Can I Turn a Shed Into a Tiny House?

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Small guest cottage

The homeowner built a wood deck in front of the shed and made it look “oh so homey”.

Recently we’ve seen several people ask the question of whether you are allowed to turn a shed into living space on some Tiny House-related Facebook pages and groups. When the same topic came up on our own Historic Shed page, I decided I should look into the idea. Understandably, it is an appealing idea to many who dream of an unencumbered Tiny House lifestyle: buy an inexpensive set of 4 walls and a roof, finish out the interior, and live a debt free life. While, we can’t speak to the practicality of this idea everywhere, we can give some insight into the issues you might run into with this idea in Florida so you can plan accordingly.

Zoning: Zoning codes are basically a list of what and where things can be built within a community – how tall, how much of the lot they can cover, how they can be used, parking requirements, landscaping, etc. They vary from town to town, and even from neighborhood to neighborhood, so you need to check individual local zoning requirements for any parcel you are considering building on. Before planning to place even a shed for storage in your yard, these are some items to look into related to the local zoning codes and small buildings:

  • Use – Zoning will list what type of building uses are permitted within an area. A parcel may be zoned commercial, industrial, residential, residential multi-family or allow for a combination/ variety of uses. It will also describe what type of accessory uses may accompany the main use of the parcel.
  • Size – Local zoning usually spells out minimum and maximum sizes for new construction in an area. It may be a percentage of the lot size or a square foot limit. Height limits, as well as building footprint sizes are listed. While some areas list minimum sizes for primary residences, many areas do not.
  • Quantity – The number of units that may be placed on any particular parcel is also typically listed in zoning code. This is particularly important for anyone thinking of creating of community of multiple little houses or adding a second unit on a residential lot.
  • Accessory Buildings – Most zoning codes will define whether accessory buildings/ accessory dwelling units (ADUs) are allowed in a particular area, and how many. In addition, size and height restrictions and where they may be placed in the yard will be defined. They will also tell what type of uses are allowed in the accessory structures. This may allow for storage sheds, detached home offices, and/or accessory dwelling units.  As a side note, the difference between a home office and an accessory dwelling unit is often defined by the presence of an oven.

Building Code: In order to build a residential building in Florida, you will have to get a building permit from the local building department and go through a series of inspections before you can occupy the building. Permits require a set of plans and elevations that meet design criteria in the Florida Building Code. Most times, the plans are required to be reviewed and approved by a licensed structural engineer. Sheds in Florida are not held to the same construction standards as residential buildings. This is good for shed manufacturers, but means that you might have issues with the following if you try to convert a shed into a dwelling unit:

  • Wind Load Design – The 2010 Florida Building Code instituted 3 new Wind Speed Maps for wind load design. Residential buildings (Type II) are designed for a higher wind load rating than buildings designed for use as storage sheds (Type I). This means that wall construction, windows, doors, roof material, etc. may not meet residential code requirements in your area rather than the lesser shed regulations.
  • Foundation – There are exceptions in the code for concrete foundations for sheds that allow them to be substantially smaller than for residential construction. In addition, a  vapor barrier is not required under the slab for sheds, but is for residential construction.  Other shed tie down foundations are not allowed for residential construction at all.
  • Room sizes – Florida Building Code requires that at least one habitable room in a residence be a minimum of 120 sf. Bathrooms must meet certain clearances and contain a lavatory, toilet and shower. No habitable room may be less that 7′ in either dimension. This applies to all rooms other than the bath, kitchen, closets and utility rooms. Your plans will have to show that it meets all these requirements.
  • Room heights – Ceiling heights within residences are a minimum of 7′ (6′-8″ in baths). If you plan to install a loft, be particularly aware of this restriction. Also, many manufactured sheds have 6′ high side walls.
  • Flood Zones – Storage sheds may be installed below the design flood elevation in flood hazard areas. Residential buildings must be raised above the design flood elevation.
  • Windows – Windows of certain sizes are required in living spaces for egress, air quality, and light.
  • Impact requirements – “Storage sheds that are not designed for human habitation and that have a floor area of 720 square feet (67 m2) or less are not required to comply with the mandatory wind-borne debris impact standard of this code.” This means windows in sheds are not impact rated in High Velocity Wind Zones and do not have the required shutters that a residential building would have.
  • Placement on site – “Detached tool sheds and storage sheds, playhouses and similar structures are not required to provide wall protection based on location on the lot. ” This means that walls may not meet the required fire rating that a residence in the same location would be required to have.

