A house built on wheels parked on the side of a mountain may not seem like the safest thing in the world, but you’d be surprised at how sturdy these little structures are.
From fire and earthquake resistant homes to baby-friendly spaces, there are tons of structures out there that prove how tiny homes are just like traditional homes, if not better.
So, are tiny houses safe? Of course they are! Tiny homes are licensed and built up to code to be able to withstand major weather conditions and traditional home hazards. At the end of the day, it’s all about being aware of these hazards and taking the right steps to prepare or avoid these altogether.
In this article, we breakdown the hazards unique to tiny homes, as well as some ways to ensure they don’t happen.
Tiny House VS Traditional House: Which One Is Safer?
When you look at a space that’s less than 500 sq. ft., it’s easy to imagine the kind of horrors associated with that small of a space. After all, how can such a small house measure up to the average 2,000+ sq. ft. most American households grew up in?
In reality, a lot of the unsafe and negative associations with tiny houses are centered on its key aspect: its size. Whether it’s fire hazards or durability during a storm, most people underestimate what a tiny house is capable of precisely because of its smaller size.
Here are just the top 2 myths we hear about tiny house safety:
Myth 1: Tiny homes, especially those on wheels, are built with cheap material that will fall apart in less than 10 years
Reality: Tiny homes are built with the same materials used on bigger homes and can last decades when taken care of properly
A lot of this has to do with the belief that RVs and tiny homes are 100% the same. Even though a tiny house on wheels is legally considered as an RV, it doesn’t mean that a tiny home has the same specs as an RV.
Everything in an RV is built for the purpose of portability and affordability. From glued-on vinyl floors, to lightweight plumbing systems that easily break and cause floods, to faulty USB sockets that short-circuit, the RV community is filled with horror stories that will make anyone second guess the durability of any house on wheels. We’ve all heard of toxic formaldehyde stories, a toxic chemical that is still being used by RV companies as particle board glue.
Tiny houses are a completely different story. Sure, a tiny house on wheels has to consider weight for easy travel, but that doesn’t mean builders cut corners just to keep it compact.
Tiny homes are subject to numerous inspections to ensure they are up to building and fire codes. A tiny home may be manufactured indoors, but it’s assembled the same way a regular home would be.
Builders use steel frames to line the house, install sturdy insulation, and then set up the sheathing. The exteriors are usually lined with heavy-duty steel and wood, which are built to last for years to come.
Myth 2: Tiny homes can’t withstand natural disasters like storms and hurricanes
Reality: Tiny homes are made to survive in major weather conditions
Tiny homes being whisked away by a strong gust of wind a la Wizard of Oz is sort of an urban legend. A very inaccurate one at that. For starters, tiny homes usually weigh between 2,500 to a whopping 10,000+ lbs! And that’s just the home alone. A trailer can add an extra 2,000 lbs or more depending on the size of the frame and wheels.
When it comes to storms and hurricanes, tiny homes can definitely stand their ground. Structural damages sustained during storms are similar to ones you’d find in a regular house - unhinged siding, loose roof attachments, maybe a broken window or two.
So how come people believe tiny homes can’t hold their weight? Two reasons:
- Everything in a tiny house is magnified. One or two windows breaking in a 2,000 sq.ft. home doesn’t seem like much. Put that in a tiny house and the damage seems gigantic. All kinds of wear and tear, no matter how insignificant, just feels a lot bigger in a tiny house.
- Tiny homes are usually parked in the countryside, closer to nature. Tiny houses may be more susceptible to weather damage, but it’s not because they’re built cheaper than traditional homes. Simply put, a lot of tiny homes are parked out in the open, away from cities or suburbs. During a storm, there are no other structures to block the wind pressure, making the tiny house more prone to damages just of its physical location.
Things to Watch Out For
What Can Go Wrong
The U.S. Fire Administration estimates nearly 51,000 home electrical fires each year. The incidence of residential fires increase during the cold winter months, when additional appliances for heating are in use.
