Kol Peterson cover

Kol Peterson has been on the forefront of ADU (Accessory Dwelling Unit) development and advocacy for at least the last 10 years in Portland, Oregon. But don't worry! This conversation applies to ADUs at least everywhere in the United States, if not beyond. Kol is a really great thinker, is whip-smart, quite funny, and passionate about ADUs. In this conversation, we dive into why Kol sees ADUs as such an incredible opportunity for solving the housing crisis. We also talk about what's happening in Portland as it relates to tiny houses, probably making Portland the most tiny house-friendly city in the country.

In This Episode:

  • What is the definition of ADU (and why is the kitchen important)?
  • Common ADU restrictions and barriers to building
  • Who is advocating for ADUs and why?
  • Portland, OR is officially a tiny house-friendly place!
  • What about the safety standards?
  • Could you be an ADU advocate?

Links and Resources:

Guest Bio:

Kol Peterson

Kol Peterson

Kol Peterson is an ADU expert based in Portland, Oregon, who has helped catalyze the exponential growth of ADUs in Portland over the last decade through ADU advocacy, education, consulting, policy work, and entrepreneurship through his company, Accessory Dwelling Strategies LLC. He is the author of Backdoor Revolution-The Definitive Guide to ADU Development. He is the owner of Caravan- The Tiny House Hotel, the first tiny house hotel in the world, and organizer of Portland’s popular ADU Tour. He consults with homeowners about ADUs on their property and teaches ADU classes for homeowners and for real estate agents in Oregon, Washington, and California. He also co-runs ADU Academy and the ADU Specialist designation for professionals with Earth Advantage. He edits and manages AccessoryDwellings.org and BuildinganADU.com.

Kol developed and lived in a detached new construction ADU in 2011, and developed a basement/garage conversion ADU in 2018. He has a master's degree in environmental planning from Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. Prior to his ADU work, Kol worked in the federal government for ten years in Washington, DC, and Portland, Oregon.


This Week's Sponsor:

Tiny House Engage Logo

Tiny House Engage

When you listen to my conversation with Kol, you'll notice that I actually ask Kol a question that came in from Tiny House Engage. That's because Tiny House Engage members get to listen to these while I record these podcast episodes and ask questions of my guests. It's a really great way to get an inside look at the Tiny House Lifestyle Podcast and also benefit from the amazing array of talented guests that we have on the podcast. Registration is open until Tuesday and you can learn everything you need to know about Tiny House Engage at thetinyhouse.net/engage.


More Photos:

All photos courtesy of buildinganadu.com

The Murphy bed folds down…

…and also up into a desk!

Restrictions to ADUs can be a barrier to building


Many people and companies are advocating for ADUs

It's all about the kitchen: some should have them and some should not

Portland, Oregon is probably the most tiny house-friendly place in the US!


This seating area is stylish, comfortable, and provides storage

Space-saving bathroom configuration ensures room for a washer and dryer set

The lack of kitchen in this ADU is actually a good thing


Ceiling fans keep the air moving

Cute bookcase on the stairs



Kol Peterson 0:00

If you don't live in ADU friendly area, which is, by the way, like 90% of the United States, don't build an ADU. Build everything other than an ADU. Don't put in the kitchen sink, don't put in the stove, and tell your planning department to go suck it.

Ethan Waldman 0:15

Welcome to the Tiny House Lifestyle Podcast, a show where you learn how to plan, build and live the tiny lifestyle. I'm your host, Ethan Waldman, and this is episode 180 with Kol Peterson. Kol Peterson has been on the forefront of ADU development and advocacy for at least the last 10 years in Portland, Oregon. But don't worry, this conversation applies to ADUs at least everywhere in the United States, if not beyond that. Kol is a really great thinker, and is just whip smart and really quite funny and, and just passionate about ADUs. And in this conversation, we will really dive into why Kol sees ADUs as such an incredible opportunity for solving the affordable housing crisis. And then we also talk about what is happening in Portland as it relates to tiny houses, and probably making Portland the most tiny house friendly city in the country, I would think. So it's really exciting to hear what's happening. And I just really enjoyed this conversation with Kol Peterson and I know you will too.

One more thing when you listen to my conversation with Kol you'll notice that I actually asked Kol a question that came in from Tiny House Engage. That's because Tiny House Engage members get to listen live while I record these podcast episodes and ask questions of our guests. It's a really great way to get an inside look at the Tiny House Lifestyle Podcast and also just get to benefit from the amazing array of talented guests that we have on the podcast. Registration is open until Tuesday. So just another couple of days and you can learn everything you need to know about Tiny House Engage at thetinyhouse.net/engage. Again, that's thetinyhouse.net/engage.

Right I am here with Kol Peterson. Kol is an ADU expert based in Portland, Oregon, who has helped catalyze the exponential growth of ADUs in Portland over the last decade through ADU advocacy, education, consulting, policy, work and entrepreneurship through his company, Accessory Dwelling Strategies, LLC. He is the author of Backdoor Revolution The Definitive Guide to ADU development. He is the owner of Caravan, the Tiny House Hotel the first Tiny House Hotel in the world and organizer of Portland's popular ADU tour. He consults with homeowners about ADUs on their property and teaches ADU classes for homeowners, and for real estate agents in Oregon, Washington and California. He also co runs ADU Academy and the ADU Specialist Designation for Professionals with Earth Advantage the edits and manages accessorydwellings.org and buildinganadu.com. Kol Peterson, welcome to the Tiny House Lifestyle Podcast.

