Getting tiny could be huge.

Interest is growing in tiny houses — dwellings less than 400 square feet inside — and the state has re-written its code to provide for the diminutive domiciles. 

"We know people want to live in them," said East Feliciana Parish Manager Sonya Crowe.

The parish tried to figure out how to handle such cases last year, but East Feliciana didn't have rules in place to perform inspections and issue an occupancy permit for a home so small, she said.

As a compromise, East Feliciana officials agreed to let applicants come to the Police Jury and seek a special permit under the local recreational vehicle rules. That way, people could still live in a tiny house, though they would have to seek permission through elected officials, not by going through the building official's permitting process, Crowe said.

It was intended as a stopgap. In the meantime parish leaders went to state building officials for advice.

They weren't the only ones, said Mark Joiner, administrator of the Louisiana State Uniform Construction Code Council. Since 2017, parishes and municipalities have been trying to decide how to make sure homes of just a few hundred square feet can be safely inhabited.

Tiny homes in Louisiana have a history that goes back even further, to small houses built to replace previous residences destroyed in a storm, sometimes called Katrina cottages, Joiner said. He said he hasn't measured the dimensions of those homes, but many would likely be smaller than 400 square feet.

Late last year, his office rolled out new rules that give special consideration to tiny houses of less than 400 square feet. The new codes contain provisions that take into account the economical size of tiny homes. For example, many who dwell in such a house put their bed in a loft to save space. Much of the new code addresses how lofts in small, single-family homes can be built, down to the dimensions, ladder requirements and emergency escape concerns.

With the new state rules, local governments like East Feliciana's can begin to update their own practices.

However, Joiner pointed out that the new rules only apply to houses that are on a foundation, like a slab or pier and beam. Houses on chassis are still technically considered RVs and fall under the domain of the Office of Motor Vehicles.

That's not a helpful distinction, argued Nanci Miller, spokeswoman for the National Organization of Alternative Housing. NOAH is a professional group for tiny house builders that also performs inspections.

Some tiny houses are built on wheels and can be hitched to a vehicle so when the owners move, their houses can come too. But Miller said those homes are built of stronger stuff than an RV and can last 40 to 60 years. NOAH inspectors hold houses on wheels to the same standard as ones on the ground, she said, and the government should treat them all the same.

"It's not a bunch of gypsies in a wagon heading out west. That's a misconception," Miller said.

Joiner said they're especially popular with millennials and retirees who came of age in the 1960s, but Miller noted tiny houses are gaining wider appeal to anyone looking to save money.

Tiny houses tend to cost about $225 per square foot before upgrades, Miller said.

Local officials often encounter tiny houses for the first time when they're proposed as an accessory to a larger house, operating like a mother-in-law suite on a property that already has a traditional home.

But times are changing. Joiner said he's heard of interest in building whole subdivisions of tiny houses.

The type of home is becoming popular with all sorts of people looking to save money, especially in the northwest and with people who lost out in the 2008 recession, Miller said.

She had no distinct impression of the Louisiana market but said residents of other Gulf Coast states such as Texas and Florida are giving the industry a lot of business.


Follow Steve Hardy on Twitter, @SteveRHardy.