Public Hearing on Sleeping Lofts in Small Homes - December 12

SquareOne Villages fought hard to pass HB2737 earlier this year, which requires an amendment to Oregon's state building code to allow sleeping lofts with ladder access in small homes.

The Building Codes Division released a draft of this new code in November, but to the surprise of the tiny house community, it excluded homes under four hundred square feet. Advocates rallied with dozens of emails sent to the Residential and Manufactured Structures Board, and they filled the room at the public hearing.

Building Codes Division has since published a new code (view here) that includes homes under 400 square feet, as mandated by HB2737. However, it still includes several overreaching regulations beyond what was approved in the national model code for tiny houses (IRC Appendix Q), that will stifle the development of tiny homes in Oregon if passed as is.

A clear example of this is the unprecedented amount of fire safety provisions that a small home with a loft would be required to have in comparison to any other residential structure. As proposed, the code would require fire sprinklers, specific interior finish requirements, prohibiting lofts above or near kitchens, and an egress window in the loft.

We feel a reasonable alternative would be to allow the owner to select R329.5. (fire sprinkler), R329.5.1 (interior finishes), or R329.9 (loft location) as a fire safety measure in addition to R329.10 (emergency escape). Not all of the above. This balances the interests of innovation and cost-effectiveness along with safety concerns.

See below for our full testimony on recommended changes.

TAKE ACTION:

There will be another opportunity for public input on the proposed code to allow sleeping lofts in small homes on Tuesday December 12 at 9:30am. If you're able, show up to ensure the state passes code language that will provide greater flexibility to tiny house development!

Location:

1535 Edgewater St. NW

Conference Room A

Salem, OR 97304

Emails also make a big difference! Send your written testimony to:

Richard Baumann, Rules Coordinator, at Richard.J.Baumann@Oregon.gov

More information on the public input process can be found here.

Public Input from SquareOne Villages:

Dear Residential and Manufactured Structures Board,

SquareOne Villages is a nonprofit organization developing and managing affordable tiny house communities in Lane County. We have a direct interest in seeing code adopted that will allow for safe, liveable, cost-effective, and innovative housing options.

Our organization was involved in writing the initial proposed text for HB2737, and represented at the public hearings and work sessions that led to the adopted legislation. Fire safety concerns were presented through-out this process, yet to our knowledge no empirical study has been conducted or referenced to support this concern during the time that has passed.

Despite the lack of hard data to justify it, the current proposal includes just about every possible fire safety measure measure imaginable, layered one on top of the other in an unprecedented fashion. This has created an undue burden to the stated goal of HB2737 to create a legal path for approved sleeping lofts in small homes.

It also fails to meet ORS 455.015(2), which states, “It is in the best interests of this state that state building code regulations encourage economic development, experimentation, innovation and cost effectiveness in construction, especially construction in rural or remote parts of this state.” These values must be balanced in addition to fire safety.

Specific recommendations for amending the proposed code to be reasonably within the intent of HB2737 and in compliance with ORS 455.015 include:

1. Remove Section R329.5 Automatic Sprinkler Systems.

If left in place, this provision alone will be responsible for drastically diminishing the purpose and value of this code due to the fact that it will add significant cost to development for some tiny houses.

Our nonprofit has recently designed and built tiny homes with the IRC Appendix Q in mind, and intended to get sleeping lofts approved once this code is adopted in Oregon. However, with the unexpected addition of this new provision, adding the necessary plumbing infrastructure at this stage of development is now financially infeasible for us.

Fire sprinklers are not required in other residential dwellings such as manufactured housing, townhouses, duplexes, and single family homes. There is no evidence to support requiring them in this application while not requiring them in any of the above housing types. This is an overreaching regulation that will directly reduce the public’s capacity to use this code.

2. Reincorporate AQ103.1 Minimum ceiling height.

This was included in the IRC Appendix Q and in BCD’s initial proposal for “workforce housing” yet disappears in the new proposal. I don’t believe there was any public testimony to prompt the removal of this section. Therefore the following should be reincorporated into the code language:

"Habitable space and hallways in tiny houses shall have a ceiling height not less than 6 feet 8 inches. Bathrooms, toilet rooms, and kitchens shall have a ceiling height not less than 6 feet 4 inches. No obstructions shall extend below these minimum ceiling heights including beams, girders, ducts, lighting, or other obstructions. Exception: Ceiling heights in lofts are permitted to be less than 6 foot 8 inches."

3. Remove R329.1.1 Limitations.

This section poses unnecessary limitations on efficient design. There is no evidence that having more than one loft in a space would be a problem under this code. This section would also prohibit lofts in an attached duplex, which is an economical way to provide affordable housing. As long as standard fire safety provisions for attached units are followed, this should not be an issue and these limitations should be removed.

4. Remove Section R329.4.4.1. Undersized Lofts

As written, the definition for “undersized lofts” will likely apply to 99% of lofts in a small home. There is no evidence to support the requirement of Class A interior finishes throughout the entire dwelling, which creates an undue barrier to design and construction.

5. Remove R329.4.5 Maximum loft size.

Limiting lofts to 1/3 the floor area of the room or space in which it is in is very limiting. Under the proposed code, if you had a loft open to a 120sf room, your loft could be no smaller than 35sf and no larger than 40sf. The IRC Appendix Q does not set a maximum loft size and I see no reason why one should be set in Oregon.

6. Remove R329.9 Loft Location.

This section is adding yet another barrier to designing a compact home without data to support it. This should only be considered if the above mentioned fire safety measures that have been added on to this code are removed. It’s an unnecessary burden to have this requirement in addition to sprinklers and Class A interior finishes and an egress window.

Conclusion:

If Oregon BCD does determine a measurable difference in fire safety in a small home with a loft in comparison to other residential structures, fire safety measures should be applied within reason. Cost and innovation should be primary factors of consideration in addition to safety. A reasonable solution then would be to allow the owner to select R329.5. (fire sprinkler), R329.5.1 (interior finishes), or R329.9 (loft location) as a fire safety measure in addition to R329.10 (emergency escape). This would remove the unprecedented burden of requiring all of these measures within the same residential structure—providing greater flexibility for allowing for compact, affordable housing options while still ensuring greater fire safety than the current IRC Appendix Q national model code for tiny houses.

Sincerely,

Andrew Heben

Project Director,

SquareOne Villages

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