Other things to know: In some areas of Florida, you may build a storage shed under a certain size without a permit. This does not mean than you can build a building for other uses, such as a residence, under that square footage without a permit. And you may not change the use of a building without a building permit legally. In addition, some gated communities have their own set of design standards. This may include regulations on accessory buildings, how buildings should look, and provide minimum sizes for new construction above and beyond what is called out in zoning code.

I doubt I have identified all the potential issues with using a shed as the starting point for  a residence in Florida, but at least this will help some who are considering the idea. Personally, for all the adaptations that could be required, I would think starting from scratch would be just as easy, albeit perhaps more intimidating. If so, feel free to give Historic Shed a call and we can build a shell that will meet all Building Codes for your dream cottage lifestyle.

Posted on February 17, 2013 5:19 pm
  1. Connie Mitchell

    We are loosing our home too foreclose we figure we have 1 or 2 weeks left before we really have to move. We don’t have enough money to get anything and they won’t let us live in a shed in Florida. We would need land to put your shell on it and work with it our credit not good and my mother and I can make payments being on social security and me on disability. We have a lot of adopted animals we take care of and but we can not get a home with them but we will not depart with them either. If you can help us and work with us please let me know.ASAP!

    Reply
  2. Mike

    I have an existing shed that came with my home in Orlando, FL 32807 – zone R-1A/AN, am I able to convert it into a room, without any permit etc, I plan on just making it a room, no kitchen or bath, just electric alone.

    Reply
  3. AD

    What about if your home is zoned for medium density? I was told by a zoning person that I could only do an addition or turn the house into a duplex. I take it that means no accessory dwelling units, including a shed? In this case, would they be more likely to allow an RV type tiny house in the yard?

    Reply
    1. hs-admin

      You should call the zoning staff person back and ask that specific question since “medium density” means different things in different municipalities. Most places (unless it is deed restricted) allow you to have a shed. Accessory Dwelling Unit rules vary greatly from town to town, and even from neighborhood to neighborhood. Few areas allow Tiny Houses on Wheels behind primary residences for full time living, but that is changing slowly as well.

      Reply
    1. hs-admin

      It depends on what you want to add to the shed. You can usually add electric to a shed and finish it out on the inside to create a usable room. However, if you want it to be a legal living space, adding a bathroom and a kitchen, you may run in to more trouble as you will have to show that it meets all zoning and building code requirements for a residential building.

      Reply
  4. Kelly Diamond

    You mentioned that you could build a shell that would meet all fl bldg codes. Do you offer something like that in a kit? If so, what would be the cost for something like this in say a size 20×20 or larger? Would you ship to Milton, fl? Thanks!

    Reply
    1. Historic Shed

      We do offer our cottages as shell-only packages where we provide the engineered architectural drawings and deliver and set-up the building shell. You would then be responsible for completing the interior, including electrical, plumbing, HVAC.

      Reply
  5. RLD

    I was told by my local building inspector that my shed could be used for anything but sleeping… So I bought a tent and put it on the porch…

    Reply
  6. Josh

    It seem’s that your average joe could never do this. Building codes are insane. You can’t do what you want on your own property.

    However this article is of great use. I searched the subject and found this website.

    I wish there was a more practicable approach, maybe a replication of some one who has already done this in FL.

    It would be nice if they did it, documented it with pictures, maybe even a video for youtube. I hope to see this one day with free plans.

    Following in another’s foot steps would make this so much easier. Living in FL, I would definitely try this out in the county other than my local city, that much is a given.

    Reply
    1. Kelley

      We have property deemed as unincorporated territory. In the county, way in the country. No restrictions. Is this our best option for a shed conversion

      Reply
      1. Historic Shed

        Most standard sheds sold in Florida are stamped on the interior “Not for Human Habitation” and can not be legally turned into homes as they do not meet Florida Residential Building Codes. Doesn’t mean that people don’t do it under the radar quite successfully, but we can not advocate for it.

        Reply
  7. Susan

    I love the idea turning a shed into a tiny home I am losing my home due to foreclosing and other reasons and if I could afford it I would love to have a shed tiny home

    Reply
  8. keith

    if you took suppose 3 or 4 storage sheds and made a house out of it.one shed for bedroom,one for kitchen ,one for bathroom.can it be done legally and are there any places that you can still homestead and do it.

    Reply

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