With a bit of imagination and elbow grease, there are lots of small improvements you can do around the house. But, if you’re contemplating a renovation that goes beyond cosmetic work, you need to pay attention to municipal regulations and building codes that are in place to assure your health and safety. Here are five compliance issues you might not know about:
Easements, Setbacks and Lot Coverage:
If you’re planning on building an addition on to your house, there are a few things you need to consider. First, you need to find out what your zoning restrictions are. These rules govern how close you can build to your lot lines and what percentage of your lot you can build on. You also need to pay attention to where your easements are. An easement is an area that allows access to access to sewer, water and gas lines as well as power and telephone cables. Permanent structures generally are not permitted in a designated easement, and extensive landscaping may also be discouraged.
Exterior Lighting, Hose Bibs, and Electrical:
There are rules that vary on location that define where fixtures like lighting and electrical outlets can be (and sometimes have to be) placed. For example, the type of lighting you’re allowed to install can vary from neighborhood to neighborhood. And, if your yard faces any type of shared open space, your options may be more limited. There are also rules on specific requirements any outdoor outlets and hose bibs have to meet in order to be installed on your property.
Slope, Drainage, and Height:
Whether you’re planning a home addition or you want to build a storage shed, you must assure that your building pad is level, the soil is compacted and you have sufficient space to get machinery and crews in and out without encroaching on a neighbor’s land or public property. In most areas, the degree of slope of the raw land will limit placement of a structure, and topography also dictates drainage and driveway placement. Height restrictions may also be a factor.
Stairs and Handrails:
Whether inside or outside, codes stipulate how stairs must be constructed and govern the configuration and dimensions of treads and risers, handrails and balusters. In some cases, the width of hallways, staircases, and landings are also defined, as is ceiling clearance. Exterior stairs are also governed by code. Landscaping and garden requirements may be less stringent, but if a porch or deck is more than 30 inches above grade, you may need a railing as well as code-compliant steps with a railing.
Sustainability and Ecology:
More and more municipalities require adherence to modern resource conservation guidelines, such as Energy Star or LEED. Considerations might include the ratio of glazing to solid wall, window R-values, insulation, energy and water savings, low-VOC paints or toxic emission ratings of building materials. Environmental regulations also require erosion control during construction by containing disturbed soil and controlling water runoff. Make sure you understand what is required of you and that your hired help is ready to comply.
Ultimately, code compliance is your responsibility. Make sure you hire licensed, bonded professionals to complete your work, run projects by your HOA and get a contract that guarantees, in writing, that all work done is up to code. Before you hire a crew, you should also research code requirements and learn what you need to do in order to obtain a permit by searching your city government site. If you’re informed and proactive, you’ll protect yourself from any unpleasant surprises when the inspector stops by before you sell your home.