Floating House Policy Frequently Asked Questions

Updated February 26, 2016


What does the Floating Houses Final Environmental Impact Statement say and what are TVA’s main conclusions?

The preferred management alternative analyzed in the Floating Houses Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and TVA’s recommended policy decision is to temporarily allow and issue permits for the existing floating houses (FHs) on TVA reservoirs that meet minimum safety and environmental standards as prescribed by TVA. Pre-1978 nonnavigable (NN) houseboats in compliance with a current TVA Section 26a permit are also allowed to continue but would not be subject to all the new floating houses standards or an annual fee. A sunset date in 20 years would require removal of all existing floating houses and nonnavigable houseboats from TVA reservoirs and the Tennessee River system.

What will be in the proposed rules? What’s different than it was before?

To support the policy, proposed rules are being developed. The proposed rules will require floating house owners to meet minimum safety and environmental standards and pay an annual fee based on size of the structure including attached decks, docks and floats. Highlights of the updated requirements include minimum standards for electrical safety such as ground fault protection; complying with local, state and federal regulations for sewage and waste water; and prohibiting use of un-encased Styrofoam for replacement and repair of flotation. The proposed regulations will support the policy and will be published for comment in the coming weeks.

When will the new Floating House Rules be in effect?

TVA will publish a notice of proposed rule making in the Federal Register and accept public comments during a 30-day comment period. After the public comment period, final rules will be published effective later in 2016.    

What are some of the key standards required for a Floating House permit and TVA approval?

  • Provide GFCI protection not exceeding 100 milliamperes for all power sources.
  • Comply with applicable federal, state and local laws and regulations regarding sewage, wastewater and discharges.
  • Un-encased Styrofoam is prohibited when replacing existing flotation material.
  • Pay an annual fee based on structure size (square footage) including decks, docks and floats. Minimum $200 or 50 cents per square foot.
  • Certify the Floating House structure complies with required standards.

If I own a pre-1978 approved nonnavigable houseboat, how will I be affected by the policy and proposed rules?

  • A pre-1978 nonnavigable houseboat in compliance with the terms and conditions of the current permit will not be subject to the new standards or the annual fee.  
  • Nonnavigable houseboats without direct utility connections must be equipped with a properly installed and operating Marine Sanitation Device (MSD) or Sewage Holding Tank and pump out capability.
  • The future use of un-encased Styrofoam to replace or repair existing flotation is prohibited.    
  • Nonnavigable houseboats may not be structurally modified or rebuilt. They may be retired and exchanged for a newly constructed floating house meeting all required standards. The size is limited to the same size footprint or 1,000 square feet, which ever is smaller.    
  • All nonnavigable houseboats and floating houses must be removed from TVA reservoirs and the Tennessee River System before the twenty-year sunset period ends.    

How much time will be allowed to make the necessary modifications for compliance with the required standards?

Within 2 years of the effective date of floating house rules, owners must pay a $500 processing fee, apply for a permit and certify compliance with the standards. Those not applying for a permit and with no intent to comply with the standards should remove their structures. Non navigable houseboats not in compliance with a current permit would also have 2 years to be brought into compliance with the permit, or apply for a new floating house permit and certify compliance with floating house standards.  

What happens if I don’t get a permit or don’t meet the new rules and standards?

If compliance with the updated rules and standards or the terms and conditions of a current permit is not achieved, the structure would have to be removed from the reservoir at the owner’s expense.      

Why did TVA modify the water quality standards presented in the Draft EIS related to management of grey water and sewage?

Since TVA is not the agency with regulatory authority for water quality and sewage disposal and there are many other entities/jurisdictions with some responsibility for water quality, TVA determined to change the standard. The new standard will provide for the floating house owner to comply with the respective local, state or federal laws relating to waste water and sewage discharges and disposal. If a notice is received of non compliance from a regulatory agency concerning a FH, then TVA will revoke the permit in cooperation with the regulatory agency if compliance as determined by the regulatory agency is not achieved.

Why is TVA charging a fee for Floating Houses?

Managing floating houses has caused TVA additional expenses in the past and will result in additional costs to TVA in the future. TVA believes the owners of floating houses should pay a fee to partially reimburse TVA for its costs and reduce expenses to TVA ratepayers. FHs in compliance with a current TVA approval would not be subject to an annual fee as long as they remain in compliance with permit terms and conditions.

How will TVA classify a factory houseboat that is no longer capable of transportation and is used primarily for habitation? What if it is in a slip with all utilities connected?

TVA will review and make a determination in each case, but if used primarily for habitation and not capable of transportation, it will likely be considered a floating house and subject to the new rules. If the capability to safely navigate is restored and proven, the houseboat will not be subject to floating house rules.  

How will FHs and NNs with attached floating decks, platforms, docks and storage enclosures be handled in permits? 

All associated structures must be permitted and documented in the approval. The area of all structures will be part of the basis for the fee.

Will TVA charge a processing fee for each initial FH permit?

Yes, a standard processing fee of $500. Floating house permit applications would be reviewed after the effective rule date. Future permit transfers of NNs and FHs will also require a processing fee of $250.  

How much will the annual administrative cost fee be?

The annual fee will be a minimum of $200, and will be based upon the square footage of the floating house and all associated structures including walkways, porches, decks, docks, swim platforms, storage space or other structures. A rate of 50 cents per square foot will be applied to the structures covered by the permit. The table below provides the annual costs for several floating house examples. Pre-1978 non-navigable houseboats in compliance with a current TVA permit will not be subject to the annual fee.    