The major causes of a residential fire include:
- Worn outlets and appliances with old insulators or worn cords
- Light fixtures that overheat due to incompatible wattage between the light bulb and the fixture
- Overuse of extension cords to power high-energy appliances
- Space heaters overheating and igniting nearby items
Although the same hazards apply to a tiny home, a smaller space with less appliances may be less susceptible to electrical damage - as long as your wirings were fitted by a professional or done professionally.
Tiny homes hooked to the grid or even their own solar panels usually have nothing to worry about when it comes to electricity. Both grid-tied systems and off-grid systems have breakers that will shut down the power when necessary.
How to Stay Safe
Tiny House Application: Proper Storage of Solar Power Batteries
There aren’t a lot of unique situations when it comes to electrical hazards in a tiny home. If you do have a solar panel system and are storing batteries, just make sure that your storage unit has proper vents. Simply cut out sizable holes in your storage to allow air circulation, preventing the batteries from leaking out and overheating.
We recommend storing your batteries separately from electronics. For maximum safety, store your inverter, charge controller, and other solar power devices on one shelf, and your batteries on another.
What Can Go Wrong
The National Fire Protection Association lists cooking, heating, electrical problems, smoking indoors, and burning candles as the top reasons for house fires. In a compact space, fire can easily spread and catch on to nearby objects. A tiny house fire could come from:
- Oil spills or any accidents involving cooking over a gas stove
- Space heater overheating and igniting a piece of furniture
- Using the wrong kind of fuel for fuel burning space heaters
- Leaving candles too close to curtains
- Using old, unreliable appliances
How to Stay Safe
Tiny House Application: Loft Egress and Careful Use of Appliances
Tiny homes and traditional houses share the same risks when it comes to electrical appliances. However, homes using propane and gas should be wary of the risks associated with these appliances.
Cooking in a small space can prove challenging as it is, and even more so in the event of a fire. If you’re planning to multitask, just prepare the ingredients in advance so you have undivided attention if anything goes wrong. Other fire safety guidelines include:
- Install smoke alarms. Every tiny home, no matter what kind of appliance you’re running, should have smoke detectors installed
- Instructing children, particularly toddlers, to stay away from the kitchen and propane appliances
- Have more than one egress point for fire safety. Ensure that windows are big and accessible enough to serve as an exit point in case of emergency. An egressable roof-window should work best in tiny homes with lofts
- Store more than one fire extinguisher in your home. Ideally you should keep 2-3 extinguishers near safety hazards, including where you’re sleeping
- Just because you’re living tiny doesn’t mean you have to live cramped. Place fire hazards such as the stove away from other appliances. Leave enough space between furniture and appliances
- Choose dense woods for construction. Cedar is a common material in house construction because it’s cheap and lightweight. Unfortunately it’s among the most combustible woods available
Are tiny homes safe from forest fires?
People like to say that tiny homes are really just nothing but smaller versions of traditional homes, but an example like Tom’s amazing fire resistant tiny house proves that tiny homes might just tip the scales in their favor.
One of the best things about tiny house living is the freedom to 100% customize your tiny home, including the opportunity to build it with any material you want to keep yourself safe and secure.
In order to live amidst the looming threat of notorious bushfires in Melbourne, Australia, Tom built a fire resistant tiny house by incorporating build and design choices that are able to withstand roaring flames.
He installed corrugated iron for his siding and used timber cladding covered with three coats of fire proof paint. The gaps are sealed with intumescent cork, which is a material that swells up and acts as a seal when exposed to heat, effectively sealing whatever’s inside from catching on fire.
Tom even goes as far as to remove the trailer’s wheels when not in use to prevent them from catching on fire. This tiny house clearly shows that a small structure can withstand big threats, if you assemble it with the right materials.
What Can Go Wrong
Carbon monoxide poisoning is one of the leading hazards in RV living. Carbon monoxide is a toxic odorless, colorless gas that can prove deadly when ingested. Thankfully gas poisoning in tiny homes aren’t as rampant due to proper ventilation.