Kol Peterson 3:20

Thanks for having me.

Ethan Waldman 3:21

Thank you for being here. It's a very impressive bio I as I'm reading it, I'm like, wow, this this person is busy.

Kol Peterson 3:29

Yeah, I'm busy. And I'm starting up another company right now. So make my life busier.

Ethan Waldman 3:35

Yeah. Well, I was hoping that - I have so many different questions for you. And I'm trying to kind of figure out where to start. I guess my first question is, correct me if I'm wrong, but it sounds like you kind of were into at us before you were into tiny houses. Would that be correct? Or am I mistaking it?

Kol Peterson 3:57

Actually, that's a really good question. And no, I'd said I was actually to tiny houses. First I went to a workshop by Jay Shafer, in Portland in like, God, it was a long time ago. Probably like 2010, I'm guessing. And, and basically, you know, learn about tiny houses. I was thinking about living in a bus, or a tiny house or some kind of cooperative. And then I learned about ADUs. And I was like, Huh, that's where it's at. So I got into ADUs in 2000. Like, later in 2010.

Ethan Waldman 4:33

Got it. So why did you What made you say okay, ADUs, that's where it's at?

Kol Peterson 4:39

Well, because tiny houses weren't legal, you know? Yeah, they weren't legal anywhere. And so at us were basically like another way to do house hacking in a meaningful way, in the same way that ADUs and tiny houses have a lot in common, a lot, not uncommon, but fundamentally, they're both from my vantage solving these major systemics social political environmental issues. And so I'm a fan of both of them. But ADUs, unlike tiny houses fit really, you know, relatively well within the conventional housing regime that is insurance, financing appraisals, you know, construction methods, etc, etc. Whereas tiny house on wheels were this like fringe things and there couldn't be broad cultural or institutional adoption at that point in time. Now, that's changing as we speak, and I'm involved with that, but but ADUs, we're of a conventional concept that could take hold in a lot more of the country because they fall it out that nomenclature and standards and rules of normal construction.

Ethan Waldman 5:39

got it got it. Yeah, in a way, it seems that tiny houses are being folded in under the ADU umbrella.

Kol Peterson 5:47

They are now in you know, five jurisdictions in California. But, you know, what we're doing in Portland that I'm really proud of is not making them fall within the conventional IRC, you know, nomenclature of planning and zoning terminology. Rather, we're carving out an kind of a new category for a nice tiny house on wheels and RVs. And, and so I think there's the opportunity for them to fall under the ADU umbrella, perhaps, but I think they're kind of their own animal enough that I don't think they should.

Ethan Waldman 6:15

Yeah, yeah. Well, so I want to back up a little bit from there. You know, I'm always amazed. I hope that my listeners now know what ADU stands for accessory dwelling unit. But in case this is the first time someone's hearing an ADU and you've just like, expand, what's your definition of an ADU?

Kol Peterson 6:36

Yeah, I mean, it's like a two sentence definition of secondary housing on a single family lot. That's not all entirely true. It's not like a ghetto. There's different all these definitions breakdown, but just to keep it simple, secondary housing unit on a single family lot and and commonly referred to as backyard cottages in lawsuits, mother in law units, you know, and 100 other synonyms. Okay. Yeah. So

Ethan Waldman 6:59

they can, it's a definition that encompasses all the different permutations of, you know, converting a room over the garage building cottage in the backyard, building, you know, portioning off your house into and turning it into a second unit. All those fall under ADU.

Kol Peterson 7:16

Yeah, and we should just clarify in that, like, because that definition is two sentences, the deep answer gets really complicated, but, but, you know, fundamentally, if it has a kitchen in it, it typically is defined as a housing unit. And so therefore, you can add everything to your property such as like a detached accessory structure that has an office in it. That's not an ad. But if you had a kitchen into it, then it's going to trigger the ADU standard. So basically, that's what we're talking about is like a secondary living space. That means as its own kitchen.

Ethan Waldman 7:45

Interesting, and is that just a Portland thing? Or is that pretty? Pretty national?

Kol Peterson 7:51

That's uniform, uniform. Okay. But the interpretation of how you define what is it? What is it what is not a kitchen might vary by law jurisdiction level, typically, it's the stove, it's specifically it's the to 20 outlet for a stove or the gas connection that defines a stove. And rather than the stove itself, it's the connection to the stove, and then it's the certain size of a sink, basically. Wow.

Ethan Waldman 8:16

So you could potentially build something that doesn't have that in it, and it wouldn't be an ADU.

