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Tiny homes might be the rage on home improvement television right now, but regulations can be a hurdle when it comes to building small-size homes in Washington state, the owners of a Union Gap tiny home manufacturer said.

Darin Tusler helped start Yakima Canyon Tiny Homes in December 2015. Since then the company has built three trailers, all under cost, for around $55,000 per house.

The tiny home trend came around in response to a desire to live simpler lives, Tusler said. The homes are around 200 to 400 square feet each. A lot of the people involved in the tiny house movement support environmentally friendly habits, but that isn’t what it’s about, he said.

“It’s downsizing to fit their lifestyle,” he said.

Tusler said it hasn’t been easy to start a tiny house manufacturing business. There is a stigma against tiny houses from many local governments. The company has faced push back from counties classifying the homes as recreational vehicles and not permitting them for full-time occupancy, since they are built on trailers.

“It’s still too new and so you can call two days in a row and get two different answers (from counties),” he said.

His partner Paul Billings said the company’s homes technically are RVs, but are built to housing standards and beyond. The homes have to travel down the road and so everything is screwed in for the most part and strapped down, he said. The end of every stud has a four inch, washer headed screw drilled into it.

“It’s even stronger than you normally have in a home,” Billings said.

The only difference between the tiny homes and a regular house is the walls are built with two by fours instead of two by sixes, Billings said. Two by sixes are recommended for installation purposes, but modern installation compensates for that problem.

“We can build whatever we need to build,” he said.

In Kittitas County

Kittitas County building official Mike Flory said it isn’t illegal to build a tiny house in the county, but there is a difference between a recreational vehicle and a home.

“If you want a tiny house you can have one,” Flory said. “I can show you how to get one under 200 square feet.”

A home in Kittitas County has to have a foundation, a roof structure and meet the size requirements for the bedroom and bathroom, he said. The smallest house that could be built is about 140 square feet, which is pretty small, Flory said. In 2015 the county changed its code to reduce the minimum size requirement for a room from 120 square feet to 70 square feet.

“So the code is actually following the trend,” he said.

A recreational vehicle, though, is not a house, Flory said. Companies manufacturing tiny houses are building them on car trailers and calling them recreational vehicles, because if it was called a manufactured or modular home, it would need to be inspected and meet certain building code requirements that recreational vehicles don’t need to meet.

“They’re building houses on something that was never designed to have a house on it,” he said.

Recreational vehicles are not meant for full-time occupancy, Flory said. Some counties allow people to live in recreational vehicles, but not Kittitas County, because of health concerns. Flory pointed to problems with FEMA trailers after Hurricane Katrina as an example.

It makes sense from the companies’ stand point to work around the cost of the inspections, Flory said.

The county recently had someone who ran into this problem, Flory said. A man spent $70,000 on a tiny house, bought a piece of land, put in a sewage and water line and placed the tiny house on the lot, without getting county permits. The tiny house did not meet county code, and wasn’t allowed. So the homeowner ended up yanking the tiny house off of his lot and putting in storage. It cost him around $100,000.

“That’s a hard pill to swallow it really is,” he said.

State rules

To manufacture tiny houses, Tusler’s company needed a license from the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries. The company also needs to be listed in the Yellow Pages, work regular full-time hours, have signage by the road and have a direct phone line. All of those requirements, plus the annual cost of renewing the company’s manufacturing licensing costs close to $20,000 a year. The company has yet to turn a profit.

“It’s been a nightmare,” Tusler said. “Going through the state has sucked.”

The company is licensed to manufacture anything permissible by Labor and Industries, including manufactured homes. So it could design a tiny house as a manufactured home.

Smaller homes

The housing market in Kittitas County is downsizing as a whole, Flory said. In the last four years the average house size has been about 3,500 square feet, but in 2016 that dropped to 2,500, a difference of 1,000 square feet.

“That’s huge,” he said.

Flory doesn’t know why homes are trending smaller and smaller, whether it is related to the environment or just need. Housing changes in America often times reflect cultural shifts, such as people moving from front porches to backyards and high fences after World War II.

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