Did I mention, we legally live full time in our tiny house now?
Yep! That’s right! No staying up at night wondering if we’ll get the boot in the coming weeks and it feels so good. It feels like I can finally put down some roots and invest some time and labor into making my house more beautiful. I think I will finally plant that modified green roof I designed in over 8 years ago!
Even when we moved up to Moscow it was with the expectation that we would only be here for a max of half the year. That is what the zoning on the property allowed and we could work with that. When Covid hit we decided to shift around plans and head up to do some work on the property. While up we received a notice that reinforced the time limit. I took this notice as an opportunity to work out a more permanent plan, since the county reached out to me to open the discussion.
Frankly I was not thinking anything would happen but figured it was worth the try. As it turns out, we were able to work out a solution that allowed full-time tiny living! I am going to include the text from my communication with the county after receiving the notice in an effort to help those struggling with any of this. If this isn’t important to you, skip down a little to see what we’ve been working on since gaining legal status!
Good morning Michelle!
I got your message. I hope this is the right email. We figured out the phone service I switched to is very spotty in Boise so my apologies for not being able to answer when you called. We are heading back up to Moscow and I would love to set up an appointment to talk through some questions/ideas I have re: our parcel. We take every precaution but we’d like to have 7 days to quarantine just to make sure no Covid symptoms show up before meeting. Do you have a time late next week or so that we can set up an appointment to chat?
In the meantime, I have forwarded along all of the communication I have had between various folks in your department over the years (below). Just to summarize though:
We are completely aware that we are not to be living in the tiny house for more than 6 months in any 12 month period, that is completely workable for us, (we travel and have a house in Boise where we stay when not here). We are marking our days in a calendar to assure we stay within that bound while also trying to get some groundwork done up here for our future plans, roads and such… We actually didn’t plan on being up here just yet this summer but Covid made us put a stop to the plans we did have so we came up here to work instead. As the second wave approaches we’re taking the notice from Eric as a potential door to open and see if there is a way we can find to be permitted to live in the tiny house year round, or at least through this winter because of the pandemic? We see it as a much better option than going back and forth with a virus raging on, particularly after seeing how Boise is (not) addressing spreading concerns.
So, we have a tiny house that we moved up late last fall. I’ll note that the tiny house will not be our forever home on this property, eventually (3-4 years) we plan to build a mid-sized ground bound house. It is legally classified as an RV but it is built to IRC standards (my partner is a licensed architect, I have a masters degree and a lot of experience working in the field). We’re not asking for any exceptions, but maybe there is a path forward that can work for the county? We know tiny houses are an odd topic. We’ve lived tiny in some form or fashion for the last 8 years and literally helped write and pass the IRC code appendix through the International Code Council as well as pushing it through for early adoption at the state level in Idaho. I would personally love to retain the ‘tiny house’ status instead of converting it to a ground bound structure but I am open to whatever makes most sense (assuming anything does). We were wondering if a Conditional Use Permit for the winter is an option?
I was also made aware of the changes Gary Lester initiated early this year for tiny homes in city limits within mobile home parks. I have heard through the grapevine he is trying to approve a similar idea in the county. If this is true, I am wondering if there is any room for us to be able to advocate for that to be a viable solution on our parcel? I believe our parcel is zoned for mobile home use but not as a mobile home park. Without knowing the specific verbiage this seems like the best option from our side. With this we assume we need to get a septic system in place and design some approved tie-downs (or borrow them from mobile home standards), etc. If this is an option we’d love to get the work done before the weather changes. Thus, we’re trying to get in with you now.
Another option we’ve discussed, that doesn’t make as much sense, might be a rezone to an RV park or something. We don’t have any plans to utilize the property in that way so it seems like a formality that sidesteps the intent of the code. I am not yet researched on the tax implications of that either. Really, we’re just trying to find a way to stay on the property this winter, if possible, to keep our family as safe as we can through this pandemic. Also, we love living in the tiny house, it’s ‘home’ for us. It feels like a cruddy vacation when we can’t live at home but we have also learned to roll with whatever. 🙂
I appreciate your time, please let me know if you have a space for a meeting after the 8th! Thank you!
In a matter of minutes this is what I heard back:
Thanks for the email. Last week the Planner’s and I discussed your situation and think we have a solution for you. Coincidentally, it is one of the solutions that you offered.
We think the best way to address your situation is to have you apply for a conditional use permit for a one spot RV park.
While I understand your questioning the idea of an RV park, don’t let the name mislead you. There is no minimum to the number of RV spots in an RV park in the County and we are finding this is an effective way to allow longer-term use of one or more RVs on a property.
The issuance of a C.U.P. allows us to track and monitor RV sites, just like home sites, and helps us to immediately address any issues that we would typically address as part of the building permit or manufactured home placement process (C.U.P. process in lieu of a building permit). We also believe allowing as few as one in a “park” addresses some of the affordable and available housing concerns in our Comprehensive Plan. It actually is a simple way to allow the Zoning Commission and staff to address many of the issues that come along with people living in an RV longer term, such as septic, garbage disposal, access to the property, driveway standards, addressing, etc..
The application is relatively easy and if approved could allow you to continue living on the property whenever you want until you can do something more permanent.
