It is totally understandable that before making a big housing decision, people will have lots of questions. This is especially the case when it comes to tiny houses, owing to the untraditional nature of the whole thing.
Tiny living has not been done on a wide enough scale to guarantee the same level of stability, predictability and safety of traditional living.
A tiny house is defined by the International Code Council as “A dwelling that is 400 square feet or less in floor area excluding lofts.” Many tiny houses today are much smaller than that, often less than 100 square feet.
It is this small size that lead many to assume that they may not be totally safe.
So let’s try and answer some of the questions.
Can Tiny Houses Withstand Natural Disasters?
By natural disasters we mean storms or hurricanes in particular.
The answer to this is not straightforward. We could ask the same of traditional houses.
Of course it depends on how severe the storm or hurricane is. But a tiny house built to professional standards will perform just as well as a normal house.
Remember, you should not be fooled by the size of these structures. They are usually quite heavy, sometimes up to 10,000 lbs. We did a whole article on how much the average tiny house weighs, and we found that very few go below 4,000 lbs.
This is about the same weight as a Ford F-150.
Assuming the tiny house is on wheels connected to a trailer, you also add the weight of the trailer to the equation. As you can see, these are not weights that can simply be blown off by the wind, unless its something more serious.
Just like a regular house, the tiny house can sustain some damage in a storm, eg. a broken window here and there, or loose roof attachments.
From the outside, it might appear that the damage is much more owing to the physical perception of size. i.e. one broken window in a tiny house gives the impression of more serious damage than one broken window in a large house.
Perhaps another reason why there is a perception of tiny houses being more susceptible to damage during natural disasters is the location in which they are often built.
Owing to the very nature of tiny living movement, where people just want to connect with nature and probably live off-grid, tiny houses are disproportionately likely to be built in isolated areas and country-sides.
So, while you would find 80% or normal houses constructed in cities, suburbs and other built up areas, you might find that 80% of tiny homes are just the opposite of that.
With few other structures to slow down the wind, it leaves a disproportional amount of tiny homes exposed, which may give the impression that overall they are not safe.
Are Tiny Houses Safe from Forest Fires?
One area where tiny homes excel when it comes to natural disasters is their ease to move around. Today, very few weather occurrences catch us by surprise. We know of hurricanes, tropical storms etc. days in advance.
In case of fires like in California, it’s a slow moving knock out punch.
With a traditional houses, there is little you can do other than salvage the things you can, run for safety and hope for the best.
With tiny houses and particularly those on wheels or those not on a permanent foundation, you can literally leave the danger zone with your house intact, and bring it back once everything settles down.
Are Tiny Houses Built With Cheap Material?
For people outside the movement, there is a general assumption that a tiny house is just a cheap, low quality form of housing. And the perception of low quality is that of easily destructible.
In truth, even normal houses can be built with low quality material, making them just as susceptible to damage.
How you build your tiny house is up to you, and there is certainly nothing stopping you from using the best materials. A properly constructed tiny home can stand for decades, same as a traditional house.
Part of this belief stems from what is observed in RVs, which is what many people think when they hear ‘tiny house’.
It’s true that an RV can be classified as a tiny house, but it is just one of many types and designs of tiny houses.
An RV is first and foremost built for portability. Of course for anything that will be put on wheels, there are lots of considerations on the weight and types of materials to be used.
An RV can’t simply be built to last as long as a traditional house, but with some high quality ones out there, you can be assured of getting decades of service.
For the rest of the tiny house, especially those built on permanent foundations, there are many laws and regulations on a local level that govern their construction. This ensures that the best standards are met to ensure the safety of the occupants. Local authorities enforce these through regular inspections.
Are Tiny Houses Safe from House Fires?
Tiny houses are compact in nature, which means fire can spread easily and quickly engulf the whole space. But their small space in nature ensures that any small fires are detected fast enough to fight them.
Most house fires in America are as a result of cooking, heating, electrical problems, smoking indoors, and burning candles. In traditional houses, the fire often starts in a different room from one where occupants are, and burns significantly before it is detected.
Just like in other house, tiny house occupants should take precautions to stay safe from fires.
Simple things like training your children or pets on best practices, installing smoke alarms, having large windows for prompt exit, and having fire extinguishers in your house.
But the basic protection should start during construction. Choose dense and potentially fire-proof/non-combustible materials for your walls and floors.
Are Tiny Houses Safe from Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?
The odorless and colorless nature of Carbon Monoxide makes it the most dangerous household gas. In the US, at least 430 people die from accidental CO poisoning each year according to the CDC. A staggering 50,000 visit the Emergency Room each year for the same reason.
Carbon Monoxide is usually produced by stoves, lanterns, portable generators, kerosene heaters and other propane appliances, or through burning charcoal and wood.
The risk in a tiny house can be heightened owing to the small space. Without proper ventilation, the entire house can be engulfed in the poisonous gas relatively quickly.
There are several steps you can take to protect yourself in a tiny house from CO poisoning.
- Plan your house design to include large windows and sufficient ventilation. Ensure the air circulation in your house is adequate in all rooms.
- Acquire a Carbon Monoxide detector and ensure the batteries are replaced at least every 6 months.
- Also buy a propane gas detector.
- Have your heating system and other gas, oil, or coal burning appliances serviced by qualified technicians regularly.
- Never use a charcoal grill, lantern, or portable camping stove inside the tiny house.
- Never run your generator, or any gasoline-powered engine inside the tiny house, even with the windows open.
Are Tiny Houses Safe from Earthquakes?
This question may only arise if you live in an earthquake zone.
In truth, not many houses will stand after a serious earthquake. But you may be pleasantly surprised that tiny house can be much more resilient to the movement of the earth tectonic plates than traditional houses.
How’s that, you ask. Well, earthquakes love rigid structures. Houses that are not designed to move and dance around will be obliterated when the ground beneath them shifts.
Most tiny houses are the opposite of this. Those on wheels in particular will be very well suited for an earthquake.
And even with tiny houses on a permanent foundation, the survivability rate for someone inside will be extremely high, owing to the fact that you don’t have big and heavy pieces of the house raining down on you.
Are Tiny Houses Safe from Theft?
Obviously there is no simple answer to this. The location of your tiny house matters a lot, just as the location of a traditional house matters.
Some areas are safer than others, and that is a fact. It is up to you the owner to take common sense precautions to protect your valuables. For example installing proper locks and surveillance cameras.
However unlike traditional houses, tiny houses come with a unique challenge. The entire house can be stolen and literally towed away. It is rare, but it is possible.
You can take steps to prevent this by installing wheel locks (or removing the wheels entirely) to prevent movement, and hitch locks to prevent trailer attachment by unauthorized persons.
In case a potential thief bypasses the first two safeguards, ensure your house has a GPS tracker hidden in a not-so-obvious place in the house.
Are Tiny Houses Safe for Kids?
While it’s true that singles and young couples are the ones more likely to be attracted to the tiny lifestyle, it does happen that sooner or later kids join the family.
If you do plan to raise a kid in your tiny house, it is important that you design the space with a child in mind.
Ensure there is enough space for play, and clear separation from things that may be harmful eg. kitchen utensils.
Also ensure there are proper and child-friendly railings on stairs and lofts. As much as possible, encourage your child or children to play outside, and train them that way from a young age.
The same applies to instructions on what to do in case of an emergency.
In short, tiny houses can be very safe for kids, but you will have to make a deliberate effort to keep them that way.