That doesn’t mean it’s not possible. Poisoning from this gas is usually a result of:
- Exhaust leaking from a generator or vehicle engine
- Improper use of propane appliances, e.g. using a propane heater as a space heater
- Malfunction from propane appliances
- Insufficient ventilation
How to Stay Safe
Tiny House Application: Gas-Powered Appliances
Installing a carbon monoxide detector is crucial in tiny homes that run propane appliances. If you’re planning to go off-grid and want to swap out electric appliances for their gas-run counterparts, keep the following in mind:
- During the build, ensure that your windows allow for enough ventilation. Make sure the windows and doors can be opened wide enough for fresh air to enter your home
- Aside from a CO detector, you should also get a propane gas detector. Propane is a flammable gas that can explode when in contact with a spark. Keep your propane detector around floor level for accurate detection
- Install a DC powered air vent. You can install a standard exhaust fan in the bathroom or kitchen, or use a ventilation system that works with the environment. Get a heat recovery ventilation if you’re planning to live in cooler climates. Otherwise, an energy recovery ventilation works just as well
- Never use a propane stove to heat up your tiny home. Only use propane appliances for their designated use to prevent CO build-up
- Store your propane canister or tank far away from any heat source. After every use, seal the tanks carefully
Hurricanes, Floods, and Other Natural Calamities
What Can Go Wrong
Tiny homes can withstand harsh weather conditions but that doesn’t mean they are invincible to winds that can rip apart bigger houses. A tiny house that’s built to code, equipped with weather reinforcements, has a good chance of withstanding Category 1 and 2 hurricanes.
The magnitude of damage a tiny house will receive is also dependent on its location and how it’s parked. If it’s parked right where the wind hits the side, in an open field with no other structures, a tiny house may in fact suffer from structural damage including:
- Damaged siding and roof parts, especially if you have shingles
- Flooding inside the tiny home
- Broken glass from windows and doors
- Damage to solar panels and solar power system
How to Stay Safe
Tiny House Application: Safety Reinforcements and Proper Building
A big factor that determines a tiny house’s safety is how compatible it is with its environment. A tiny house parked in the cold areas of Vermont shouldn’t have the same specs as a tiny house located in Florida.
Similarly, a tiny house living in an area with little to no risk of storm damage can’t be built the same way as a tiny house in hurricane-prone states. The primary responsibility of a tiny house owner is to ensure that the structure is properly equipped to survive in their chosen location. These preparations include:
- Installing tie-downs and anchors that can be planted on the ground, preventing the tiny home from being uprooted in case of a storm
- Using siding and roofing material that aren’t susceptible to wind and water damage
- Reinforcing windows with of wood to prevent glass from breaking
- Weatherproofing cables, generator, and other devices to prevent electrical problems during the storm
- Understanding the local climate and preparing accordingly. And if possible, moving your tiny house to avoid major calamities such as tornadoes, hurricanes, and wildfires
Are tiny homes safe from earthquakes?
You can drive away from a hurricane or a wildfire, but you can’t really predict when an earthquake will hit. But if you’re living in a tiny house on wheels, it turns out you may have a lot less to worry about than homes built on foundation.
When asked why he decided to put 430 sq.ft. sleek tiny house on wheels, Paul mentioned the 2016 Christchurch earthquakes as one of his deciding factors.
“Originally I wanted it to be an earthquake resistant house. They actually move independently instead of being stuck to the ground, and wheels were the perfect solution to that,” says Paul.
Paul, who lives in Christchurch, New Zealand, recounts the time his wife was on the phone, unknowing of the real magnitude of the ongoing earthquake. “It was so quiet she didn’t realize how big it was.”
Small House, big impact: It’s all in the build
Putting your home on wheels alone isn’t enough to mitigate damages from an earthquake. Protective building techniques such as installing top and bottom plates, using jack and king studs to secure posts and strengthen your home’s frame are all key practices in strengthening a tiny house.
What Can Go Wrong
Imagine driving to town for some groceries and coming home to an empty lot. Tiny house thefts are happening, and it’s raising concerns regarding overall safety. We’re not just talking about some wheels or household items. We’re talking about entire houses being stolen.
Tiny house on wheels can be attached to any truck and towed away. For the most part, people don’t really question someone barrelling down the highway with a house right behind them, making houses easy to steal (apparently).