Square Feet

Cost @ 50 Cents/SF

up to 400












How will FHs and NNs with detachable floating decks, porches, etc. be handled in permit fees?

Since the attached and associated decks and other structures consume water surface area and are used for private purposes, it will count towards the total square footage when assessing fees.

How will FHs and NNs with land-based structures (decks, walkways, anchoring systems, etc.) be handled in permits?

These features would be considered in each permit review and incorporated or denied as applicable in the permit issued by TVA. Access walkways from the shoreline to the floating house structure would not be factored into the floating house footprint or square footage calculated for the annual fee.        

What does being in compliance with a Section 26a permit mean?

  • The existing (active) permit is in the current owner’s name
  • Structure is placed at the permitted location
  • Structure is the correct permitted dimension (length and width and height)
  • Non-encased Styrofoam flotation was not replaced with Styrofoam
  • Sewage/waste water is managed in accordance with applicable rules
  • Electrical safety standards such as GFCI protection are met.
  • No violations of permit terms and conditions  

How will FHs/NN’s be addressed that are not within a commercial marina (for example fronting private property)?  

If the structure is in compliance with a current existing Section 26a permit which approves the existing location, it can remain. The individual owners will be responsible for certifying the structure complies with required standards. If the structure is not approved for a location outside a marina harbor, the owner will be responsible for moving to a marina.

Can I re-build and expand my permitted NN? Would it be subject to FH rules, policy and fees?

Rebuilding with TVA approval is allowed under the trade and exchange program, but would be subject to FH rules and standards including payment of the annual fee.

Expansion would not be permitted. The structural footprint including attached docks, decks and floats should be the lesser of the same footprint or a maximum of 1,000 square feet.

Excess footage above the 1000 square feet used in the exchange cannot be transferred to another person or project.

Why should I bother bringing my floating house up to code if you’re going to make me tear it down anyway?

The proposed standards are designed to reduce key safety and environmental concerns that have become more prevalent issues. The regulations proposed by TVA will allow floating houses compliant with standards to remain and be used on TVA reservoirs for 20 years. If these structures are not compliant with the updated standards and rules, they are subject to immediate removal. A decision to upgrade a floating house or remove it must be made by the owner according to their particular circumstances.      

When will the rules be final? How will I be notified?

Final floating house regulations are projected to be in effect in the summer of 2016.

A number of communication methods will be used to give notice such as informational meetings at marinas, media releases, regular mail and e-mail notifications to stakeholders; NN permit holders and marina customers; on-site posters at marinas and other reservoir locations; and updated information on the Floating Houses Project web page. Public meetings and webinar sessions may also be conducted as needed.  

How long will TVA give me to remove my floating house?

Owners who do not file a notice of intent within 6 months from effective date of final rules to maintain their structure in compliance with TVA rules, and who do not apply for a permit would be subject to immediate removal at their expense. Owners will have up to 2 years from the effective date of final rules to obtain a permit and certify compliance. Sub-standard, derelict or unapproved structures must be removed within 90 days after the owner is given written notice or the structure is posted by TVA for removal.  

Who is responsible for removing the floating houses? What if they are abandoned?

The primary responsible party for the floating house is the owner. If the structure is abandoned, TVA will assess the structure and try to determine ownership if possible before taking any action.

Will TVA buy my floating house or nonnavigable houseboat?

TVA has no plans to buy any of the existing floating houses or nonnavigable house boats.

Will I get any compensation for removal? What about compliance upgrades? Any assistance at all?

The responsible party for any upgrades needed for permit compliance, permitting and/or removal is the structure owner. TVA does not anticipate providing compensation or assistance to any structure owners.

What happens if I don’t remove it? What can TVA really do to me?

TVA will work with the structure owner to accomplish voluntary compliance if at all possible. If owners refuse to remove their structure, TVA will consider legal action and other means to accomplish compliance.    

How much does it cost TVA to remove a floating house?

Cost to remove a floating house depends on many variables including the size, location and condition of the structure. There are also environmental concerns that could require additional resources such as any waste removal needed. Based on TVA’s experience $7,000-$10,000 per house is a general estimate when removing one at a time. The cost per house should go down if several are removed at one time and place.

Why is TVA taking this action?

Developers are proposing residential-type communities on the TVA reservoirs for floating houses that are built and used primarily for human habitation. Also, rapid growth in recent years of unpermitted floating houses that likewise are being used for habitation, has raised concerns about potential environmental and safety impacts. These impacts include electrical safety concerns, waste discharge, abandonment of derelict structures and preemption of public waters for private use, among others. While TVA’s existing Section 26a regulations prohibit new nonnavigable houseboats on any TVA reservoir and prohibit living space and sleeping areas on docks, piers and boathouses, the regulations were not envisioned to address or manage the current floating houses that are primarily used for human habitation instead of recreational boating.

What is the general scope and number of floating houses on TVA reservoirs?

There are fixed-location floating houses and nonnavigable houseboats on 16 TVA reservoirs that are used primarily for habitation. Currently, it is estimated there are over 1,800 such structures, half of which have TVA nonnavigable houseboat permits.

What authority does TVA have to regulate floating houses?

TVA has jurisdiction under Section 26a of the TVA Act to regulate obstructions that affect navigation, flood control or public lands across, along or in the Tennessee River or any of its tributaries. There are also required conditions in existing Section 26a permits and land use agreements with commercial marina operators that stipulate or restrict how TVA property and harbor areas can be used.