First of all, we had a wonderful 5 weeks in our future town of residence. It was great to be able to “redneck house camp” on the tiny house and really start to feel (and see) it turn into our home. Granted we only have “walking water” right now (meaning we have to walk to get water) we have heat/air, a coffee pot, our wonderful SleepNumber bed, and a number of other amenities including a mobile hotspot for Internet, and Netflix for those quiet nights! But now perhaps the real work begins.
During the last month we were able to have a perc test administered on our land with positive results. The land percs. What does this mean though? For those who live in the city, it is common that folks who live in the county or in more rural surroundings do not have access to city sewage. So we have to get septic tanks. Quite simply put, septic tanks are part of a small scale sewage treatment system. (Other components, typically mandated and/or restricted by local governments, optionally include pumps, alarms, sand filters, and clarified liquid effluent disposal means such as a septic drain field, ponds, natural stone fiber filter plants or peat moss beds.) To be more specific though the term “septic” refers to the anaerobic bacterial environment that develops in the tank which decomposes or mineralizes the waste discharged into the tank. (READ: it is a poop holding tank). In theory this is an awesome thing. It allowed us to then receive our address and be registered with the 911 emergency system. So what is the downside you may ask? The downside is that the septic system required on our land is quite complex and therefore, quite costly! We are required to have a septic system that includes a pump system in order to achieve gravity flow. Because our land grades downward we do not have gravity on our side and therefore have to have a pump system that will pump the sewage uphill to the actual septic tank. This requires a 750 gallown septic tank, 60′ of 1.5″ PVC pipe, a septic pump, a pump tank, underground wiring harnesses, a simplex control panel, an alarm, and a system of 3 distribution boxes that are attached to nitrification lines. it is fair to say this falls well outside of the DIY arena. In fact, we have to have a licensed septic company and electrician complete the work that then has to receive a passing mark from a North Carolina Electrical Inspector.
After thinking about the system, the cost (and how it related to our overall goal of living off-grid, being debt free, etc) we now feel that we want to have a composting system instead. The catch? There is no current code for composting and in fact some counties require that you install the septic system approved for your land or suffer a FAIL on the Certificate of Occupancy. That thought alone is quite jarring. Compounded with Hari’s recent post on her worst tiny house fear things got very real, if you will.
Since the very beginning of our adventure we have wanted to live legally; to be accepted as a legal, tax-paying family, in our county. Simple enough, right? Wrong. There is no cut and dried way for a tiny house to yet achieve such. In fact, we are finding out that it takes numerous phone calls, repetitive explanations, uncomfortable conversation, scads of questions and uncertain answers, and more patience than I have ever prayed for! As a family we have also started the conversation of how much fight do we have in us? Are we willing to fight to the bitter end to be accepted? Is it even a fight we are passionate enough about? Can we afford to fight if we have to? All of these and more have permeated our conversations. We have no answer though.
But this morning I began the process of trying to unravel it all. I contacted our counties Planning & Inspection Department to ask where we begin. The conversation started out something like this:
ME: Hi. My name is Andrew Odom. How are you today?
HIM: Good. Thank you.
ME: I have several questions – unorthodox ones – that I would like to ask you about my family living in a non-standard home. Do you have a few minutes to talk or is there a better time to call?
HIM: Now is fine.
ME: My wife and I just finished building our tiny house. You may or may not have heard of such. It is a 240 sq.ft. home build on a trailer. It measure 30′ wide and 8′ long. It weighs just at 6100 pounds and is custom built.
As the 15-minute conversation progressed I told him a bit more about our home and even invited him to look at our website. He was more than happy to. His demeanor lightened and we were talking much more easily. I told him we had a VIN number and a registration for our custom trailer. I told him about some of the construction details and spoke emphatically about our desire to work with the zoning department to be legal and to live in our version of a “dream house.” After we hung up I followed with a personal email and a photo of our tiny house – as it is today – attached.
All in all I think things went well for the beginning of our conversation. I don’t expect it to be easy. I don’t expect everyone to understand. I don’t expect it to even be cheap, per se. But I do expect the county to be welcoming and amicable and so far I have no reason not to think such. So how do you start the legal process for your tiny house? I don’t know.
You just pick up the phone and start!