Hannah Spasov | October 2021

Are you interested in owning a Tiny Home? Did you know that the Ontario Building Code (OBC) will soon be changed to relate more to Tiny Home construction? Here is what you need to know!

The Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing has launched a public consultation on proposed changes to the Building Code related to building permits and inspections for Tiny Homes and to clarify the requirements for remote inspections. Feedback for the proposed amendments will be available to the public for comment until October 22, 2021. But what are the proposed amendments? What exactly is a Tiny Home? Let’s answer your questions. 

Before ‘Tiny Homes’ became popular there was the ‘miniHome’ – a 354 sq.ft. of off-grid CSA certified year-round house.
Photo: Sustain Design Studio, 2006

What is a Tiny Home?

Generally when we think of Tiny Homes, we picture a small house with or without wheels for seasonal or year-round use. Tiny Homes is not a term that has previously been used in the OBC. Given the new changes, it is excellent to see that the OBC is now giving recognition to Tiny Homes and defines them as the following: 

“A ‘tiny home’ is a small private, compact, self-contained dwelling unit with kitchen and bathroom facilities and sleeping areas intended for year-round use.” It also lists Tiny Homes as houses that are 400 sq.ft. (37 m2) or less. 

Meaning that small structures larger than 400 sq.ft. or smaller buildings strictly for seasonal use or without sewage amenities will not be classified as a Tiny Home. Therefore will not be subjected to the proposed changes to the OBC. 

Why is the OBC proposing these changes? 

Tiny Home construction has become more and more popular within the last fifteen years and the time has come for the OBC to accept Tiny Homes as its own distinct building type. The province of Ontario published a guide titled “Build or Buy a Tiny Home” in 2019. It is written for the general public and simply describes the current laws and by-laws to consider while building or buying your own Tiny Home. 

Since its release, some grey areas of the current building code have been noted. Especially if a Tiny Home is built off-site and then transported to a different municipality. It is unclear which municipality is responsible for the building permit and inspections. The proposed amendments to the OBC attempt to clarify and set instructions for this circumstance.   

What are the Proposed Amendments to the OBC?

There are three amendments proposed to the OBC, two of which will affect Tiny Homes. The first is the inclusion of the term “Tiny Home” to the OBC with the definition noted in the section above. 

The second change has to do with “Off-site Inspections”. Off-site inspections take place when a Tiny Home is built in a different jurisdiction to that of the final building location. This is especially a common scenario for factory-built houses where the Tiny Home is transported to the site after construction. 

The proposed amendment simply enables off-site construction and inspection of Tiny Homes. The changes allow for a building permit and inspection from the officials where the Tiny Home is being constructed (i.e. off-site). Note that this permit will only be necessary if the Tiny Home built off-site is not certified under CSA standards. Specifically CSA-Z240.2.1-09 Structural Requirements for Manufactured Homes or CSA-A277-08 Procedure for Factory Certification of Buildings which is a requirement for all factory-built homes. 

This amendment allows for more flexibility for Tiny Homes to easily be built off-site in a non-factory environment. Instead of going through the CSA standards approval process, one simply needs to apply for a building permit where the Tiny Home is being constructed. 

Another part of this amendment is the requirement of a second building permit from the building officials where the Tiny Home is to be located. The second permit will not duplicate the first, but will reconcile site related codes such as foundation, anchorage, grading, zoning, etc. The purpose of the second permit is to ensure the safeguard of the public. The dual permit system covers both the safety of the building and installation onto site. 

What are the Pros and Cons? 

Overall the proposed amendments relating to Tiny Homes are a useful addition to the OBC. It removes the confusion whether it is the municipality where the Tiny Home is built or the municipality where it is installed responsibility for the building permit. The answer is both! 

This attention to detail and the allowance for both off-site and on-site inspections ensures the safety of the building and construction. Unfortunately what many would classify as Tiny Homes are being built illegally every year. Just because Tiny Homes are small, doesn’t mean residential safety and comfort should be compromised. By recognizing Tiny Homes and ensuring their code compliance and safety, the proposed changes to the OBC supports the construction of beautiful and healthy homes. 