Establishing a manufactured home park (which would require a rezone, a boundary survey and a very long list of requirements) is far more arduous. We would not recommend going this route unless you wanted to place manufactured homes on your property and establish a multi-lot manufactured home park.
You will need to work with Mauri Knott to make application for the conditional use permit. I have copied her on this email. She will contact you to get you the links and/or documents that you will need to apply.
Also, we modified our ordinance over two years ago to allow spots in mobile home parks in the County to be converted to RV spots. We have only had one manufactured park owner take advantage of this. We are considering increasing the number of spots that can be converted for our next ordinance modifications.
If you still wish to meet, let me know. Our office is currently closed to the public, but I am happy to email, talk over the phone, meet via zoom or have properly socially distanced mask wearing meeting with you either in the courthouse or outside the courthouse at the picnic table. I am available most days at varying times.
I filled out the C.U.P. application and submitted it with $300. They made mention of my having experience in architecture because I didn’t just submit napkin drawings, which they would have gladly accepted. I partook in a Zoom style Planning and Zoning meeting. One of the five participants was hesitant to allow us but the other four easily convinced him it wasn’t a big deal. I didn’t even have to say much but ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’.
As a part of the CUP we are putting in a septic system. Unfortunately, it was so late in summer and we had so much to do to get ready for winter that we didn’t get a chance to put it in before the weather turned. We figured we can survive the winter without a septic (we have a year to put it in), we can’t survive the winter without water! So we got to work building our winter shed to store 900 gallons of water. We will get to work on the septic as soon as the ground thaws out. We’ve already got the size and location approved with the health department. It will also be able to be used for our eventual ground bound house up the hill.
Our Winter Shed
It was SO nice, after that rammed earth wall that took so long to knock out a project in short time! We built a rammed earth pad with our wall so that when we were ready we could take off on the winter shed. In about three weeks we completed it! It was the third project made with the lumber we salvaged from the deck in Boise (deck, rammed earth forms, winter shed) and we still have a pile of that left that will become something else eventually.
We love it. I’ve never had this much food at one time in my life but I’ve never needed to either. Living a few minutes out of town, snow falling all around makes the thought of not having to drive in a couple times a week very appealing!
We can also store 900 gallons of water in here. Because we also use it as an office it stays heated and we don’t have freezing issues. At least that’s the theory. We’ve not had any issues yet and we’re currently sitting in about 6 inches of snow!
Tiny House Skirting
On that staying warm note, we have a skirt for the first time in 8 years! It is incredible how much warmer the floors are! It is not an insulated skirt, just some sheet metal I found for $80 bucks on the marketplace. We used some of the same deck boards (the treated ones) to build a little frame and put up the metal. Just blocking the wind out seemed to add 10 degrees to the floor instantly! I didn’t even know it was cold until we finished the skirting :D! There is a door up front on the garden side that allows access to the solar closed under the hitch.
The last bit to get ready for winter was the solar panels. For over a year we have had them just sitting on the hillside doing their best. That worked great in the summer when there is way more sun than we need. In the winter though, angle becomes much more important! Our watts generated has been deteriorating by the day, we needed mounts. We found a whole stack of t-posts down in the orchard so James and I designed up some solar mounts that we can use to orient them to the correct sun angle for our area (68 degrees). They are adjustable so we can lower them in summer. Two days ago James finished them up and added the last two panels that we never had connected before. We have a total and 2,500 watts of panels now. They are refurbished so we anticipate a little less than that actually. The last image in this set is a direct picture of the sun, today. You can’t even see it! Yet we’re generating more power than we’re using. It’s SO COOL! We don’t even get a bill for all this free power!
Since we had a couple days of sunshine before the snow dumped, you’ll notice I took a moment to wrap up our rammed earth wall which was already taking damage from the freeze thaw cycle. It’s just on top from water sitting on it, the rest of the wall is functioning perfectly! Next spring we will find a solution we like better, likely just sealing the top portion but I have some ideas kicking around in my head to add some style and protect the top… we’ll see how that shakes out. For now, we’re happy to minimize winter damage with a little wrapping.
Our Fire Pit, Bonnie
We spotted this huge old tractor trailer in the lower field (we still aren’t sure what all is hidden on this property!). Our neighbor came down with his excavator to help us move it up the hill to become a bon fire pit since our tractor couldn’t even budge it! We are so lucky to have great neighbors! We did a little digging and asking around and it is thought to be the drive wheel off a turn of the century steam engine tractor similar to the one pictured below. It looks like it was converted to a cattle trough at some point. We’re very excited to make it a well loved hearth of our property. It’s location is right between the barn and out tiny house. Our plan is to eventually build a little structure around it to block the wind and have a neat outdoor place to gather with friends when the world opens back up.
Happy Holidays to you and yours
Lastly, I hope you are getting to enjoy some rest and relaxation on these short winter days. Our hope is to hibernate a little bit in the coming weeks and prepare for the longer days unfolding ahead! I have made the goal of writing a bit more about our journey and have been grateful to write pretty regularly for Tiny House Magazine. I’ve written about our homeschool journey, minimalism for our family and this month, I am particularly excited to share, the change we have made in celebrating Solstice this time of year. It’s made these days so much more meaningful and heartwarming for us. If you like tiny living I hope to continue making an appearance there in the coming months, you can find the latest issues (and all the back issues) HERE.
What ever you celebrate this time of year, do it well!