WHERE DO I START?
Before you can start designing your dream home you need to do some
investigation. Did you know that your use of your land may be subject to
specific restrictions as defined in the property deed, by the local zoning
laws or by other State or Federal restrictions? Most people don't. Learning
about these restrictions at an early stage in the design process will save
a lot of frustration. No one in construction likes surprises at the last
The paperwork that gives you ownership of your property sometimes has
restrictions on what you can and cannot do. Does your land have easements
from utility companies or other public or private parties? Does your land
description contain conditions, covenants and restrictions (CC&R's)?
CC&R's may limit your use of the property or may limit
potential. Read your deed carefully for any restrictions that may affect
Your city or county ordinances have a section that divides your community
into specific "zoned" areas. These zoning districts limit the use of your
property as well and set out specific construction controls. Setbacks (such
as minimum front, rear and side yard sizes), allowable building height, maximum
floor area, covered parking requirements, etc. are usually found in the zoning
ordinance. Local jurisdictions are not consistent in any of these regulations.
It is important that you research your specific property zoning requirements
by contacting your local planning department early in the design process.
There are many Federal, State and local laws that may have an impact on
your project. It is very important to determine if any of the following apply
to your site:
- Flood Zones - Are you in a flood zone? Can
you build in
What are the excavation and fill restrictions in this zone?
- Special soil (foundation) conditions - Is the
the soil subject to sliding when wet?
- Geological hazard area - Are you located in an
area of high
- Hazardous fire area - Properties located west
of highway 280
Class A or Class B roofs.
- Historic preservation - Are you in a historic
If so, local ordinances may limit what you can do to the exterior of your
- Architectural Review - Is your design subject
by an Architectural Review Board? If so, you should obtain a copy of their
published guidelines before you put a lot of work into your design.
- Noise Ordinance (construction hours) - Most of
these are common
but it never hurts to ask for a copy of the noise ordinance. In Palo Alto,
the construction related noise level at the property line may not exceed
110 dBa. No piece of construction equipment can exceed 110 dBa at a distance
of 25 feet from the equipment. As a common courtesy, radio volumes shall
be be kept at a level that does not disturb the neighbors.
- Construction Hours -
- 8 AM to 6 PM Monday thru Friday
- 9 AM to 6 PM Saturdays
- 10 AM to 6 PM Sundays & Holidays
- Tree protection - Trees of a certain diameter
permits for their removal.
- School fees (new floor area) - Partial funding
for local schools
sometimes comes via a tax on newly built floor area. Ask if this tax applies
to your project and the tax rate.
- Fire sprinklers - Again, if the municipality
deems your area
in a high-danger fire zone, they may require you to install sprinklers to
protect the framing of your structure. In Palo Alto, houses built to the
west of highway 280 require sprinkler systems.
Contact your local building and planning departments and ask if any
these or other local restrictions apply to your project.