Kol Peterson 8:22

Exactly. In fact, I encourage people to do that. If you don't live in ADU friendly area, which is, by the way, like 90% of the United States, don't build an ad you build everything other than an ad, you don't put in the kitchen sink, don't put in the stove, and tell your planning department to go suck it like you're building, you're building an ADU, you call it something else and you're solving all the same problems that ADU solves, and when the time building department comes around, you can add a kitchen stove but meanwhile you have like functionally and ADU. And people you can figure out a way to wash your dishes in the bathroom sink if needed. And you could figure out how to cook your food in a microwave or convection oven if needed. And eventually the you're in you know city will catch up and have decent at regulations. But until then, build you know build what you want to build that accomplishes what you need to accomplish and then add the kitchen sink and stove later if needed.

Ethan Waldman 9:16

Well, what do you see as the primary thing that that ADUs accomplish?

Kol Peterson 9:25

Well, they accomplish a lot of different things, right? They're like this like magical hill that solves all these social, economic environmental issues, which is why they're cool. They have such a broad coalition from affordable housing advocates to people who want more aging and phrase place housing opportunities people for disabled children, to people who want to generate wealth to people who want to solve for climate change, because they're creating urban infill to people who believe in green building. Because they understand that ad use are inherently smaller, therefore they're more efficient. So there's a really great kind of coalition of people who have strong reasons to believe in ADUs. And so it's a matter of kind of aligning everybody's understanding of ADUs and the complexities and the barriers to ADU development and changing those institutional barriers to enable more people to be able to build them. And those institutional barriers really start with the regulatory legislative barriers that are like I said, in in place in 90% of the United States including the entire East Coast there isn't one city an entire East Coast united states that has what I would call good ad regulations yet Wow.

Ethan Waldman 10:43

Yeah, I so I'm in Burlington, Vermont, and and they're working on it, they they they allow ADUs, but functionally, you have to be rich to build one in your backyard just because of how many hoops you have to jump through to do it. Yeah, yep. So what, what makes ADU regulations more friendly?

Kol Peterson 11:06

Well, thethe big ones are off street parking. Like if you require off street parking, people won't be able to build a legal permanent ADU. This is like prioritizing cars over people. It's geometrically impossible to add one that's kind of a well known one.

The second big one is owner occupancy requirements, which is if you build an ADU, you must live on the property. That is, you know, shackling your freedom to do what you want with your house to these stupid, arbitrary regulations that don't apply to any other form of housing. Why are you planning it to ADUs?

Number three, conditional land use reviews, which is where you have to go through a discretionary, non predictable process. That's a really common one on the East Coast, like in half of Massachusetts anyway.

Ethan Waldman 11:46


Kol Peterson 11:48

And then we get into much more fine tooth detailed barriers, such as the size of the ADU or the setback requirements radius, whether it's like, you know, if you have a 20 foot rear yard setback requirement, because you're adopting the underlying zoning of a particular parcel, that's going to be a barrier to add development, if you're limiting the size of an ADU to 25% of the size of the primary house, which is a common regulation, that's going to limit the ADUs to only be like pencil for properties that have big houses on it. I it's a regressive ordinance that benefits people who have wealth and not people who don't. And there's like, you know, probably five to seven other significant common barriers, such as height limitations and other things that cause error or like, saying the ADU must be attached to the primary house that undermines like 60% of the ADU market. So there's a lot of like, common, more, less, less contentious, but just like, significant barriers like that, that would also put into the poison pill category.

Ethan Waldman 12:47

Yeah, yeah, absolutely. As you rattle those things off, I was just kind of thinking about stories that I've heard from, from various cities on the east coast of how hard it is to do these kinds of things. And, and I wonder, you know, I don't know if this is, well, I'm sure you think about this, you seem like a pretty thoughtful guy. Just the the idea or the criticism that, okay, I am like a wealthy person who owns a house in my city, I'm going to put an ADU in my backyard. I could rent it to a tenant for $1200 a month or I could put it on Airbnb and make $3,000 a month. Is that a bad thing? If If I put my ADU on Airbnb, or am I still adding adding housing to my city?

Kol Peterson 13:37

Well, this is like the, one of the more controversial hot button issues within the policy conversation. So there isn't like one right answer to this at all is very, like dependent on the city. There's really no right answer. Okay, so yeah. So in Portland, what they've done is, they've said, we support at us, but if and only if they're being used to provide housing, anything other than short term rental is a good thing. From our perspective, whether it's an office space or additional living space for an aging parent or a visiting family member, that's all good. But if you're going to use it as a short term rental, you're going to have to pay the system development charges, which are the residential impact fees for doing new development, and that adds $25,000 of cost. So they're saying, yep, you can do it totally fine to use an ADU as a short term rental, however, you're going to have to pay to do so because we don't want to subsidize you adding a hotel room. We don't care about hotel rooms. We care about housing, because we're trying to solve the affordable housing crisis. So we want you to build ADU but not if it's a short term rental, and we're no I shouldn't say if it's a short term rental, you can do it but we're not going to help you do it financially.

Ethan Waldman 14:47

Got it.

Kol Peterson 14:48

So I mean, I think that's a reasonable approach for a city to take. I think that's a fair approach. I think it makes sense. It's in alignment with their policy values. But other jurisdictions, I can imagine, simply don't want short term rentals at all. In which case, as long as they're treating at us with parity as they do to a single family house, I think it's fine to say no short term rentals in our community, or every structure can be a short term rental, but don't treat us with special with poor treatment in some way that's going to specially penalize them.