The drawback with having a dual permit system is that it will double the permit cost. Even though the cost of a building permit is relatively low compared to the price of a house, a common reason to build a Tiny Home is for its low-cost. In fact, many Tiny Homes are used for affordable housing. 

Additionally, there is a concern that there will be on overlap of work between the two inspections. Although the intention of these amendments is to not duplicate the inspection work, repetition of some areas of the code is likely unavoidable. 

Further, in the discussion area of the amendment proposal, a question is raised whether the dual permits should be required sequentially or simultaneously. This is another grey area in the building code, one of which the amendments do not clarify. Depending on which option the OBC goes with, it will affect how homeowners, architects and builders handle the permit process. 

What is the difference between off-site and factory-built homes? 

There is a significant difference between off-site and factory-built homes. All factory-built houses are off-site structures, but not all off-site construction are factory-built. This is important to understand regarding the new amendment proposal as it specifies off-site inspections.  

Under these amendments, factory-built homes may not need the off-site inspection and building permit if it is certified with either CSA-Z240.2.1-09 Structural Requirements for Manufactured Homes or CSA-A277-08 Procedure for Factory Certification of Buildings. If you plan on purchasing a factory-built Tiny Home, it is necessary to know if the house is built under one of these CSA standards. If not, then a building permit from the jurisdiction of construction will be required. 

Is it important to consider where you’re placing your Tiny home?

Yes, it is very important that you know where your Tiny Home will be located. Especially prior to purchase for off-site and factory-built homes. You do not want to invest in something that you cannot install. It is heavily recommended that yourself or a professional researches your site to determine if a Tiny Home can be placed there. Especially since a building permit will be necessary to check the foundation, grading, zoning, etc. 

What else to consider?

If you are thinking of purchasing or building your own off-site or factory-built Tiny Home, you may want to consider the height of your building. While transporting your Tiny Home to its location, you will likely be driving on the highway. Did you know that in Ontario, the Highway Traffic Act restricts the size of both vehicles and loads? The maximum height is 13’-7” (4.15m) from the ground to the top of your Tiny Home when it is loaded. Most trucks have a bed height of 35” to 50” (0.89m – 1.27m) meaning that the actual height of your Tiny Home has to be around 10’-8” to 9’-5” (3.26m – 2.88m). This is cutting it close since you also have to consider that you must meet the minimum ceiling height required through the OBC which is 7’-6.5” (2.3m). Note that this is the interior dimension and you still need space for your floor and roof thicknesses. If you need more height for your Tiny Home, it may be worth purchasing an oversize permit for the vehicle. An oversize permit increases the maximum vehicle plus load height to 13’-11.6” (4.26m). 

What does TABC recommend? 

Regarding the proposed changes to the OBC regarding Tiny Homes, The Architect Builders Collaborative (TABC) recommends to the Regulatory Registry to not restrict the double permit submissions. There are very good reasons both from the homeowner’s and contractor’s perspective to submit the building permits sequentially or simultaneously. Why not allow for both methods of permit submissions? 

Did you know you can write your own comments to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing? If you’d like to make recommendations regarding the proposed amendments to the OBC relating to Tiny Homes, you can email them at buildingcode.consultation@ontario.ca until October 22, 2021. 

Is a Tiny Home suitable for everyone? 

Tiny Homes are more than small houses, it is a unique lifestyle. They have incredible qualities such as small carbon footprints and affordability, but it can be difficult living in such a small area and is not a solution for everyone. That is why here at TABC we strive to find a balance between comfort, cost and ecological consciousness with our designs. Including our “Not So Tiny” homes like our Laneway + Garden Suites that have customizable designs that start at 600 sq.ft. It is our mission to provide good quality living spaces and healthy homes, check out our TABC designs at https://tabc.ca/ 

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