Currently there is not one unified industry standard that is recognized for tiny homes on wheels and each jurisdiction, bank, insurance agency, etc could have a different definition and requirements, including size and if they are allowed as a dwelling. Most tiny home builders are building RVs built to the NFPA 1192 Standard or the Park Model Standard, ANSI 119.5 for the ability to have them certified and registered with a Vin number and title. These standards address all safe health, life, and fire precautions.
The builders almost always exceed the minimum requirements of these standards and build to 2X4 and 2X6 construction, increase insulation values, have 25-year roof warranties, increase truss loads when applicable, and use superior quality materials. While NOAH and the others are starting to become somewhat industry recognized it is more important to building code inspectors to comply with government accepted building codes.
The beauty of tiny homes is they are custom built to order and can be built for all seasons with a focus on durability and longevity. They can also be built to any added requirements of the jurisdiction. As the Tiny House industry grows more insurance companies and lenders are offering their products with or without any type of certification. It is reported that RV parks are beginning to be more welcoming to tiny homes regardless of certification.
Smaller Homes are also often referred to as Modular homes that are built off-site in a climate controlled factory to local building codes, the same codes as site-built homes.
What Is Product Certification?
For consumers, product certification provides the assurance that products meet the codes and standards that deem those products appropriate for use. For resellers, product certification assures that products they receive will consistently adhere to the same level of performance. And for building officials and other authorities having jurisdiction who approve these products during the construction process, it provides peace of mind that these products meet code requirements.
Why Do I Need Product Certification?
Well, you don’t but there are several reasons to consider it. Consumers aren’t the sole beneficiary of certification. Building product manufacturers benefit by knowing that the standards help to level the playing field for fair competition. Product certification ensures that all products in the same category receive comparable scrutiny in the marketplace. It enables consumers and code officials alike to compare and choose products that they can trust to be reliable and safe and it ensures that your competition must adhere to the same rules and standards.
Reasons for Certification ….
It’s common for Tiny House Builders to possess more than one certification type, this is usually to accommodate additional financing and insurance options for potential Tiny House owners.
- Protect Consumers – Certification allows consumers to confidently purchase products certified to address their specific concerns.
- Ensure Consistency – Certification bodies conduct consistent inspections to verify that manufacturing practices remain consistent over time.
- Gain Marketing Advantage – A certified product may display the trademark indicating that the product has undergone evaluation to verify that the product will perform as indicated, thus making it easier to sell.
- Easier financing – When a buyer purchases a tiny home from a manufacturer with an RVIA or NOAH certification, financing is notably easier. Lenders often grapple with classifying tiny homes that do not have a certification attached, resulting in limited loan opportunities. The RVIA or NOAH seal of approval gives tiny home owners more leverage in the lending game and lengthens the list of lenders.
- Better insurance options – Just like financial institutions, insurance companies are more apt to secure a plan for a product that can be easily defined and has the right documentation to show that it is certifiable and backed by experts. As the Tiny House industry grows more insurance companies and lenders are offering their products with or without any type of certification. It is reported that RV parks are beginning to be more welcoming to tiny homes regardless of certification.
What is the difference in tiny house inspections?
RVIA – NOAH – PWA – PWA-TH
The tiny house movement has increased by over 900% in the past 10 years as the idea of alternative housing continues to grow. The ability to safely inspect and certify your tiny home during the building process, save digitized images and videos for future use are part of the benefits of inspections. There are three major players in inspections and certifications: RVIA, PWA, and NOAH. As with many entities, there are pros and cons to each company.
RVIA has been involved in the recreational vehicle industry for many years. Their program is only available to manufacturers who have a facility and the resources already in place. They do not have a program for someone wishing to DIY their tiny home build, or for schools or educational use. The initial setup is pricey (over four times the cost of PWA or NOAH), however a large manufacturer producing a lot of units may turn out better in the long-run.
A major difference with RVIA is that they do not personally inspect each individual tiny house. Once the manufacturer is approved; random inspections occur about every 90 days, and no more than four times in a year. A Quality Assurance Person, employed by the manufacturer, utilizes a checklist called a ‘Traveler’ to perform inspections. The RVIA inspector reviews this when he arrives, and inspects whatever is on the line. There is a disciplinary regimen if he finds issues with the manufacturer that varies depending on the seriousness of the deficiency. RVIA is adamant about informing the buyer that this is an RV certification only and only for temporary habitation.
PWA and its subsidiary PWA-TH are two separate companies. PWA has a program for manufacturers similar to RVIA where the manufacturer is certified to build multiple units; and the facility and whatever is being built there is inspected periodically. They do state they have a DIY program, but many report struggling to reach the company by phone for a consultation or questions during their build process. PWA does not have staff who visit the home to do inspections during or after the build process. The DIYer fills out a form and takes photos to determine qualification for certification. The DIYer is supposed to receive consultations by phone, but, as reported, DIYers cannot easily get these consultations fulfilled. PWA-TH defines a Tiny Home as an RV and ‘certifies’ the home to the RV standards. A “Certification Label is a statement from the manufacturer or oversight authority that the product is manufactured to the applicable codes and standards. This certification label can be sourced from any of several Certified Agencies such as PWA, or an Industry Association.”