Ethan Waldman 15:23

Got it. Yeah, that makes that makes a lot of sense kind of saying that people could do this with single family homes. I could I could invest in buy the house next door and put it on Airbnb and that that shouldn't be treated any differently than me putting an ADU in my backyard. Yeah. So you've been advocating for ADUs for for a long time, probably much longer than most people have heard about them. I feel like in the last couple of years ADUs have become a really hot kind of almost a buzzword that you hear at least I hear a lot in the tiny house world. Can you talk about what the landscape was like when you started advocating for ad use and and what it's like now at least in in Portland, where you are?

Kol Peterson 16:10

Well, yeah, I mean, I think the broader point that you just made is the big one which is at is it become almost like a it's it's almost seeped beyond just being a known thing amongst planning and zoning staff. But now it's kind of known amongst a number of different industries like builders, planners, designers, realtors, you know, municipal officials, affordable housing advocates, green builders, everybody kind of knows about ADUs now. And so there's a lot of more institutional support, not not the least of which is AARP, which is the largest nonprofit or member organization in the country. Now they're really gun. They're really go home, go whatever. They're really gung ho for ADUs, which is awesome. Yeah. Whereas when I started doing this work, there was nobody, there was no articles about ADUs. There was no, there's certainly no institutional backing for ADUs by anybody. So it was just like an ad hoc group of people that got together in Portland, who started to like, think about what we could do to promote this thing called ADU is that you've never heard of, but they're really cool. And you should consider them. And so it was like building an accessory dwelling site or getting running the ADU tour and teaching classes and stuff like that. That was like just like building the base, the the the, the the ground game for like awareness about this for housing form.

Ethan Waldman 17:36

Why do you think that the AARP has gotten so gung ho on on ad use?

Kol Peterson 17:43

for all the reasons I just said, it's a win win, win, win, win, win win win win win win win? Which you don't find very much in the world?

Ethan Waldman 17:50

No, no, you really don't. You really don't. It's pretty cool. And it also, I think, what's cool about it is that it by definition is so grassroots, because, you know, all these single family homes are owned by individual people. And it's it's kind of a grassroots response to the housing crisis, that we have individual people building individual units in their backyards, rather than a developer, you know, buying an old school or an old industrial building and turning it into apartments.

Kol Peterson 18:23

You basically just quoted the back cover of my book. Wow. I mean, that's, that's what I said, Do you know, yeah, this is a grassroots housing revolution that can solve all these problems like this super cool. That's why I like it, it's like distributed. It's not a centralized solution. So everybody can take advantage of it as long as these institutional barriers and knock down, which I think is awesome, like there's very few things like that, it's like a very substantial, it's not a small thing. It's not like not to like throw, changing light bulbs under the bus, that's a great thing, do it but like ADUs are very substantial in terms of the carbon impact or reduction that they can offer. So it's especially if you're doing like a conversion. And this is also true with tiny houses on wheels. By the way, it's not just a to use, but anyway, it's very substantial thing that somebody can do in their lifetime. Cool. So

Ethan Waldman 19:19

one thing that I that I was thinking of while you were talking was as the it sounds like the legal or the regulatory structures have kind of warmed to at us and it's a lot easier are the financial and insurance and other kind of things that a homeowner would need to build one in place, or is it kind of like, Okay, if you want to do an ADU, you're going to have to have $100,000 in cash because you're not going to get financing to do it.

Kol Peterson 19:53

Yeah, I mean, that's that's kind of the truth with ADUs is like more or less you need to Be well heeled or at least have access to family members who are because the financing is so difficult. And there's a lot of interest now from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to change underwriting policy, but there's still even if they fixed what they could, there's still the Appraisers who need to understand how to properly value ADU, which is a problem. And then there's banks, you need to be willing to be risky with what construction loan policies to go above and beyond with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac what might offer? So this is a lot of barriers that it's not, it's gonna happen. It's just a matter of time. Yeah. And so there's a lot of work, a lot of like, smart people who are kind of thinking about ADU financing all across the country now in their local jurisdiction, like how to make ADU financing easier. Eventually, after 1000 flowers bloom, you know, some people will figure out good ways to do it just hasn't really occurred yet. Yeah.

Ethan Waldman 20:59

What do you envision for the the future state of ad use? You know, like, you've gone from being really hard and not a lot of people know about it to it's it's easier than our front ADU friendly cities. But you still have to, as you said, Be well heeled, you know, where do you hope this movement is in in 10? In 10 years more?

Kol Peterson 21:21

Well, good tie in, I think, I think it should go into the mobile ADU space. I think that's where it's at. I think that's gonna be like, basic when I say mobile ADU is that is intended to encompass anything that's a mobile dwelling, whether it's like a mobile house, I guess, but more like, a tiny house on wheels, or an RV or a travel trailer, or whatever else may come in the future. I think I think there's a lot of potential for that to be a big thing. Where if that's way, like not happening yet, but it will happen, hopefully, eventually, because it should, yeah, it makes sense for the same reasons that, at least for all the policy reasons that people state that they like, ADUs, mobileADUs would be even better. That is they would be much less expensive. They'd be easier to build one place move, we move to someplace else, they provide more flexibility. But it's like a an entirely different sector that doesn't exist really yet. Except now it's starting to in California and Oregon. Yeah. Got it. Got it.