How to Stay Safe
Tiny House Application: Protect It From Theft
Not to worry, there are some measures you can take to prevent your tiny house from being stalling. These include:
- Using a hitch lock to prevent anyone from attaching to your tiny house and towing it away
- Hide the wheels with pots, bricks, or a skirt. You can also install a wheel lock which will prevent the wheels from moving
- Install a GPS tracker on your trailer
- If you have neighbors, let them know you won’t be going anytime soon
- Lock windows and doors when leaving the property
- Although it seems like a bit of a stretch, you can choose to remove your trailer’s wheels altogether and lock them up somewhere secure
Are Tiny Homes Safe For Kids?
Empty nesters and new couples aren’t the only groups jumping on the bandwagon. Families of all sizes have gone tiny and attest to the wonderful benefits of raising a family in a tiny home.
In a tiny home, parents can closely monitor their kids and become a more dynamic presence in their growth. We’ve heard a lot of stories where parents say they’ve never felt closer to their kids after going tiny.
Tiny homes can be modified to accommodate everything your child needs, from safety railings to kid-friendly spaces. Samantha and Robert even managed to welcome a new baby into their 204 sq. ft. home and made modifications to babyproof their space.
If a toddler can grow up safely in a tiny home, it shows that children of all ages would also be safe in a loving, nurturing tiny abode.
Tips For Living In a Tiny House With Kids
- Add safety railings to stairs, loft, and other high areas
- Instruct them to stay away from electrical appliances
- If you’re a DIY-er, always clean up tools and equipment afterwards
- Create a storage for your children’s belongings and train them to keep the space clean
- Encourage kids to play outside
- Instruct kids on what to do during emergency situations
Safety Tips for Your Tiny Home
1. Prepare an Evacuation Plan
We like to think that there is no other safer place on Earth than our home, but we know that’s not true. Prepare a series of evacuation plans for different kinds of emergencies. Perform drills often enough that your family can do it on autopilot.
When living with kids, plan for scenarios when you are not around. Make sure they know what to do in case of a fire, earthquake, or storm.
2. Automate Your Tiny Home
Want to take your home security up a notch? You can install automatic switches that react according to various stimuli. A breaker instantly cuts off the electricity when it senses an overload. An automatic propane alarm can shut off valves at the first sign of leakage. Having these systems in place can make you worry a little bit less and enjoy family time a little more.
3. When In Doubt, Seek Professional Help
Part of what makes tiny homes so charming is their DIY appeal. Everything you want to do, you can look up and build from scratch.
That’s not to say professional help isn’t useful. In fact, you should actively seek out professional advice when it comes to stuff you’ve never dealt with before, especially when it comes to stuff like wiring your home, plumbing, insulation, and the frame of your tiny house.
There’s a good reason why we keep stressing how important it is to build up to code. When you’re adhering to build guidelines, you’re more confident that your house is built to last.
4. Park According to Season
Natural calamities can be tough to navigate around but they aren’t entirely unavoidable. Watch the local news for storm, wildfire, or tornado warnings. You can even plan where you’ll be parking in advance by looking up when natural calamities are likely to happen in one state.
5. Find an Insurance Policy
This may be tough to secure if you aren’t licensed as an RV. Even if you have an RV license, RV providers usually won’t entertain you unless you have an RVIA license, which can only be acquired by:
- Becoming a certified RVIA builder, then building your tiny house
- Having your house built by a certified RVIA builder
If any other case, your only option may be a specialized insurance policy. Unfortunately, these aren’t always comprehensive or straightforward, making it that more difficult to secure an insurance policy. In the majority of cases, you will be required to invest in two separate policies: one for when you’re parked and another for when you’re on the road.
Are Tiny Homes Worth It?
Tiny house living might be new but its potential hazards aren’t entirely alien. Sure, you might be working with a smaller space, and additional reinforcements have to set up. But this work is nothing new compared to the work you do in a traditional home.
At the end of the day, the extra thought you put in building a safe home environment is worth it knowing your family sleeps in a safe home every single night.
Hey, there! We're Ivan and Manuela from Croatia, and we're crazy about tiny houses. We don't own one (yet).
This website is a result of our passion to share all the knowledge, photos, tips and tricks that we were able to learn while studying everything possible about the tiny house movement.