Tiny Tuesday: Small Talk

Jay Shafer is the father of the Tiny House movement, though he hates to hear it called that. He has lived in one since 1999. His company, Four Lights, designs and builds a particularly well-crafted brand of small houses, some on wheels and some groundbound. He also writes a blog called Small Talk in which he describes his latest initiatives (including a tiny-house pocket neighborhood in northern California) and ruminates on affordable housing and home satisfaction.

The topic of Jay’s latest post is how misinterpretation of the building code limits our ability to provide safe and cost-effective housing for everybody. In particular he draws attention to a set of rules known as Equivalency Standards. The gist of Equivalency Standards is, in Jay’s words, that “nothing in the code can be used to prohibit the construction of any dwelling that is as good as or better than what the code prescribes.”

This means a Developmental Review Board can’t deny a proposal for strawbale construction just because strawbale construction doesn’t appear in the IBC. The Board needs to offer a performance-based reason for rejection, for example a concern that moisture will compromise the strawbales’ insulation capacity in a humid climate. Then the owner has an opportunity to appeal the decision, perhaps with an action plan to keep the strawbales dry during construction.


Equivalency Standards example: the procedure for granting a variance from the Vermont Fire & Building Safety Code.

Equivalency Standards appear in virtually all building codes in the US, but they’re rarely recognized by building officials. You can read Jay’s suggestions for how to solve the problem (and hear his frustration) at the Small Talk blog here. I encourage you to browse his other entries as well!

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