Ethan Waldman 22:24

Yeah, I was thinking like, okay, right now, it's grassroots. Will, you know, who knows, maybe in 10 years, if the housing crisis continues to get worse, which are all all indicators point to that it will. Maybe there will be you know, government money or like actual, like, town's reaching out to homeowners and saying, like, we want to put an ADU on your property, we'll help you do it, like, kind of reversing the flow of like, it's rather than homeowners coming to the city to say, Can I do this? The city is reaching out to homeowners to say please do this.

Kol Peterson 23:02

Yeah, and they should, right, like cities should be doing whatever they can to support homeowners to do this stuff. Not that they should be directly subsidizing it, but they should be like treating it with at use with special white gloves. That makes it as easy as possible. And whatever methods seem to be working on that front. Other cities should emulate and the very first thing is having good regulations for them, which is kind of stupid. But that's, that's where we're at is like the West Coast. Like kind of has good ad regulations everywhere. Yeah, but pretty much just just the West Coast. Not even like one state in Yeah, past there. It's like not that good across the country.

Ethan Waldman 23:41

This is a good question that came in from Tiny House Engage. Would you say that the poison pill and unfriendly barriers are for the most part intentional? Or are they just like dinosaurs from the building industry?

Kol Peterson 23:56

Oh, that's a great question.

I think they're dinosaurs. I mean, certainly now they're dinosaurs. Maybe when they first were conceived of they had a little bit poor intentions. But I think now it's kind of just like, people just have owner occupancy requirements, because they require an occupancy. We don't know why. It's like bureaucrats don't think about it. They don't think to question it. And it's just what they have. But they don't know. Like, actually, I did a lot of research on what the history of these regulations were for. And I couldn't track it down. Like there's no answer, but I can surmise what they might have been about. It's probably, you know, some it's probably some perception of like, we don't want renters like we don't like renters. And so we don't want renters in our, in our in ours. Right. Sacred single family zone. So me if I was to guess that would probably be the precipitating motivation. But that's not really a justifiable motivation, if you believe in, you know, providing affordable housing and stuff like that, that we say we want. Yeah, totally.

Ethan Waldman 25:00

That's a great question and a great answer. So, I think now that now that we've talked about ADUs a bit, I feel like now we can come back to you know what, what is happening in Portland and the recent recent changes that are applying to tiny houses on wheels and RVs?

Kol Peterson 25:21

Yeah, let's talk about it. Super cool.

Ethan Waldman 25:24

Yeah. Maybe when did this happen? What happened? How were you involved? anywhere you want to go with

Kol Peterson 25:31

it? Oh, sure. So I've been involved with this idea for a long time, like since I opened Caravan really in 2013, which is a tiny house hotel. So those are like Tiny Homes on wheels on a commercial property. And what the things I'm most proud about with Caravan are that it was like the first place where tiny house on wheels were legally connected the sewer, anywhere that I knew of. And it was the first place where people could like go stay in a tiny house, because there are other ways are like under the radar. But we figured out how to make them like publicly available.

So in any case, so we're working on this, in that in that kind of awareness building in like building code specific way and a lot for for a long time. But now we've gotten a new code passed in Portland that as of August 1 2021, that allows for the habitation of a mobile dwelling that is in a tiny house on wheels or an RV, any form of an RV basically, to be lived in on a residential property. And importantly, it's not classified as ADU that is you can have an ADU and also have this Wow, you can you can let you have multi you can have a duplex triplex or four Plex You can also have this on top of that. So it doesn't count as like a housing allocation number one, number two, you don't have to meet any of these and see 190 point five standards or thta certification standards. So it allows for the DIY DIYers out there to build something and live in it. And they won't be required to meet any standards, which reduces the cost of construction. And lastly, you're not required to what you're supposed to put in a water, sewer and electrical connection. But if you don't have plumbing serving your your mobile dwelling that is you don't have a kitchen or bathroom. The presumption is that you can use the primary house. And you don't have to provide as a homeowner, you're not to provide a legal sewer, or water connection to the tiny house, which again, reduces the cost a lot.

So again, this is be treating it like a detached bedroom, that is not one with the plumbing in it. So we're also gonna allow that to happen in a detached, tiny house on wheels. And so it provides a lot of flexibility, it's a pretty easy standard to meet as far as the development standards. And there's already in fact, a lot of people living in RVs and tiny houses in Portland has kind of been, you know, colloquially understood as like a tiny house friendly place for a long time. But it wasn't really that different than other places, just that a lot of people lived here with tiny houses. But now it's officially a tiny house friendly place. And it's different than the other approaches that have been used elsewhere in the country that limit tiny houses to like certain standards and certain tie down requirements and certain utility connection requirements and all the stuff that makes them more difficult, more expensive to build.

