. Her hope was to live mobile for two years, have enough clients to open a combo living/ working place and cut 30% off her loan payoff time out.
Movement Hits Resistance
As these movements have grown in popularity a number of cable shows have popped up to cover it. What the movement lacked were common definitions for things like “tiny home.” And a common definition would come in handy.
Many cities have rushed to use code enforcement to combat not only mobile living but tiny living as well. They cite concerns about being able to protect citizens from fire, congested roads and freeways, overused parks and public works facilities. One can empathize with a city trying to have the right number of firefighters in a neighborhood but not actually know how many people reside there.
Police also want to be able to tie identities to a permanent address and many homeowners aren’t excited by what they see as transients occupying the curbs outside their homes. Still, while self-sufficient people sheltered on their own dime, albeit in non-permanent structures may not pay into the systems as much as residents of permanent structures, they don’t create the same draw on the system as truly homeless city dwellers who require shelters, soup kitchens, and often panhandle.
Municipalities have the option of creating definitions for the different classifications of mobile living groups and could create zones where it is and is not allowed. The writing is on the wall and cities had better decide how to handle it.
The ICC Steps Up
“In 2017, Andrew Morrison and Martin Hammer wrote International Residential Code (IRC) Appendix Q: Tiny Houses, and after intense vetting and a three-stage voting process, it was approved by the International Code Council (ICC).”
So here is the new definition of a tiny home according to the ICC. “TINY HOUSE. A dwelling that is 400 square feet (37 sq m) or less in floor area excluding lofts.”
Imagine seeking a certificate of occupancy for a custom-built, tiny home and being told that they don’t officially know what that is. Well, now that’s fixed.
Some opponents of formal codes point out that cities have a harder time ordering you not to living in something when they don’t have any rules or definitions on the subject but supporters claim that if you do want to create a legal abode you’d need a certificate of occupancy and that means they need an official code.
Another thing to notice about this definition is that it doesn’t mention having wheels. For long time cities, and even states have created stringent building codes but decided to exclude vehicles (anything on wheels) because technically it could be moved away from danger. It’s a sensible shortcut, but with more and more people seeking to go tiny and with the obvious benefit to cities that are running out of space, it’s high time that these governmental bodies simply decide what their expectations are for these types of dwellings.
Why is this level of hair-splitting important? Because intended use matters. Many tiny homes are built to high standards and those that aren’t should fall into a different classification because they aren’t suited to the purpose they may appear to be built for. Simply slapping wheels on something is a workaround to make something legal but it can mislead consumers and create a bad reputation with regulating bodies. Not because there is a problem but because there appears to be one. It’s easier to explain by simply stating some of the other categories often lumped in with tiny homes.
Types of Tiny Living Space by Purpose
RV – meant for temporary or recreational use requiring RV permits/ vehicle tags etc.
Manufactured home – Meant for year-round residence, always on a chassis so it can be transported, and built by a licensed manufacturer after 1976, (because before 1976 it was a mobile home).
Park Model – an RV built typically by a licensed manufactured home builder, meant for an extended recreational stay, but which can never obtain a certificate of occupancy.
With this new Code (Addendum Q) a DIY built tiny home could apply for a CoO. That paves the way for city and state governments to create tiny home developments which may well allow residents an option to apartment/condo dwelling or manufactured home parks. It could become a more livable option for folks that doesn’t place as much burden on the municipal utility grid.
In order to avoid writing an extra-long blog post, we’ll cover types of tiny home and go deeper into other forms of truly mobile living in upcoming posts. When we do, we’ll update this post with links to the latest installments. For now, we’ll leave you with this infographic created by tinyhousebuild.com