Taking affordability out of shed conversion

This 350-sq. ft. storage shed would meet the 300 sq. ft. minimal requirement of the Planning Commission’s proposed shed house ordinance.

This 350-sq. ft. storage shed would meet the 300 sq. ft. minimal requirement of the Planning Commission’s proposed shed house ordinance.

As the Burke County Planning Commission inches toward passing an ordinance that will allow for the conversion of storage sheds into tiny homes, the panel is leaning toward requiring the approval of an engineer.

Taking a portable storage building and converting it into a residential dwelling may soon be allowed on Burke County properties in zones where site built tiny homes are currently allowed, with the exception of mobile home parks.

However, local storage shed manufacturer Ryan Keller of Oakland Structures said the commission’s current approach might defeat the purpose of the alternative form of housing.

During a work session March 9, the panel discussed the elements they would like to see an ordinance contain. Director Scott Lee strongly urged a requirement that an engineer evaluate the units as purchased and report to the commission what is needed for the unit to meet minimal state code. However, unsuspecting buyers t could purchase a unit they can’t return that needs thousands of dollars’ worth of changes.

This 570 sq. ft. storage building, sold and manufactured locally by Oakland Structures, will be occupied in another county.

This 570 sq. ft. storage building, sold and manufactured locally by Oakland Structures, will be occupied in another county.

“Whether that means changing the windows or the doors or adding an additional floor joist,” Lee said and added, “I think an engineer needs to tell us how to anchor it to the ground too.”

Lee said once an engineer gets involved, it will be the engineer’s responsibility to evaluate the structure for code compliance, including materials, fastening, lumber grades, general construction. The engineer will also be responsible for designing and approving permanent anchoring.

“Once the engineer signs off, we would pick up the sub trades under the building codes,” Lee said, estimating the cost of hiring an engineer to be as high as $10,000.

People are not going to be able to purchase a metal building at a home improvement store and then expect to live in it, one panel member said.

“I can understand why they are leaning toward that, because it pushes it off onto the engineer,” Keller said. “But on the flip side, they might as well not even be talking about it, because what they might be doing is saying, ‘storage sheds are not an option for housing.’ They might be throwing it right back out of the park again.”

Keller said he understands the county’s reluctance to see “tin can” parks. However, he has worked with engineers on meeting standards for storage sheds utilized for commercial purposes. He described the experience as “over-the-top.”

“I feel like this is not really going to be an option because it’s going to get extremely expensive,” he said. He suggested it would be more feasible for shed manufacturers and customers if a county ordinance was developed that included the engineer-approved requirements. That way, he could build them and sell them to meet the county’s expectations. Customers could also purchase them knowing what they bought would pass the county’s inspection. “What I have seen is that to start engineering every shed can get a bit out-of-hand.“

Keller estimated the cost at $100,000, if a customer purchases a basic 300 sq. ft. shed and then has to hire an engineer and then still has to complete renovations so it meets the engineer’s recommendations.

Future dilemmas the Planning Commission discussed included people asking to place shed homes on reduced lots that require sewer services, multiple hunting cabins on the same property and shed home developments.

“I agree that we need something for common developments, I am just not to that point yet,” Lee said. “They are coming, you are right.”

Regarding the economic feasibility issue, Lee suggested people might want to abandon the shed house concept, due to the cost of it, and settle for living in RV campers instead.

“ I don’t see a way around engineering since the industry is unregulated by the state,” Lee said in an email. “ It’s kind of going out on a limb with the engineering.”

However, Keller said he is selling sheds ranging from 300- 700 sq. feet for the purpose of residential living quarters in other counties. He pointed out that a lot of people, in today’s market, are looking to spend $25,000 to $40,000 and end up with something they can call home. Besides the fact that campers deteriorate quickly, plumbing and electrical issues are much harder to trace and fix in RVs. Often people’s homes have to be pulled to a shop that can fix them. Keller said he understands the choice to live in 300 sq. feet building versus a narrow camper.

“It’s not a long-term option,” he said of living in a camper. “It’s a temporary option, that’s what they are designed for. That’s why people have turned to us. They say they have been living in a camper and it has not been a good option.”

The Planning Commission meets every 4th Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the historical courthouse. Lee is still working on an ordinance to present to the panel for their approval. He is shooting for the month of May, he said.

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