Ethan Waldman 28:17

Yeah, and it's it's pleasantly surprising that that you were able to or whoever advocated for this was able to get it approved without those Anssi standards, because it seems like most other cities are like, Alright, well allow movable tiny houses, but like they have to have been built to like the standards and certified and we need like, basically kind of locks out any tiny houses that were built before 2018 or 19. Right or even now, and also just locks out any kind of DIY.

Kol Peterson 28:58

Exactly. And, and it makes this form of construction, expensive, right. And so for actually doing this to solve affordable housing, which again, is like what everybody says they want, then we have to start pushing the envelope and thinking outside the box and doing stuff that's actually innovative. Right. And so, a IRC, or sorry, an ANSI rated tiny house is gonna cost more because it's done by professionals in professional settings with licensed Gee, you know, plumbers and electricians and all the rest, it's going to cost more. And I get there's value in that. I'm not trying to say it's not value in it. I'm a big fan of advanced construction methods, etc. But if our goal is to solve affordable housing, which everybody says it is, then we have to figure out how to solve affordable housing. And so that is there's a big part of that it's going to dramatically reduce the cost. And if you allow for RVs Hey, it ain't a beautiful thing to live in. But it's a hell of a lot cheaper than ADU which is a hell of a lot cheaper than a house.

Ethan Waldman 30:00

Right, right. And that RVs ostensibly were built to a standard if they were manufactured RV. Yeah, certainly not the standard that a house would be built to. But a standard nonetheless.

Kol Peterson 30:13

Yeah, yeah. So if you're really invested in standards, I guess you could say, below to an RV standard, but I mean, then you're gonna, you're not allowing for a beautiful, cute, tiny house on wheels. But you are going to allow for somebody to live in a crappy looking formaldehyde plastic shell. So

Ethan Waldman 30:28

how do you how do you make the safety trade off? Or, you know, the perceived safety trade off that, okay? If they're not being built to these ANSI standards, you know, there's going to be people dying and fires who can't get out of the loft, there's going to be air quality issues from, you know, mold growing in these houses. I mean, I know that these are rare scenarios. But you know, I'm sure something like this came up at some planning meeting somewhere.

Kol Peterson 30:57

I'm sure that that is the rational kind of response that a lot of people have, I would just question, I would say, find me any statistically valid studies that actually show what you're saying here. In reality, for example, I would say like, Are there Is it true that a Can we say for authoritatively that RVs are more safe than DIY tiny house on wheels? I don't know. I had people I have. I've had over 20,000 guests stay at caravan, the tiny house hotels since we've been open. Not a single injury that entire time. I mean, nothing, nothing bad ever happened. Tiny, the tiny houses, none of them were built any standards? Probably not even by professional builders, in many cases. RVs definitely. I've seen RV fires and all this, even though they're certified. Yeah. So like, maybe it's just the fact we don't have combustible appliances in our Tiny Homes? I don't know, I don't have all the answers to stuff. All I know is, we should be able to back up our theories with actual facts and not just assumptions that somehow meeting some arbitrary standard that somebody thinks is good on some committee is somehow going to result in more life safety.

Ethan Waldman 32:16

Yeah, yeah, totally. Totally. So my experience in the tiny house world has been that the tiny house movement types are very resistant to being lumped in with RV's, because, you know, probably for aesthetic reasons. And also, the fact that RV's are it's right there in the name recreational vehicles. And so it's been this struggle to say like, no, even though our tiny home has wheels, it's not an RV it's a house. Do you think that there's, do you think that there's any downside to kind of the Portland regulations that kind of lumped movable tiny houses and RVs just together?

Kol Peterson 33:00

You know, it's really getting into really technocratic details, so I can answer the question, but I don't think it really matters that much. I think these nomenclature is gonna change. It's not called tiny houses on wheels forever, it's not gonna call movable tiny houses forever. Yeah, it's gonna be called something out, it might be able to be called mobile You know, it'ss one day, these names will change, definitions will change. So don't get too stuck on the details of how we're defining it in 2021, or whatever this is, because it wasn't that way in 2015. And it won't be that way in 2025.

But in Oregon, as long with 48 other states in the United States, I don't know which states still does it. But 49 states no longer regulate RVs as a state entity, they no longer say, we require that RVs are built to RVIA or tha standards or whatever it is, or not THIA whatever it is, I don't know that. So states have kind of like, forgotten their authority of overseeing the construction standards for RV. So I think there might be some like opening there for calling tiny houses on wheels are these because RVs are not being acquired to meet any standard by the state anyway, so jurisdictions can still require that if they want, but they don't have to. And so we basically got Portland to follow suit of what Oregon and done and say, Hey, Oregon no longer requires are these meet any statewide standard, it's up to the buyer of the RV to see whether they want it to be certified to a certain scene or not. It's not up to the state anymore. We don't care. We're out of this game.

Ethan Waldman 34:36


Kol Peterson 34:37

If you want to tow it down the road, you have to get a tow tag like a license plate on it, but that's not really a building code center. That's just like going to tow it down the road. So we said to Portland, hey, you know, Oregon, Oregon isn't requiring this so Portland, you guys shouldn't require it either. And if people want to tow down the road, they can get a temporary tow plate from the DMV. And we're good. We don't need your involvement in the regulation of these, you know, mobile dwellings where you're off the hook city, and that's the approach they adopted.

