Chris Lee: Why detached units, or tiny homes, are a good thing

Published: 11/28/2019 6:00:19 PM

Did you know that you or even your neighbor could build a backyard tiny home? Cities and towns across western Massachusetts have been making it easier for homeowners to add a unit to their property.

Massachusetts has even put its weight behind the movement. Our state offers homeowners $50,000 at 0% interest, with no required repayment while you own the house, to build one for an aging or disabled family member or an unrelated future tenant.

This is called the Home Loan Modification Program: Why? Because this is a phenomenal way to add high-quality housing units amidst one of the worst housing shortages our country has ever seen.

Building detached units on single-family properties help communities in many ways. It distributes rental housing across a town and frees up single-family homes occupied by seniors who want to downsize. The homes can also be built to net zero standards affordably, make caring for aging parents easier and less expensive, consolidates housing costs and makes child care easier and less expensive.

Why have you never heard that backyard tiny homes are legal? Zoning bylaws refer to them in many different ways, including detached accessory apartments and detached accessory dwelling units, and of course, very few people have the time to read the codes! There has also been confusion about the difference between tiny homes on wheels, (or heavy, wicked-cool, semi-stationary recreational vehicles) and a tiny/mini-house built to meet building code. The latter is often allowed in backyards.

Planning departments and building commissioners had issues with the former for a few reasons. Among those include such homes could create a transient population, they generally follow recreational vehicle standards rather than state building code, they have inadequate septic plans and insufficient insulation, which is contrary to Massachusetts’ goals of reducing its carbon footprint.

If you have an underutilized backyard, it’s worth asking the question, can I build a backyard home? Whether it’s for mom, a tenant, or yourself, every new housing unit counts given our current deficit.

As a starting point, check out the rules in your town here: 

Chris Lee


Daily Hampshire Gazette Office

115 Conz Street
Northampton, MA 01061


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