Tiny Houses and Building Rating Systems

Robert J. Kobet, LEED Faculty (ret)

In the fifteen years I spent as one of the original USGBC LEED Faculty and LEED consultant working internationally, I spent a lot of time discussing what LEED and other building rating systems are, how they work, and why they should be used. I always enjoyed the work, especially when it involved working in other countries with colleagues whose culture and life experiences were much different from my own. I gained a great deal by seeing how other people live, what they feel is important, and what they were willing to do to make a better life for themselves and their fellow citizens.

Along the way I have experienced the birth and evolution of several building rating systems. My time working in Europe familiarized me with BREAM, a rating system that was considered while what is not LEED was being developed by the USGBC. The Living Building Challenge, Passive House and Green Globe rating systems have all emerged in the years since LEED was launched circa 2000. Like many aspects of the green building movement, building rating systems continue to evolve. So, when asked, “How do tiny houses fit in this scenario?” my conversations typically go from 30,000 foot view down into the grounding effects of LEED for Homes.

Generally, I define green buildings as energy, material and resource efficient structures that are designed, constructed, operated and maintained – to the greatest extent possible – within the carrying capacity of the planet. All building rating systems support these tenets in one way or another, though each may categorize and organize them differently. In each, the influence of location, avoiding sensitive eco-systems, using mass transportation, etc., take their place along with using environmentally sensitive materials, maintaining superior interior air quality, responsible waste management, energy and water conservation and a host of other construct related issues. The current version LEED V4 includes rewarding using an integrative design and construction process and recognizing social equity.

In all of these categories, tiny houses can meet or exceed LEED expectations as long as a couple of important minimum program requirements and all of the prerequisites of the target LEED rating system are met. www.usgbc.org. Minimum program requirements define the types of buildings that LEED was designed to evaluate. Taken together, they serve three goals:

  • Give clear guidance to customers
  • Reduce complications that occur during the LEED certification process
  • Protect the integrity of the LEED program

Tiny homes are most impacted by two important minimum program requirements. The first is,

Minimum Program Requirement #1: Must be in a permanent location on existing land

In essence, this means the tiny house must be sited on a permanent foundation, and serviced by civil infrastructure that is in keeping with all local ordinances, codes and regulations. So, while it may be permissible to transport a tiny house to any location on the trailer it was constructed on, once in place it must meet the local definition of “permanent location.” Local codes may challenge the use of composting or chemical toilets.

Minimum Program Requirement #2: Must comply with project size requirements

Any tiny house seeking LEED for Homes certification must be defined as a “dwelling unit” by all applicable codes. This requirement includes, but is not limited to, the International Residential Code stipulation that a dwelling unit must include “permanent provisions for living, sleeping, eating, cooking, and sanitation.”

The good news is that tiny houses have achieved LEED certification. The qualities and attributes meet or far exceed LEED for Homes prerequisite and credit requirements. Those that achieve LEED certification carry the added benefits of additional resale value and the reassurance of a job well done.

84 Lumber and GreenEdge Supply share your interest in tiny living. Visit us online at www.84tinyliving.com and www.greenedgesupply.com and let our staff help you with any of your tiny house, green living questions.

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