Ethan Waldman 35:09

Cool. I'm sure, you know, there's so much friction in, in government, these processes that you have to go to, okay, you have to talk to the environmental review board, you have to talk to zoning, you have to talk to his planning, you have to get the building, there's like so many different offices to visit. And I feel like anytime you can reduce the friction there, it's going to be faster and easier to build something like this.

Kol Peterson 35:36

We are we're putting in. Okay, so I'm going to tip off my next question that you didn't ask, but I'm gonna get to, which is I'm starting a new company. Now were you going to gonna ask about that?

Ethan Waldman 35:46

I am gonna ask, but I was about to, so do it.

Kol Peterson 35:49

Okay, so I'm starting this new company called Tiny Hookups, which is with two other people. And we're serving as general contractors putting in infrastructure and people's residential properties under this new code that allows for the habitation of mobile dwellings. And so, you know, in this case, on a really expensive complicated project, we are going to put in the infrastructure, water, sewer, electrical connections, our first project, it's gonna cost like $15,000 bucks is expensive. This is not cheap. 15 this one 5000 I think it's expensive, like relatively speaking for, but but it's just a really complicated project. And it's gonna take us like two months, which is a really long time in the tiny house is gonna be delivered later this month. And she's probably started the process like, I don't know how many months ago, but it's actually being shipped over from the east coast. In any case, this whole project with the house is going to cost her like on it's going to be expensive, like $115,000 gonna take like six months. And that is like half the cost of the least expensive ADU you can do right now. And that's a really complicated project. Wow. You could and like, you could do infrastructure on some properties for like, 5k 10k and get a tiny house much quicker than six months, and for much less than 100,000. So I mean, that and that's like, you know, it's, it's like, this is an expensive, really difficult one, it's still half the cost of the least expensive at noon, Portland. So I think there's just a lot of potential for this form of like, formalizing this type of construction or development. Yeah,

Ethan Waldman 37:25

yeah. So I love the name Tiny Hookups, it's a really awesome idea. To just kind of be able to one stop shop company that's going to come and put any infrastructure, I'm assuming that you're going to get the approvals needed from the city and yeah, figure that all out. What in Portland at least, like what do you have to put down? For a tiny house on wheels in a backyard? You have to pour like a concrete slab? Does it just gravel? Like run me through what kind of what you have to do?

Kol Peterson 37:54

Well, this is great, because like, this is literally we're doing our first job as a general contractor. We're the only company doing it, and no other cities in this country. So you're getting be the first first one is the very first first like answer to this question, we're going to have to do a three by three foot sloped concrete pad towards a sewer clean out, which is, you know, abs sewer clean out, which is going to tie into the primary house, it's a four inch or three inch sewer clean out, then we have to put a foot operated latch on top of the sewer clean out so that you can extensively This is adopting the RV, like sewer dump standards so that you could touch the dump station to open up the foot operated latch to dump in a flexible duct from your RV to this ABS sewer connection without touching it with your hands. And if there's God forbid spillover of crap, then it would end up on this three by three foot concrete pad which is sloped towards the sewer drain. So that's the sewer.

Ethan Waldman 38:50


Kol Peterson 38:51

The water, you just use any hose connection on your property, we'll put in a new dedicated spigot using Pex and then the sewer connection or sorry, the electrical connection, you got to do a dedicated 30 amp or a 50 amp electrical circuit, which is going to look like an RV type of outlet, right? Like you would see at an RV park. And then as far as the parking pad, you can park on grass, you can park on asphalt, you can park on concrete, you can park on gravel, you can park on whatever you want it from a best practices point of view, it's probably better to park on gravel or a hard surface at least where you're going to put the points of contact with the four corners of the tiny house. So we're gonna go with gravel for the most part. But you know, it all depends on the site. Nice. Nice.

Ethan Waldman 39:37

That's so just catching up on something you said a little while ago. So the cheapest ADU you can do in Portland is is $250,000

Kol Peterson 39:49

a year I'd say like if you did a custom 400 square foot ADU these days which is on the small side. 350 400 square feet. That's going to come in at 225 250 based on construction costs currently, yeah, you can get some less expensive to use. Don't get me wrong, but like, if you're gonna go for the custom, standard kind of product that will get you can get some for like 125 150. But like, those are like manufactured homes, basically.

Ethan Waldman 40:19

Yeah. Wow. Well, yeah. So that back to Tiny Hookups. Very cool. Do you have more more clients more projects in the works?

Kol Peterson 40:28

Yeah, we have through my ADU consulting business. Now I'm getting a lot more inquiries for tiny houses. And we'll so as I'm getting this consultations, and just, you know, putting our name out there amongst those who want to put in the infrastructure saying, Hey, I will tell you how to do it. But if you want to do so if you want to do it yourself, it'll be cheaper. But if you want to a GC to do it, we will do it. And so some homeowners are contacting me that way and getting our leads. Very nice.

Ethan Waldman 40:54

Are there any kind of movable housing structures that are excluded from from Portland's regulations? Like I'm thinking skoolies, vans? Can those count as RVs?

