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How small can a home be built?

Richardofthewoods | Posted in General Questions on

Hello everyone and first time posting here at GBA!

I have a few questions regarding minimum square footage of new residential construction allowed by code.

1) How small can a one bedroom/studio(detached single family residential) be constructed providing code is satisfied?

2) Is this more of a county/state decision?
  (Wautaga County, North Carolina)

This home would be built on land NOT belonging to a subdivision zoned R1.  I’m leaning toward 600 SQ FT but Ive seen smaller plans available online with engineered seals.

Thanks for imput!

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  1. walta100 | | #1

    If you have no restriction on your deed then it becomes a local zoning question that will vary by state, county and sometimes by neighborhood.

    From what I can tell looks to a rural county often they have few or no rules and only an inspection for the septic system.

    It would be best to just ask at the permit office and get the only opinion that really matters.


  2. Robert Opaluch | | #2

    Some building codes specify that a home must have one room of at least 150 SQFT (e.g, open kitchen/living/dining area). If you have a separate bedroom, the minimum is 7' in either direction, and 70 SQFT minimum. Assume 12+ SQFT for a 4' bedroom closet? Another coat closet or kitchen closet? A small functional full bathroom would be about 5'x8' or 40 SQFT. You may need some dedicated space for a water tank and other equipment. Electrical heating or mini split would save space. Additional area needed for partitions and exterior walls. These minimums are probably a good idea even if not required in your area. But adding this up, you may be able to build a (cramped) one-bedroom home at under 400 SQFT, so 600 SQFT seems doable.

    I'm not clear on your reasons for the smaller home size, so assume you want to keep the total building costs down. You may already know most of the rest of this reply...but here's some ways to save some money.

    Being an owner-builder, or doing as much of the work as you can, would some money, assuming you have the skills to avoid mistakes and injuries.

    Note that adding another 2' to the length or depth of the floor plan doesn't add as much as the original cost per square feet. Building a rectangular shell that's a multiple of 4' or 2' saves some labor and materials. A simple shed roof or gable roof is very functional and not as expensive as more complex roofs. Buying used goods would save some money if you can find what you want. Vinyl siding, asphalt shingles, laminate countertops, etc are inexpensive, functional and look okay. You can skip many finish materials for now, to get your certificate of occupancy and live in the home, and complete other items at a later date.

    I'd recommend that you not skimp on insulation, air sealing and other energy efficiency choices. In the end, you will pay more over your lifetime than the costs of adding insulation or doing better air sealing IF ITS DONE during the initial construction. Adding it later tends to be much more costly (except for adding insulation to an unvented attic area). Casement, awning and fixed windows tend to be less leaky than double-hung windows. Arranging more of your windows facing south (if you don't have trees, buildings, etc. casting shadows in January) will give you more daylighting and solar heat gain mid-winter to reduce heating costs, but minimal early summertime heat gain with the sun overhead during June/July. Less windows on the east and west will reduce unwanted solar gains in summer. North windows will have less solar gain (and daylighting) all year round. Fewer, larger windows will cost less than more small windows.

    Best of luck with your home design and building project. I got a great deal of satisfaction being an owner-builder.

  3. Expert Member


    As Robert said, the costs of items all homes need - electrical service, kitchens, bathrooms, etc .are what drives the price per square foot. Adding a few extra square feet of space isn't proportionally anywhere near as expensive.

  4. drewintoledo | | #4

    My local ordinance where I’d like to build is zoned agricultural and is part of a very small town. It’s essentially farm land and even so, it is written that living structures must meet a minimum of 1200 conditioned, finished square footage. I suspect you have something similar if you dig in.

  5. gusfhb | | #5

    Remember that the cost of a thing is not what you pay for it, but what you pay for it minus what you eventually sell it for.
    A 600 sq ft house is not very marketable, even if it is very nicely done.
    Plus the actual framing is not the expensive part, it is all the other stuff that stays the same price no matter the size

    I am not suggesting you build, live in and heat/cool a larger house than you need. Consider for instance a standard 24x40 which includes either a garage or 3 season porch. While not common in NC, a small Cape with an unfinished upstairs would end up about the size you wish with room for 2 beds and a bath upstairs in the future. This means that if your plans change, or time flies by as it does, the structure you have created may more easily fit into someone else's plans, or your own updated plans.

    1. Robert Opaluch | | #6

      To expand upon Keith's comments....
      The smaller home you envision might be set up so that it integrates into a larger home addition. You might design something that could be expanded to the 3-4 BR, 2.5 BA home that seems the most commonly desired home layout in the USA. OR whatever is common in your area. You don't have to built it, just plan for it in case a future buyer wants to expand. (or you win the lottery!)

      The house I built was designed with an addition planned (that never got built). The house had an open floor plan with kitchen with breakfast bar, open to space for living room and small dining area, with half bath and laundry area. Upstairs was three bedrooms and a small study/extra bedroom/storage space, and full bath. No basement. Also had an attached garage and a little storage above. The addition would add a formal entrance facing the street, a living room and adjoining dining room. Upstairs would be a small loft over the living room. Upstairs the addition would expand one of the existing bedrooms into a larger bedroom and additional bath. So with the addition, it was a typical 3-4 BR with master bedroom/bath upstairs, and separate living and family room. But the original house was a 3BR 1.5 BA with an open floor plan kitchen-dining-living space, and 2 car garage. I could afford to build it (and do the labor), with the more expensive upscale rooms to be added later.

      The framing was done in the original house with doors framed into exterior walls to go into the (non-existent) rooms of the future addition. Electrical and plumbing stubs were located in exterior walls for future connections. (I could have had rebar from the foundation run out of the foundation to the future (non-existent) foundation, but didn't do that.). The roof would have been lower than the existing part of the house, and the siding would have been removed below the new roof. Without planning that addition, the addition would have been more difficult to design and more difficult and expensive to build.

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