Think Small


The Legal Lowdown

In Maui County, all permanent dwellings must have a building permit issued by the Department of Public Works. The house must comply with all codes and zoning, be at least 120 square feet (not counting bathroom), and meet other requirements, such as ceiling heights of at least seven feet. The workaround here, as elsewhere in the U.S., is to place tiny houses on wheeled trailers — which also places them in the same category, and with the same restrictions, as house trailers:

• They can be no wider than nine feet, no taller than fourteen feet, and no longer than forty-five feet.

• If completely off the grid (solar or wind power, water catchment and composting toilet), they don’t require a building permit. If connected to County water, sewer, and the power grid, they will likely require a licensed contractor and a County permit.

• Tiny homes and other house trailers parked on a property must adhere to County setback requirements: ten feet away from other structures, five feet from property boundaries.

Could You Go Tiny?

Besides the obvious challenges of living in a small space, there are other considerations when making the decision:

Where will I get water?

Connecting to a municipal water source requires a building permit. Some tiny-home owners combine rain catchment with purchased water. Kalani Iselin and Kailea Frederick connected their tiny hose to a garden hose on the property where it’s parked.

What about electricity?

Again, connecting to local utilities triggers the building-permit requirement. Solar energy is the most practical a solution to powering your tiny house, although, according to Kalani, the batteries are fairly expensive, and last only about five years.

How will I cook?

Propane is the most practical solution, and is fairly inexpensive. Kalani and Kailea use a five-gallon propane tank mounted under their trailer, refilling it every one to two months.

How will I wash my clothes?

There is, of course, the laundromat option. Aside from that, there are several portable clothes washers that operate without electricity. Later in 2016, the Toronto-based Yirego Corp. will offer the Drumi, which uses a minimal amount of water and operates via a foot pedal.

What about refrigeration?

Kalani and Kailea have a mini fridge that’s powered by solar electricity. Erik Blair wanted to install a propane-powered fridge in his prototype, but couldn’t find a company that would ship one to the Islands. He says some tiny-house dwellers use a YETI cooler, in which ice can last for five to seven days.

How will I deal with human waste?

Staying off the grid, and avoiding the need for a building permit, means a composting toilet. Kalani and Erik both favor Nature’s Head’s dry-composting toilet, which requires a composting medium such as peat moss, sawdust, or coconut coir. According to Erik, the solid contents of the composting unit need to be moved to a secondary, exterior drying tank. Liquids need to be emptied in a safe spot outside, as well.


Start with the County’s planning department — specifically, its zoning administration and enforcement division. Building permits cover only the dwelling; you first need to know whether your parcel’s zoning will allow an auxiliary building.

Kalani Iselin will teach a course on tiny houses at UH–Maui College on Saturday, August 20, 2016. For details and to register, visit, click “Search Courses” and enter: tiny houses.


ABC Supply Co. Inc.
(custom-cut metal roofing)
446 Ala Makani St., Kahului
808-877-6507 |

Island Tiny Homes
Kalani Iselin
808-866-4911 |

Nature’s Head
(composting toilet)
251-295-3043 |

Pacific Millwork (custom furniture)
375 W. Kuiaha Rd., Ha‘ikū
808-575-7555 | MauiCabinetsFurniture

Simple Tiny Houses
Erik Blair

YETI (cooler)
512-394-9384 |

Yirego Corp.
(foot-powered washing machine)



  1. An affordable tiny house is one thing, but what about purchasing a piece of property to put the tiny house on? This issue alone seems prohibitive. I would do it in a minute, but this property issue has me puzzled.

  2. Mahalo MNKO Magazine for such a great article on this Tiny House Movement!
    Come out and talk tiny with the Simply Tiny Houses creator, Erik Blair, at the Queen Ka’ahumanu Center’s “Let’s Get Sustainable Expo” on Saturday, September 24, 2016. For more information contact Toni Rojas at

  3. Aloha and mahalo for the wonderful article. I hope everyone contacts their representatives locally and at the state level and let them know how important it is that they support the tiny house movement and get behind efforts to increase alternative affordable housing in Hawaii.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here