Kol Peterson 41:07

I don't think they do. I don't think a school bus counts as an RV. It's a good question. I don't know what the technical distinction is like, I don't actually don't know the answer to this question whether a motorized RV is permissible right now or not in Berlin? I know that all non motorized RVs are that I'm not sure about motorized RVs. Yeah. And skoolies would not be in school schools will be classified most likely as a as a vehicle not a an RV, I'm guessing. Yeah.

Ethan Waldman 41:35

Was there a backlash to this? Or was there were there any people who came to the meetings to fight it?

Kol Peterson 41:40

No, this is so fascinating. Even. There is like 2000 public comments about this proposed set of regulations that included Tiny Homes on wheels, and there was probably about 200 comments that specifically talked about tiny house on wheels, and RVs, this is all online on the public record, if you want to look at it yourself. And they were all positive. There was not one negative comment about this proposal in the entire public comment period.

Ethan Waldman 42:08

That that blows my mind, because I could definitely see some people getting being like, Oh, my property values if an RV is parked next door kind of thing.

Kol Peterson 42:20

Not one negative comment. It is fascinating. And that goes to show me that there is a huge political opening here for tiny houses on wheels. And these because of the motivations for people to solve the affordable housing crisis. Now you have to do some groundwork with like housing activists to get people out to support it. But yeah, there wasn't a lot of push, push back, despite all this fear that you know, people are like afraid of having Arby's next door to them. There wasn't anybody commenting about that. Cool. Cool.

Ethan Waldman 42:52

So my last kind of topic that I want to want to touch on here is just like how can people you know, somebody listening? Who doesn't have the good fortune of living on the West Coast? You know, somebody on the East Coast or in the middle of the country, in a town that has crappy ad regulations? Even advice?

Kol Peterson 43:13

Yeah, what I say when I what I said at the beginning of the show, which is build build it anyway, just don't put a kitchen sink or stove in it. So most jurisdictions like you, you can find creative loopholes, to everything. And I'm like the loophole guy like loopholes so. So build it as a detached office, build it as a detached bedroom, if it has to be attached, building addition. You know, you can put in walls between one portion of an addition and another you can put in a bathroom, you can put in a separate entrance, and you can put in everything except the kitchen, sink and stove. And voila, you have an ADU like structure. And you can accomplish all the same goals that people who have ADUs know, can and you can tell your planning department to go catch up with the West Coast. Because we need people who are willing to stick their neck out and do civil disobedience in a totally legitimate way, and show the idiocracy of the some of these rules and regulations that are prohibiting us from taking part in this grassroots housing revolution.

Ethan Waldman 44:10

Yeah. Cool. And then what about those who, who might want to actually advocate who maybe don't have the property or the means to do this kind of civil disobedience but wants to be part of the the advocacy?

Kol Peterson 44:27

Yeah, and like, you know, so if you're living in a tiny house on wheels, you're also part of that, by the way, like, it's not just people who own property. Yeah. Yeah. So I think I think the number one step in jurisdictions or regions where there's like a need for this, which is you know, you could say it's the whole country but like it really there's a need for this in areas where there's no for a while basis, which is most of the coastal United States, east and west coast, then I think the best strategy is to kind of get together with other people who are also interested in this concept, not just friends but like Institute All actors, realtors, builders, designers, urban planners, and work on a strategy to legalize ad use, be legalized to use make them easier to build real make at middle housing easier to build. And tiny house on wheels, like I said, I think are kind of the future. It's a little bit ahead of the time in terms of like, cities broadly adopting this stuff, because you know, it's a little bit as we're bleeding edge right now, like, we have to see how this plays out in Portland, in California to that what's really the best practice? Yeah, and other places, but other places can experiment too. And, you know, I think the more experimentation right now with tiny house on wheels, the better because they offer a really good opportunity. And apparently, they're politically palatable, based on our experience here in Portland.

Ethan Waldman 45:45

Yeah, seems like it. Well, one, one thing that I just like to ask all my guests is, do you have one or two or three book recommendations or other resources, about ADUs about housing in general, just things that have inspired you to pass along? Yeah,

Kol Peterson 46:01

I just read a book called Wheel Estate, a bad name, but great book. It was written in the early 90s, maybe late 80s. And it's fascinating. It's just a historic, really detailed historic sketch of the origin of of RVs. And then mobile homes, manufactured homes, and it touches on ad use. And I think it's a really good like background on the history of mobile dwellings prior to that tiny house on wheels movement. Nice. Awesome.

Ethan Waldman 46:35

Yeah. Kol Peterson, thank you so much for for sharing your knowledge and experience and thanks for what you're doing.

Kol Peterson 46:41

Yeah, thank you. It's been a lot of fun.

Ethan Waldman 46:45

Thank you so much to Kol Peterson for being a guest on the show. Today, you can find the show notes, including links to Kol's website books, and to a great blog post about the Portland regulations and what changed at thetinyhouse.net/180. Again, that's thetinyhouse.net/180. All right. Well, that's all for this week. I'm your host, Ethan Waldman. And I'll be back next week with another episode of the Tiny House Lifestyle Podcast.

powered by

Subscribe to the Tiny House Lifestyle Podcast: