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How to Actually Build a Tiny House in Rhode Island

The idea of having a tiny house appeals to a LOT of people for a LOT of different reasons. Whether you are a professional looking to simplify your busy life, would like to cut down on your living costs, or you are looking for a means to support a family member’s desire to live independently, tiny houses offer an attractive alternative to more conventional living arrangements. Recently, the current crisis has played a large role in popularizing the desire to live in a more affordable, sustainable way. So, if you live here in Rhode Island, how exactly can you get one? We delve into the process.

What are the Options?

There are two types of tiny houses that you can buy/build. The first type is a tiny house on a flatbed trailer or wheeled foundation; which is technically considered an RV. In Rhode Island, a house built on wheels must be registered as an RV since they are legally considered vehicles instead of buildings. The second type, on the other hand, is a tiny house with a foundation, which is considered an accessory dwelling unit (ADU). Recently, a state law has been issued; allowing owners of single family homes to build an accessory dwelling unit for family members. Previously, this law only included relatives who were elderly or disabled. However, in 2019, the law was expanded to include children, parents, spouses, in-laws, grandparents, grandchildren, domestic partners, siblings, or just members of the household.

Where Can You Live with your Tiny House

When choosing between location options, you may also want to consider the regulations that a tiny house in each city or town must abide by. For RVs or mobile tiny homes, municipality regulations are typically much easier to comply with since you will not have to follow zoning and building codes. The only thing that you would need to worry about is finding a place to park the RV, and how much monthly or yearly parking will cost. Potential parking locations may include a residence that has given you permission to park, a camping site, or an RV site. For tiny houses that are built on a foundation, compliance becomes a bit trickier since you will have to deal with more rules and regulations including zoning bylaws and building codes which consider local factors and safety requirements. Additionally, they may prohibit you from buying land and building a tiny house on it. Rather, you can only build a secondary unit on a single family house lot. The zoning rules also determine the minimum size requirements that your tiny house must be according to the zone that it is located in it. Currently, most cities and counties have a minimum requirement of 1,000 feet for building a home, which is much larger than the typical tiny home that typically ranges from 80 to 220 square feet

How one couple built their tiny home in Burriville, RI

Belhumeur & Sullivan. Photo Cred: Nat Rea Photography

In 2013, Jess Belhumeur and Dan Sullivan began were sick of living in debt and decided to start building their very own tiny house. Not only did they wish to save money, but they wanted to begin living a more minimalistic lifestyle while reducing their carbon footprint. Using a wheeled foundation, their tiny house is 156 square feet and has been largely constructed from recycled materials like used insulation, reclaimed barn wood, and wood old pallets. The total cost of building their tiny house was about $10,000 and by using secondhand materials, it is estimated that Jess and Dan saved about $7,000. Furthermore, they decided against using running water and instead opted for solar-heated camp showers and a compost toilet. Though they sold their tiny home in 2016, they are still tiny house enthusiasts and have kept up with a minimalistic lifestyle. For more information about Jess and Dan’s story, check out their blog.

Tips on Building a Tiny House

  • Look at the town’s bylaws. Pay attention to the wording, formalities and procedural recommendations.

  • Network – not only at Town Hall (knowing your Selectmen, Town Planner, Zoning enforcement officials, Planning Board and Clerks) but also the Fire Chief, Police, and regular folk too!

  • Have details READY (blueprints, preexisting example images, placement plans, building plans etc.) The town asks A LOT OF QUESTIONS!!!

  • Consider taking a class (as above mentioned, Yestermorrow was really helpful for DIY building advice!)

  • Be prepared for lots of questioning, answering and follow-up, and try your best to stay positive 

Which Municipalities are Tiny House Friendly


As a result of legislature passed in 2019, you are allowed to build an accessory dwelling unit, or a tiny house with a foundation, on any existing single family home lot in Rhode Island as long as it’s for a family or household member. However, you will need an approved permit, so first check with your town for a list of requirements you may need to comply with.


In Narragansett, the construction of tiny houses are permitted. Some regulations include that there is no foundation required, however the structure must be at least seven feet high and meet the 127 mph wind zone requirements. When building a home, every aspect of the house needs to be taken into consideration and engineered so that it does not have any negative impacts on the environment. Additionally, three site plans and two construction plans must be presented before beginning the construction process.


In Bristol, RI, tiny houses must be constructed on a foundation, hence mobile tiny homes are prohibited. The city does not have any minimum square footage requirements. Normally, if the homes are planned to have some distance between neighboring properties, then building inspectors are not required, however, property lines may need to be confirmed by a land surveyor if the property is in close proximity to the other properties.


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