Keeping the Authorities Happy

Your home builder needs to navigate a maze of government regulations—homeowners can help make the process easier

A successful new-home build is a predictable one, with no unpleasant surprises. Predictability comes from good planning, as well-planned projects tend to stay on budget and on schedule. Good planning includes making sure the home will meet all code and zoning requirements.

The consequences for not meeting these requirements can range from an easy fix to an expensive nightmare.

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For instance, if the inspector points out that the foundation contractor didn’t install enough anchor bolts (the bolts that secure the house to the foundation) or put them in the wrong locations, that contractor will have to come back and correct the problem before framing can begin. That might hold up progress for a day.

On the other hand, if the framing inspector notes that the roof exceeds the maximum allowable height, then you’re looking at a more costly and time-consuming remedy.

These are just two of hundreds of possibilities. That’s because code and zoning requirements seem to grow each year. Depending on the city or town, the project may require signoffs from the zoning board, the building department, the health department, the fire department, the architectural review board and even the homeowners association.

You may need permits for sitework, tree removal, water and sewer systems, foundation, framing, electrical wiring, mechanical equipment and gas piping. You may need a right-of-way permit if work will spill over to the sidewalk, or a traffic control permit if you need to park a dumpster on the street or bring in a crane. And don’t forget a utility permit if that crane will require temporarily moving power lines. There are other possibilities, depending on the jurisdiction and the project.

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To avoid delays at any of these stages, the builder needs to understand all the regulations enforced by the jurisdiction where the home is being built. The builder has to make sure the home plans and equipment specifications take those regulations into account and has to manage the job to ensure that workers and subcontractors follow the plans and specifications to the tee.

Speaking of plans, they can sometimes be a point of stress between the builder and the homeowner. If the plans don’t comply with code, they will be sent back for revision. So if the homeowners already have a set of plans, then the first thing the builder will do is make sure they meet code. If doing so will require the homeowners to give up some detail they really want, the builder can come across as a killjoy.

This is where homeowners can make things easier for everyone. The best way to avoid disappointment is to choose your builder before designing your home. Doing this means builder and architect can work together to ensure that the plans are drawn to meet all local requirements. (Getting a builder involved at the design stage has other benefits, such as ensuring that your budget will be enough to complete the home, but that’s another topic.)

The point here is that regulations can be a minefield. You need someone who has a good relationship with the local building department, who understands the regulations and who can navigate them without incident. It’s one of the many reasons for hiring an experienced pro to build your home.

Warm Regards,