Blidsworth offers inspections throughout the construction of a tiny house based on nationally recognized industry standards for RVs. Blidsworth offers certification for Manufacturers, DIYers and Educational Institutions. For a Blidsworths certification, the builder must purchase their membership type and complete a series of compliance inspections. For the tiny houses that pass inspection, they will receive a unique Blidworth Insignia. A Blidsworths membership can last for the duration of the tiny house build or annually.
In 2015, NOAH first investigated the standards and certification of tiny homes on wheels only to find that RVIA was the only resource available. Many tiny houses on wheels were being built without any oversight, inspection, or certification. The NOAH Standard includes the standards from the RV Industry NFPA 1192, ANSI 119.5 and NFPA 70 (NEC) and adding energy and structural standards from the home building industry. The builder (whether manufacturer or DIYer) downloads an app on their smart device and the inspector directs every step of the inspection from the other end.
NOAH uses only InterNACHI Professional Certified Inspectors and inspects each THOW (Tiny House on Wheels) individually. Inspections are performed as the home is being built. These inspections are digitized and stored. It is up to each local jurisdiction to determine how long you can live in your tiny home on wheels. Because NOAH digitizes and stores the inspection of the builds and adds structural and energy to the NOAH Standard, NOAH Inspected, and Certified tiny homes are more likely to be accepted to be lived in full time as a residence as well as to obtain proper insurance. Because each tiny house is inspected at critical stages of the build and because NOAH digitizes and stores these inspections for use by the city and county building departments, their units have a better chance of being “grandfathered in” once the municipalities figure out this growing tiny house movement. NOAH is the most affordable of the three inspection companies.
NOAH makes certification easy for DIYers
Unlike RVIA, NOAH welcomes DIYers to build their dream tiny homes and obtain their seal of approval with their DIY Builder Certification program. Builders can contact customer service members and inspectors if they have any questions or need advice throughout their build. Every single phase of a home build is carefully checked by certified inspectors for compliance with NOAH standards utilizing NOAH’s app. Completing a well-constructed tiny home more efficiently is an attainable goal. The tiny home on wheels finished product gives the builder, its inhabitants, and other parties the assurance that the construction was done correctly and the home is safe.
What makes a Certified Agency?
Under Legal Guidelines, PWA states: “PWA’s website indicates they are a Certified Agency because their “evaluation and certification staff meet the requirements of ASTM E-541.” However, as of January 2019, ASTM E-541 no longer exists (see diagram below). ASTM E-541 was Withdrawn with No Replacement. PWA is also not a Trade Association.
Foremost Insurance does not offer access to their insurance for a tiny house certified by PWA or PWA-TH, although there are other insurance possibilities. For smaller builders, PWA’s cost is roughly in line with NOAH, and about one fourth the cost of RVIA.
What type of certifications are there?
Self-declared certification, or a “Supplier’s Declaration of Conformity”, is done when the consequences of non-compliance are considered minor or when compliance can be readily checked by buyers – often referred to as “Truth in Advertising” laws.
In this case, product manufacturers may claim performance on labels but need some data to mitigate risk. Many companies believe they can assure consumers and regulators through detailed documentation of their procedures that their products are safe to use. They cite the threat of product liability will keep them honest. Cost savings is the most popular reason for self-declared certification.
Sometimes a trade association can administer product certification and testing for its members. When an association performs validation and auditing, it requires an autonomous independent administrator in order to prevent bias toward individual members. Associations will utilize outside labs and make the testing available to its members, making it unnecessary for each manufacturer to invest in expensive equipment or independent testing.
When human safety or property protection is at stake, most building product manufacturers will need to use a third-party testing and certification company. Third-party testing and evaluation companies are independent agencies that perform testing, evaluations, and auditing of a multitude of products based on the regulations and codes set forth for a particular product. It is required that the testing company have no connection to the product manufacturer, supplier, vendor, buyer or designer, and must be open to audit by accreditors . Third Party agencies usually conduct tests, evaluations, and provide certification and follow-up production surveillance. As part of its process, the third-party agency will provide the documentation and a certification mark signifying the product is certified.
Direct Government Regulation
When it comes to safety in the built environment, product certification of building products provides the confidence they are performing as intended. It is important to keep in mind that these tiny house certification companies are not governmental agencies and have no influence with the government’s regulatory housing agencies or your local building inspectors. These certifications will not help you get a “certificate of occupancy” from your local building inspectors to allow you to live in a tiny home legally.
Certification Equals Piece Of Mind
Obtaining a RVIA or NOAH certification isn’t easy as builders are responsible for following hundreds of safety codes. Knowing that experts took the extra time and effort to ensure that measures were taken to produce a safe and secure unit should bring peace of mind to the owner.